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Senior Moments

March 3, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn
Sting Daily

If there was a way to capture all of Georgia Tech’s good vibrations Saturday, it would take a whopper of a jar to hold them.

The Beach Boys could not have done justice and I don’t have a vessel big enough, but I’ll try to pull something together amid a busy day.

Thankfully, the task is made easier by the joy surrounding Derek Craig and Nick Foreman and the contributions the walk-on players made in a 69-62 win over Wake Forest on Senior Day.

The Olde Gold roll began early when the women’s basketball team wailed on NC State to punch a ticket to today’s ACC tournament championship game, the announcement of which practically caused the Philips Arena crowd to vibrate at the men’s game. Then, the men won with each senior factoring and later the baseball team beat Rutgers again.

“Great day for Georgia Tech all the way around,” men’s coach Brian Gregory said after his game. “[Women’s coach MaChelle Joseph has] built a great program, and they have a chance to win the ACC championship, which is why everyone is in this.”

Having been at the men’s basketball regular season finale, I’ll weave from there and go chiefly to the emotional even though the overall aesthetic was pleasing.

First, in reverse order, since the glow of winning has been rare . . .

This was not an ugly win for the men.

Quite like Tech’s win last weekend over Maryland, it was thorough. The Jackets tied their season low with six turnovers, set an ACC high with 18 assists, and made a season-high 11 3-point shots. They beat Wake by making 8-of-17 from beyond the arc in the first half, and bludgeoning the Demon Deacons in the paint in the second. Throughout, Jason Morris was nearly sublime with a career-high 22 points.

Now, with inner workings out of the way, about my crying jag . . .

OK, I’m kidding, but when I tracked down Craig’s parents in the stands and began to set the stage for my questions by spewing a Cliff’s Notes version of Derek’s run as a Jacket, I truly did have to pause. At times, theirs has been a struggle, and if you’re a parent you get why.

Back stories like that of a son, his mother and father are the fuel of life if not games.

Foreman began the game with a 3-pointer, and yet it was Craig — who’s played considerably less since the two Texans showed up about four years ago — that kept popping up.

His was not a token appearance, and Mom and Dad were glad. And a bit sad.

After all, Tech is a long way from Texas, where they’d seen their boy tear it up in high school; the miles have spread visits few and far between and afforded a lot of time for thinking.

So after Derek not only made his lone career start and played a career-high 13 minutes (to match his ACC total for the first 15 league games) but also bagged a 3-pointer in the second half in addition to nailing a first-half jumper for a Tech lead, they all had thoughts.

Derek said, “it’s an incredible feeling.”

For Dean and Tammy, it was tough not to reflect wistfully.

“It’s bittersweet,” Dad said. “He gets a shot and does well. The bitter part is you wonder what might have happened . . . “

No need to finish that thought, which I remember clearly but could not scribble down precisely as fast as Dean said it in the absence of my battery-dead recorder.

“He had other college offers, some smaller Division I schools [were interested], but he said he wanted to see if he could play at the highest level, and he also wanted to leverage basketball to get the best education he could get.”

Mission accomplished. Craig will graduate with a degree in Management, Foreman with paper in History, Science and Technology.

At least part of this almost didn’t happen.

Craig, who is from Spring, Texas, played in seven games as a freshman (2008-’09), but not for one second as a sophomore. He thought long and hard about transferring after that, but ultimately stayed in part because he’d grown so close to his teammates.

“It was hard because he’s so far away and you want what’s best for your kid,” Tammy said. “But the coaches have been good, and they have taken care of him.”

Last summer, in fact, Tech’s new coach called.

“We talked to [Craig’s and Foreman’s] parents about the commitment they’d made and they were awarded scholarships,” Gregory said.

“They worked hard and went through a lot . . . paid their own way for three years [and out-of-state fees, no less].”

Saturday, each young man paid off.

Moments after Tech took a 49-48 lead on Morris’ 3-pointer, Mfon Udofia whipped the ball to Craig on the right wing — right in front of the Tech bench.

To a man, every Jacket not already on his feet rose on the sideline. Craig let `er fly. “I just thought, `Please go in,’ ” he recalled.

If you happened to be watching the Tech bench at that moment, you could tell what happened. The Jackets erupted. “It was a great feeling,” Craig said.

Moments later, Craig passed to Daniel Miller to assist a score and then assisted after that on a Morris trey that pushed the Tech lead to 59-51.

Craig was soon replaced by Foreman, whom you might say had his senior moment a weekend earlier when he hit back-to-back 3-pointers in a win over Maryland. He impacted Saturday’s game as well.

Beyond hitting the long shot to open the scoring against Wake, he picked up three first-half fouls in working to disrupt the Deacons’ guard. A fourth foul picked up in the second half further limited his time, and there’s no denying his defense was valuable.

He’d played his way into the rotation as a freshman, when dirty work was his calling card, but like Craig saw opportunities dwindle as a sophomore. He never seriously thought about transferring, but that doesn’t mean life was easy.

When you’re in it, a college career may seem forever to unfold. Now that it’s all but over, “It feels like it went by super fast,” said Foreman, who has a acquired a unique method for processing time while growing up in Miami, Brussels, Belgium and Fairfax, Va., before settling in Bellaire, Texas.

“There were times, like during workouts and everything, when it seemed like everything was going so slow. There have been highs and lows, and a lot of hard work has gone in to get to this point.”

The work of Craig and Foreman has paid off, if not in big minutes nor recurring glory, but in respect earned. As Gregory said, “You know the stats won’t show it, but their energy, their ability to kind of calm the storm in a couple of critical situations was really important.”

If an apology is necessary for rambling, consider it given. In a long day spent covering the Tech game for the Associated Press (three separate filings), for the Winston-Salem Journal, then tending to pre-game interviews and a file for before the Thunder-Hawks game (after which another file will be filed), I’ve shoe-horned the Sting Daily story. This deserved better focus. Watching Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden work is a special treat, but nothing in the game I’m watching now will move me like the tales of Foreman and Craig.

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