By Stan Awtrey
In a life that’s been loaded with big dates, none is bigger for legendary Yellow Jackets basketball great Dennis Scott than Dec. 16, 2023.
That is commencement day at Georgia Tech. Scott will put on a cap and gown and walk the aisle to receive his much-awaited degree – 33 years after he fired his final jump shot for coach Bobby Cremins.
After he receives the congratulatory handshake and the coveted sheepskin, Scott will be able embrace his mother, 80-year-old Elizabeth “Libby” Scott, and anticipate another long-awaited date, when his No. 4 jersey is potentially retired and hanging in the rafters at McCamish Pavilion.
“It starts with my Mom first. She asked me if she was going to be alive to see my jersey retired,” Scott said. “I said, ‘Mom, that’s water under the bridge. I’m 55 years old now, I’ve got a TV career and I like being a dad.’ I had just gotten over it, but I think when your Mom asks for something, it still resonates with you.
“It’s hard to say no to your Mom and it’s hard to say no to the person who has pretty much given you everything and shown you what hard work and sacrifice is really about. She’s the sole reason I came to Georgia Tech and she’s the sole reason I left after my great junior year, because I wanted to take care of her. Now she’s saying she wants to see it finished and the only way to finish it was to come back and go to school.”
Scott has already been inducted into the Orlando Magic Hall of Fame, the Washington, D.C., Hall of Fame and his high school No. 24 has been retired at the Flint Hill School in Oakton, Va. He also is a member of the Georgia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. But the goal of making himself eligible for the jersey retirement has been all-consuming.
With his final project presented and defended, Scott has completed his Executive MBA degree at Georgia Tech, culminating a 17-month program while continuing his work as an NBA TV analyst and raising his family. He will walk across the stage at McCamish Pavilion to receive his degree this weekend. Earning a Tech degree is the final requirement to having the retirement of his No 4 jersey considered by Georgia Tech Athletics. With a degree in tow, Georgia Tech’s Sports Hall of Fame committee can officially consider hanging Scott’s No. 4 alongside those of contemporaries like Roger Kaiser, Rich Yunkus, Mark Price, John Salley, Tom Hammonds and Matt Harpring.
His on-court success at Georgia Tech was an unequivocal success. A McDonald’s All-American and ranked as the No. 1 incoming freshman, he averaged 15.5 points. He averaged 20.3 points as a sophomore and 27.7 points and 6.6 rebounds as a junior, when he was a unanimous selection as ACC Player of the Year. Scott, along with Kenny Anderson and Brian Oliver, comprised the “Lethal Weapon 3” combination that took the program to the Final Four in 1990. Scott, who earned the nickname “3-D,” was a first-round draft pick by the Orlando Magic (No. 4 overall) and spent 11 years in the NBA.
When the idea of returning to school first popped up, Scott wasn’t sure if he was up to the challenge. School was a long time ago and required a lot of work. But that question from his mother continued to haunt him, so he registered for the program and jumped in with the same determination that kept him returning to the gym after midnight to practice.
“It was going to be a lot of work and it wasn’t going to be easy, but I will admit, at age 55, I’m more engaged and more locked in than I ever was when I was 18 or 19 when I walked onto The Flats,” Scott said.
Scott said the toughest challenge may have been the finance classes. He said the classroom portion has been fun and he has enjoyed networking with other businessmen in similar situations. And when it comes to making presentations in front of the class, the media-savvy Scott was eager to fill that role.
Over the summer, his class took a trip to South Africa, and it turned out to be a very meaningful experience.
“It was life-changing, in my opinion,” Scott said. “When you’re a kid you see so many different graphics about the history of Africa, the continent in general. So, being able to read books, watch movies, watch documentaries for the last 40 years, you have a certain perception of what Africa and that culture really meant and what was being said and told to us here in America. But once you get off the plane and you meet people and see the difference between the haves and the have-nots, it’s literally one road that separates those people.”
During the visit, Scott became familiar with the term “load-shedding,” when the government purposely shuts down part of the electric grid to prevent the entire system from failing.
“You think you know what that means, but after three or four days, you realize you can lose power anywhere,” Scott said. “You could be in the shower, you could be by a streetlight, you could be having dinner and the power will go out every day, sometimes twice a day, and it’s going to be out anywhere from between a minute to 10 minutes, depending on where you are. That’s just one little thing that kind of still touches me that I wouldn’t have understood until I made that trip,” Scott said. “I had a different perception about South Africa.”
Most of his time in South Africa was spent in Johannesburg. He was able to visit the Gordon Institute of Business Science, where the class got a first-hand look at how business was taught and view a perspective on potential new opportunities for creation of new businesses.
“There were so many different opportunities that stood out to me, but with my background being sports, I was able to stop by NBA Africa and get a chance to meet those guys and interact,” he said. “Some obviously knew who I was, being a part of the NBA, and it was interesting to see how (former NBA commissioner) David Stern kind of set the tone and how Adam Silver has taken it to the next level.”
Scott was able to visit the NBA Africa for Kids program at a few schools, where he signed autographs and interacted with youngsters who aspire to be the next Manute Bol or Luol Deng.
“I was able to shoot around with some kids and understand that one court may service three or four villages,” Scott said. “This was just amazing to see how one court services a thousand kids in one month. I mean they’re playing on dirt courts and their basketballs are nowhere near the quality of basketballs we play with here in the States.”
Since returning to Georgia Tech, Scott has had to learn how to manage his time and juggle the classroom demands with his television career with NBA TV and Turner Sports.
“The time management is the best part because you have to know when to study and when to spend time with the kids and when to spend time with the wife,” he said. “I still have to get my work done, along with my schoolwork. It’s been fun, though, but I’ve had to sacrifice some things, maybe going to the sports bar and watching the game versus staying home and maybe having one computer on basketball and one on my schoolwork.”