Nov. 7, 2014
THE FLATS – Each week up until the beginning of basketball season, Ramblinwreck.com takes a look at an opponent on Georgia Tech’s non-conference schedule. This week, we look at Charlotte, the Yellow Jackets’ final non-conference contest of the season.
Date: December 30, 2014
Location: Charlotte, N.C.
Conference: Conference USA
Home arena: Halton Arena (9,105)
2013-14 Record: 17-14 overall, 7-9 in C-USA (T-8th place), 150th in NCAA RPI
Post-Season: Conference USA quarterfinals, lost to Louisiana Tech 86-65
NCAA Championship Appearances: 11 (last in 2005)
All-time series record: Georgia Tech leads 7-1 (First meeting 12/22/1970)
Head coach: Alan Major (entering 5th season, 61-63)
Starters returning/lost: 4/1
Top scorer returning: Pierriá Henry (12.3)
Top rebounder returning: Willie Clayton (8.9)
Quick preview for 2014-15
Head coach Alan Major embarks upon his fourth season at Charlotte with four returning starters, having been picked to finish third in Conference USA. The 49ers returning squad includes last year’s leading scorer and two-time all-conference defender in Pierriá Henry. Henry begins his senior season with career marks of 911 points, 393 assists and 220 steals and is projected to finish as Charlotte’s all-time leader in each category. In support of the preseason All-Conference USA guard, Charlotte boasts additional key contributors in the front court. Senior center Mike Thorne Jr. started in 30 of 31 games last year and reached double figures 14 times including five double-doubles. Junior forward Willie Clayton is one of the top offensive rebounders in the country with a conference leading 3.81 offensive rebounds per game in 2013-14.
Quick recap of 2013-14
Charlotte finished in the middle of the pack in their first season as full-time Conference USA members in 2013-14. The disappointing finish was due in large part to inconsistency. After defeating No. 14 Michigan in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off championship game, the 49ers dropped non-conference home games to Davidson and Georgia Tech. Then after beginning conference play by winning five of eight, the 49ers plummeted in the standings by losing their final six games in February. The 49ers ranked fourth in Conference USA in assists per game (13.55), but their turnovers (14.7 per game) rated as the second worst total in the league.
Greatest program accomplishment
The Charlotte “Mean Green”: 1977 Final Four – In 1977 UNC Charlotte’s campus, hardly 20 years of age, was regarded by many as a “converted dairy farm.” The basketball program had played their home games in a high school gym earlier that decade and had never made the NCAA tournament. Yet head coach Lee Rose in just his second season was about to send shockwaves through the Charlotte campus.
Rose, who had coached at Transylvania University just a few years prior, led his 49ers to the 1976 NIT championship in the program’s first postseason appearance. A year later the stage was set for an unprecedented run to the NCAA’s Final Four.
The 49ers’ on the court leader was six-foot-eight All-American center Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell, who as a senior was named the 1977 Sun Belt Conference player of the year. The 49ers knocked off Central Michigan and Syracuse to reach the Elite Eight where they faced the top-ranked Michigan Wolverines. While national experts scarcely gave Charlotte a snowball’s chance, the “Mean Green” iced the Wolverines 75-68 as the ultimate underdog.
Charlotte’s Cinderella run came to a heart-breaking finish against Marquette at The Omni in Atlanta. With the national semifinal tied at 49-49 with three seconds remaining, the Golden Eagles’ Jerome Whitehead scored the game winning basket at the buzzer to propel Marquette to the national final.
The 1977 Final Four team remains the only team in Charlotte history to win multiple NCAA Tournament games in a single season and is widely considered the greatest Charlotte men’s basketball team of all time.
Greatest player in program history
Cedric Maxwell – Cedric “Cornbread” Maxwell played in the 49ers’ frontcourt for four seasons spanning 1973-1977. Individually Maxwell ranks sixth all-time in points scored at Charlotte and was named the 1976 NIT most valuable player and the 1977 Sun Belt Conference player of the year. Maxwell also led the 49ers to their most successful postseason run in program history – the 1977 Final Four. Maxwell’s nickname originated during his junior year at Charlotte after he and teammate Melvin Watkins saw the movie Cornbread, Earl and Me. Watkins insisted that Maxwell looked like the lead actor for weeks afterwards, but the nickname did not gain a national foothold until the 1976 NIT. As a professional, Maxwell was drafted 12th overall by the Boston Celtics in 1977 with whom he won two NBA championships and the 1981 NBA Finals MVP. Maxwell has since had his jersey retired by both Charlotte and Boston and is presently the radio color analyst for the Celtics.
Place to visit on campus or in the city
NASCAR Hall of Fame – The NASCAR Hall of Fame opened in May of 2010 with the goal of honoring NASCAR icons and creating an enduring tribute to the sport. Owned by the city of Charlotte, the Hall features a state-of-the-art theater, 40,000 square feet of exhibit space and racing simulators. Although based in downtown Charlotte, the hall is just 20 minutes south of the Charlotte Motor Speedway which hosts the annual Sprint Cup All-Star Race.