Our good friend and SB Nation colleague, Truzenzuzex from A Sea of Blue, says he looks forward to "the day we see your roundball team covered a bit more in the Georgia blogosphere." Just as Tru had some difficulty shifting gears from Kentucky basketball to "that 'other' team sport" (namely, football), so too do I have trouble adjusting my emphasis in the opposite direction.
It's not that I have anything against basketball; I don't. Basketball is a fine sport, the N.C.A.A. tournament is an exceedingly entertaining spectacle (although I have been baited upon the subject, I will, in this era of good feelings, decline to go there, particularly since conscientious playoff proponents already have acknowledged those problems), and "Hoosiers" is a heck of a good movie. A fellow only has room for so many passions in his life, though, and, between my family and football, I have little space left for roundball, particularly since hoops start to heat up precisely at the moment when I need some down time between the end of the bowl season and the start of baseball.
Nothing personal, Coach.
That said, Bulldog Nation's excitement is palpable---watching the final five minutes against Arkansas in the S.E.C. tournament title tilt with my son on Sunday felt almost like watching Sid Bream rounding third a decade and a half ago---and I hope Paul Westerdawg is right about the direction of the program. When it comes to basketball, though, I share some of Tru's concerns about growing a program from the ground up in the S.E.C.
As I mentioned previously, the Bulldogs' last S.E.C. tournament title came in the same year I saw the Police perform at the Omni. Georgia basketball has been an afterthought even for the most die-hard denizens of Bulldog Nation for much of the ensuing quarter-century, and with good reason.
Following the J*m H*rr*ck fiasco, my ill-formed thoughts on Georgia basketball began to coalesce, ultimately crystallizing into a statement I was to utter often whenever the subject of Bulldog hoops was raised:
- Don't do anything that will get us put on probation or that will otherwise impede the progress of our football team.
- Don't lose money.
While my view has not changed significantly---neither the moral importance of competing within the established rules nor the fiscal reality that men's basketball is and must remain the second-most profitable sport at the University of Georgia has been altered by recent events---I no longer take as dim a view as once I did on the significance of victories on the hardwood. Until recently, I thought, well, hey, wins in men's basketball were nice when you could get them, but, if those wins don't come, que sera sera.
That was then, this is now. It was one thing when S.E.C. basketball was Kentucky, occasionally Vanderbilt, and not much of anyone else; then, there was no shame in not being very good at something no one outside of the Bluegrass State seemed terribly interested in being good at doing.
Indeed, there was, in no small sense, rather a manly satisfaction to be derived from deriding the neighboring A.C.C. as "a basketball conference"---by which was meant, of course, only a basketball conference, a league that had to settle for being good at hoops because it lacked the masculine fortitude to excel on the gridiron. If the only way to be good at basketball was to be lousy at football---and, if Kentucky, Vanderbilt, and the Atlantic Coast Conference were any indication, that certainly seemed to be the case---then who cared about basketball?
That began to change around the time Arkansas changed conference allegiances. The Razorbacks joined the S.E.C. in 1992, won the N.C.A.A. tournament in 1994, and returned to the final four in 1995. Under Rick Stansbury, Mississippi State made four straight appearances in the big dance from 2002 to 2005. South Carolina won the N.I.T. in 2006. In addition to just looking awesome, Bruce Pearl has turned Tennessee basketball into a legitimate force. There also is the small matter of Billy Donovan's Florida Gators winning back-to-back national championships.
In short, the S.E.C. has gotten good at basketball, too, without sacrificing its commitment to quality football. Moreover, men's hoops has been the lone sport in which Georgia is deficient in the 21st century. If Florida and Tennessee can build nationally significant basketball programs without having the benefit of Kentucky's tradition, surely there is no reason why Georgia cannot do likewise, particularly given the Peach State's population.
So bring on these guys . . .
. . . and keep the hot streak going as long as possible, then celebrate and regroup and build on this momentum next season.
It's an exciting time to be a Georgia basketball fan. I know that because I'm excited about Georgia basketball, and the last time I had cause to be excited about Georgia basketball, I was fourteen years old and was too busy being distracted by the sight of Princess Leia in the gold bikini in the newly-released "Return of the Jedi." That was a while ago.
An athletics program as prominent as Georgia's, and with as many natural and institutional advantages, ought to be good consistently at multiple sports, and certainly at the second-most important sport, in terms of money and prestige, in intercollegiate competition. My fear is that Dennis's Dogs, motivated by the desire to save their coach's imperiled job, played above their heads during a whirlwind four-day period in which they didn't have the time to think about the impossibility of what they were doing . . . but my hope is that this was the breakthrough that will put Georgia basketball on the road to respectability, significance, and, ultimately, success at the highest level.