Kim Kardashian. Cobie Smulders. Elisabeth Hasselbeck. What do these three people have in common?
To be perfectly honest, I couldn’t tell you. And I’m not sure that I even care. You see, these three names happen to be the top searches over at Yahoo Buzz at the time that I am writing this. I do not have a clue who any of these people are, except for perhaps a vague recollection of perhaps having heard the name Elisabeth Hasselbeck somewhere along the line. And such is the relevance that Georgia basketball has for me right now. (If by now you may have suspected that my inclusion of the names of Kim Kardashian, Cobie Smulders, and Elisabeth Hasselbeck in this post is nothing more than a cheap ploy to generate more pageviews at this site, then you would be right. If you have a problem with that, then I will be more than happy to register your complaint at 1-800-I-DONT-CARE.)
At any rate…
Those of you who have been tracking with me for the last few years of this blog’s existence will note that I have had very little, if anything, to say about Georgia basketball. There is a very simple reason for this: Georgia basketball isn’t even on my radar. As far as I am concerned, the words “Georgia” and “basketball” should not be placed next to each other; when they do appear next to each other it is an oxymoron, of the same order as “jumbo shrimp”, “military intelligence”, or “safe Atlanta driver”.
This is sad. Because it wasn’t always this way.
When I was in college (the first time around) I played in the band at Georgia. This included a couple of years in the basketball band, during which time I attended all of the home basketball games and went to a couple of SEC tournaments. Those times were great fun, and I look back on them with great fondness even now, some fifteen years after the fact.
So what happened in the meantime?
Well, the year after I left, Hugh Durham was fired for going 18-10 with a team that should have done a whole lot better. On came Tubby Smith, and what followed was a whirlwind ride of two consecutive 20-plus win seasons, one Sweet Sixteen appearance, and one should-have-been Sweet Sixteen appearance that was snatched away at the last minute in most heartbreaking fashion. By all indications, Georgia was on the road to great things and Tubby Smith was poised to take Georgia to much greater heights than they had ever known under Hugh Durham.
And then Kentucky called. Rick Pitino had just defected to the NBA and they were down a basketball coach, and they wanted to know if Tubby Smith would come.
And just like that, Tubby Smith was gone.
And just like that, Georgia was firmly established on the road to basketball irrelevance.
Ron Jirsa was promoted to the head coaching position vacated by Tubby Smith. It was thought that, as the assistant coach who was closest to Tubby’s right hand, he would be the best one to continue to implement Tubby’s system at Georgia. But after a so-so season (with the players he inherited from Tubby Smith) and a disastrous season the year after that, he was gone.
After a long and exhaustive search, Georgia turned to Jim Harrick. There were signs of possible trouble in the offing; most notably that Harrick had gotten into a little bit of recruiting trouble which had cost him his job at UCLA. But Georgia was more impressed with the fact that Harrick had won a national championship at UCLA and had taken Rhode Island to the NCAA tournament.
Sure enough, Harrick won some games at Georgia. He got off to a troublesome start, but quickly turned things around and made Georgia basketball a force to contend with during the early 00’s. And sure enough, the NCAA investigators came calling. With NCAA investigators hot on their heels, Georgia quickly ditched Jim Harrick by the side of the road and pulled what was arguably its best team since the team that went to the Final Four in 1982 out of postseason play.
And on came Dennis Felton. Now Dennis Felton was a tough, no-nonsense coach who would not cut corners in order to achieve easy wins, like his predecessor Jim Harrick. He was the right coach for that time; he quickly cleaned up the program and pulled through the dreadful embarrassments that were a direct consequence of Harrick and the subsequent NCAA probation, most notably the monumentally ugly 8-20 campaign of 2004-05.
But here are some numbers for you to ponder: 33–as in 33 games under .500 in SEC play during Felton’s tenure at Georgia. 30 million–as in $30 million for a gleaming new basketball practice facility that was supposed to give Felton and his team the greatest possible chance to be competitive in the SEC. Or how about this one: Vastly too numerous to count. This is the number of high school prospects who have come out of the state of Georgia during Felton’s tenure and passed on the opportunity to play at the flagship university in order to help other programs prosper–because Felton wasn’t signing them. (And it wasn’t because Felton didn’t try. He came close with Louis Williams of South Gwinnett, who chose the NBA over Georgia, and Derrick Favors, who chose Tech over Georgia.)
In light of all this, it is perfectly justified and justifiable that Georgia basketball has completely and totally fallen off my radar screen.
This is a big week in Georgia basketball, because it marks the end of the Dennis Felton era. Georgia now has the opportunity to hire a new coach who will hopefully put them back on the road to basketball relevance. Personally, I would recommend pursuing Tubby Smith. I don’t think he would come; he has already turned Georgia down once and I don’t think he would hesitate to do so a second time, plus I think he’s having way too much fun up at Minnesota right now. But it’s worth the effort of at least picking up the phone and making the call.
There are way too many talented basketball players coming out of Georgia high schools for this state’s flagship university to be such a dreadful embarrassment when it comes to basketball. Of course, whoever comes in next is going to have a hellaceous mess to clean up after Dennis Felton–Georgia must be some kind of bad to be dead last in an SEC that is in such a state of flux as it presently is. But at least he won’t have to deal with NCAA sanctions and depleted rosters. And the upside of the SEC’s present state of flux is that the right man in the right place could have a momentous impact. (Witness Bruce Pearl at Tennessee.)
It is my hope that the upcoming transition will bring a coach who can make me once again want to care about Georgia basketball.