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A Letter from Omaha and Other Summer Ramblings

July 15, 2002

If you are Tech baseball coach Danny Hall, you have to be pretty proud of where your program sits during the off-season. With 52 wins, the Yellow Jackets set a Georgia Tech record while welcoming strong crowds to your new ballpark. To cap the year, your team reaches the College World Series in a season where most were just hoping your young team could hang in there and make the NCAA Tournament.

After you get back, a letter arrives a week or so later, postmarked from Brandon, S.D. …

Dear Coach Hall,

I hope this an avenue to reach you and compliment one of your players by the name of Victor Menocal. I’m sure it was him I watched after your loss to South Carolina. It was our first visit to the CWS. Between the afternoon and evening game we happen to sit outside the door your players must have come out. I’m pretty sure it was Victor who came out last. I think he talked to the media and had some kids walk by to have a baseball signed.

We were sitting under a tree enjoying the day and a little girl, maybe six years old, came up to him and asked him for his autograph very quietly. I’m sure she had watched the others. He was so kind and polite. He asked her if she had something for him to sign. She just shook her head no. He said, “All I have is my hat!” He found a pen and signed his hat and offered it to her. She wasn’t sure if she should take it, but she did. I want you, your school, your staff, teammates, parents and backers to know what an awesome gesture we saw. My husband just looked at me and said, “That made my whole trip.”

I sat there and tried not to cry to think how proud you would be to know the kindness and manners of your players. I’m sure it doesn’t surprise you, but few people were there and that made it even more special. He did it out of his heart and not for show. You now have a new GT fan and I hope to see your team in Omaha next year.

Congratulations,

Pat Ford, Brandon, S.D.

Something like that makes you proud to be following the Yellow Jackets. It was a short trip home for Victor. The following week, he signed on with the Philadelphia Phillies and has been assigned to Batavia, N.Y., of the New York-Penn League.

The trip home was a quick one as well for rookie second baseman Eric Patterson and pitcher Kyle Bakker. Both hustled off to Tucson, Ariz., for USA baseball tryouts, along with outfielder Matt Murton. Patterson and Bakker were both selected for the team and will travel the world representing our country this summer.

While the Jackets were in Omaha, Kyle’s parents, Larry and Donita Bakker, welcomed nearly 200 people to their home in the western part of the city for a June cookout of epic proportions. Imagine getting your home and yard ready for a couple hundred folks to show up. But the fellowship and friendship between the players, their parents, some of the fans who made the trip to Nebraska, and those who had watched Kyle Bakker grow up all made for a fun evening for everyone.

A tip of the cap to the Bakker’s for their hospitality during the cookout.

The experience of the College World Series is exactly what it’s billed to be. Think of your favorite college football game tailgate with about 25,000 people instead of 75,000. Fans are friendly and the city of Omaha is a great host for the event. With 53 years of tradition behind them it’s a perfect fit for the city. Rosenblatt Stadium is a top-of-the-line ballpark for the event as well.

18 HOLES WITH BOBBY CREMINS

Our vacation plans this summer included a recent trip to Hilton Head Island. The trip also afforded me a chance to spend sometime with former Tech basketball coach Bobby Cremins, who now lives on the island full time.

A couple of days on the golf course also gave us a chance to visit on a couple topics.

You would be hard-pressed to find someone outside the program as excited about the Yellow Jackets’ basketball future as their former head coach. Cremins has seen as many games as possible the last couple years on television and developed an appreciation for the job that current head coach Paul Hewitt has done with the program that Cremins built in nearly 20 years. Those involved with the current program know that the respect and appreciation runs both ways between the coaches.

When Cremins announced his retirement in February of 2000, he did so in saying, “I want Georgia Tech to find a good coach.” I think he is comfortable knowing that the program is in good hands.

Cremins’ coaching career may not be entirely over, but it would take a perfect situation for him to return to the sidelines. There have been several phone calls to inquire over the last two years, but no situation that he felt completely comfortable getting into. You never say never when you are a coach, but it’s clear the situation would have to be ideal.

Cremins also is looking forward to his upcoming season of basketball work on television. The Bronx native has carved out a solid niche’ on regional games with Fox Sports Net and hopes to gain more assignments this season, just as he did from his first season to his second one. Just like his growth as a college coach, Cremins is now hoping to keep climbing that television ladder.

Hopefully, this winter, he’ll get a chance to do a game for TV involving his favorite team.

One additional observation about the former Tech hoops coach. During his days in Atlanta, Cremins used to take a lot of ribbing about his golf game. He was and is a solid tennis player, but his golf game was inconsistent, like a lot of amateurs. It was the putting aspect of the game that got him in real trouble. He was a threat to three-putt from 10 feet.

Well, those days are long gone now. Last week on Hilton Head, Cremins fired a 39 on the back nine of Berkely Hall’s North Course, including a 20-foot birdie putt on the par-3, 16th hole to put the match out of reach.

DOUBLE DEBUT ON AUG. 31. . . AND A “FLASHBACK” FOR ME!

