Jan. 19, 2008
By Jack Wilkinson
On a snowy Saturday in the city, in a hardwood winter wonderland even Matt Causey couldn’t quite fathom at times, Georgia Tech finally had reason to rejoice again. It was Lettermen’s Day at Alexander Memorial Coliseum, a red-letter day for the Yellow Jackets. Make that a gold letter: A golden A, if not quite an A+.
After three straight losses, after starting its ACC schedule 0-3, after an excruciating one-point loss to No. 1 North Carolina Wednesday, Tech was finally triumphant again. With Causey unconscious beyond the arc, sticking a career-high seven 3-pointers and scoring 30 points, the Jackets jumped on Virginia Tech in the first half, withstood an early second-half Hokie surge and prevailed 81-70. And exhaled.
“When you’ve come as close as we’ve come, you start to wonder, ‘What’s going to happen next?'” said Tech coach Paul Hewitt, whose team (8-9, 1-3 ACC) might’ve won at No. 10 Indiana, could’ve knocked off No. 3 Kansas here and should’ve toppled the top-ranked Tar Heels.
What happened next? Hey, Causey happens, if not as regularly or outlandishly as he once did at Gainesville High or, later, North Georgia College. “Just thank goodness for Matt Causey,” Hewitt said. “He played with a lot of courage today, but that is just the way he plays. Most times, he doesn’t look at you, doesn’t pay attention to you when he’s in the huddle. That’s fine, when he’s on a roll like that…The kid’s got a lot of courage.”
Causey — whose previous Division I high was 12 points as a Georgetown freshman — had 18 of his 30 points after intermission. Fellow seniors Anthony Morrow and Jeremis Smith scored 17 and 13 points, respectively, with Smith grabbing 10 rebounds.
They did so before a crowd that included approximately 50 former Tech players: some who played in the ’50s, others who transformed Tech basketball under Bobby Cremins in the ’80s and on into the ’90s, greats who helped the Jackets reach the Final Four in 1990 and 2004.
Including the most glittering three-pointed star of all: Lethal Weapon 3. Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver, whom Tech rode to the 1990 Final Four in Denver. They, too, played in the post-game Lettermen’s Game. So did Roger Kaiser (1958-61), Tech’s first All-American who tormented Adolph Rupp and upset Kentucky; Malcolm Mackey, the freshman center in ’90; Anthony McHenry, a valuable sub on the ’04 NCAA runnerup and now a student assistant to Hewitt.
The Lettermen’s Game was, shall we say, not vintage Tech hoops. Big fun, though. And Lethal Weapon 3? They’re older and wiser. Colder and wider, too. More like Illegal Weaponry. Yet their collective presence, along with all the ex-Jackets, made Saturday’s success even sweeter in the midst of a trying season.
“We talk to the guys all the time about the legacy of Georgia Tech basketball,” Hewitt said. “I’m always mentioning how, ‘Hey, it’s been done here before, Bobby Cremins did it.’ Our guys will go watch [the alumni game] now. Of course, with Coach Reese playing in it…” Willie Reese, an assistant coach, played here, too.
“You look around and you see Brian Domalik, Dennis Scott, Kenny Anderson,” said Jeremis Smith. “You see these guys who shed so many tears and shed blood for the program, and you’d like to play well [in front of them]. I’d like to see that myself, too, when I come back.”
Domalik (a backcourt backup from 1989-91) and Marvin Lewis (the spot-up, sweet jump-shooter on the ’04 team) are primarily responsible for providing the Coliseum suite where Scott, Anderson and other ex-players often gather to watch games. On Saturday, there was a surplus of alums in Alexander. Causey and Co. took notice.
“We ate at the [Georgia Tech] Hotel [Friday] night,” Causey said. “I met Roger Kaiser. I’d seen him in the rafters.” Seen the banner bearing Kaiser’s name and retired No. 21, dangling from the coliseum ceiling.
“I met some old point guards, including the point guard on Kaiser’s teams,” Causey said. “We got to talk to them. We thanked ’em for laying the groundwork for Georgia Tech basketball.”
Like most of his teammates, Causey — whose seven three-point field goals tied for the ninth-most ever by a Yellow Jacket — is on a more familiar basis with more recent Jackets. “I’m especially close to Dennis Scott and Brian Domalik,” he said. “I talk to Brian on a daily basis and talk to Dennis a lot. Marvin Lewis and Isma’il Muhammad come back. It’s almost like a family.
On Saturday, these Jackets did just that. “We were walking up the tunnel after the game and nobody was saying anything,” Smith said. “I said, ‘Guys, hold your heads up high. We just won our first ACC game!’
“Now Jarrett Jack comes in [Saturday night, with the Portland Trailblazers for Monday’s matinee with the Atlanta Hawks],” Smith said. “So it’ll be good to get a handshake from him at his hotel, rather than, ‘Man, what are you doing?!'”