When Georgia Tech opens its 110th season of football on Aug. 31, against Vanderbilt in Atlanta, it will be a unique setting in one respect. Both head coaches, Chan Gailey of Tech and Bobby Johnson of Vanderbilt, will make their respective debuts with their schools in the game. That is a story line you don’t see in every game, for sure.

During our spring visits to the many alumni groups, I have jokingly referred to the game as “The Wes Durham Classic” because of my three years in Nashville doing the Commodores’ football and basketball games from the fall of 1992 through the spring of 1995. Although there are not any players or coaches who remain from my final football broadcast in the fall of 1994, it will be a different broadcast for me than some of the others.

There were a couple highlights during those three seasons. Vanderbilt’s basketball team went 28-6 in 1992-93, capturing the SEC crown and going to the NCAA “Sweet 16”. Gerry DiNardo’s football team went 4-7, 4-7 and 5-6 in my three years doing the football games. The last season included a road win at Georgia. It was a Homecoming loss that took some steam out Eric Zeier’s Heisman Trophy campaign with the Bulldogs and started the ball rolling toward the eventual resignation of Ray Goff a year later. That last campaign in Nashville for DiNardo gave him a chance after four seasons to move onto Baton Rouge and take the LSU job. He is getting ready for his first season as the head coach at Indiana. Commodore fans will readily tell you that Gerry DiNardo got the LSU job just days after losing his final game as their coach, to hated rival Tennessee, 65-0.

The Commodores’ football fortunes have been pretty low since 1982. That year, head coach George McIntyre (whose son, Mike, played for the Jackets) led Vandy to the Hall of Fame Bowl (when it was still played in Birmingham) in the last winning season for the black and gold. Quarterback Whit Taylor and tight end Allama Matthews (currently an SEC official) were the stars of that season.

One of my closest friends during my time at Vanderbilt passed away in early April of 1995. Ken Hudgens was the Executive Director of the National Commodore Club and a native of Chattanooga. An outstanding baseball player in his day who is in the Chattanooga Sports Hall of Fame, I admired “Hudge” for his belief that college athletics did have a major impact in the lives of the young people who participated in them. He felt that sports helped shape their character to create loyalty and discipline for their later years. He raised scholarship money for Vanderbilt the same way. Hudgens and two others (Mark Webb, the athletics director at Sewanee, and Robert Vowels, the SIAC commissioner) were my closest friends while I was there. The two others and I stay in touch as much as schedules allow, and I hope they will be here when “toe meets leather” on Aug. 31.

SCHENSCHER’S SUMMER VACATION

Rising sophomore center Luke Schenscher was named to the Australian Men’s National Basketball Team back in late June. The native of Hope Forest, South Australia, was selected to join a 13 others (including former NBA player Chris Antsey) on a couple of foreign tours this summer. The first one was a major success as “The Boomers” recorded a 4-2 mark in a tour of China. One of the best stories Schenscher will have to tell is of his two games against Yao Ming. The Aussies split their two games against the Chinese and the top pick of last month’s NBA Draft.

Schenscher and his mates battled Italy, Yugoslavia and host China in the event. Luke’s schedule will not wrap up until early August, which will give him just enough time to wash a load of clothes and start working his way back to the U.S.

With his valuable national team experience, I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Schenscher could possibly be a selection for Australia’s Olympic team at the 2004 games of Athens…Greece that is.

JACKET HOOPS OVERSEAS

One of the great things about the Internet is that it allows you to find information about pro basketball being played overseas, whether it’s information about current player Luke Schenscher or a list of former Jackets who have played their most recent basketball overseas. Here is a breakdown of players and where they are.

Shaun Fein, Nantes BC (French B League): 18.9 pts, 44% FG, 41% 3FG

Jason Floyd, Ulriken (Norway): injured in pre-season with torn ACL, resigned for next year.

Michael Maddox, Tercler (Korean Basketball League): He was the 4th pick in their draft last year. Played the ’01 year in Indonesia and won the league title.

Eddie Elisma, Maccabi Ironi Ramat Gan (Israel Premiere League): 14.4 pts, 9 reb. Has also played in Venezuela and the Dominican Republic.

Drew Barry, Celena Bergamo (Italian League #2): 16.6 pts., 4.4 ast., 61% FG, 46% 3FG.

James Forrest, Olympiakos SFP (Greece): 12.5 pts., 6 rebs. Former Player of the Year in Greece, this was his third season in the league.

Malcolm Mackey, JDA Dijon (French League A): 13.9 pts., 10.3 rebs (2nd in league), 53% FG.

Karl Brown, Leicester Riders (British Basketball League): As a starter, he averages 5.3 pts., 1.3 rebs.

Brian Oliver, Pallacanestro Messina (Italian League #2): 23.2 pts., 5.1 rebs., 56% FG, 32% 3FG

Johnny McNeil, RAIKA Furstenfeld (Austrian League A): 6th year overseas. His team went 17-1 this year.

Look forward to seeing many of you on August 17th at the “Kickoff Celebration” at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, or at “Fan Photo Day” the next afternoon on the Griffin Track.

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