Nov. 9, 2012
By Jon Cooper
For the trio, which represents the senior class of the 2012-13 Georgia Tech women’s basketball team, Nov. 11 was one of the many special days that every senior circles on his or her calendar — the season-opener of the senior season.
But Sunday has taken on epic proportions now that it marks the women’s first game at brand new McCamish Pavilion and that their opponent will be the University of Tennessee Lady Volunteers, a perennial power.
“I feel like it’s the beginning of a new era,” said Hamilton-Carter, a 6-3 forward from Stockholm, Sweden. “There’s a lot of excitement right now. You can feel the buzz around campus, too, which is amazing and is kind of something we missed last year. So it’s just a great feeling coming in. Being my last year, my last first home game of the year, it’s going to be exciting.
“We’ve come a long way with our program and it’s been a journey from the start,” she added. “We’ve got a brand new team and a brand new arena and I think we’re all excited about it.”
Taylor, has found there is no escaping the fervor.
“I get stopped a couple of times a day on campus,” said the 5-9 point guard, from Pontiac, Mich. “People are just, ‘Hey we’re excited to see you play,’ ‘I know you guys are playing Tennessee,’ ‘I can’t wait to see the new arena.’ ‘I’m going to help you guys sell it out.’ That’s the energy I see every day.
“I’m super-excited to see what the atmosphere and the energy will be like in that arena,” she added. “We have the chance to sell out a brand new arena. That hasn’t been done before. That’s a chance for all of us to be a part of history, as well as the people who come to support us. I’m super-, super-excited for that.”
A sellout would be a first for the Yellow Jackets and there hasn’t been this kind of talk about an SRO crowd since Nov. 21, 2010, when the top-ranked University of Connecticut came in. That day, the Jackets drew a crowd of 7,325, a program record for a stand-alone game. Of course, a lot of the crowd was dressed in blue, grey and white, cheering on the popular Huskies and local product Maya Moore.
Sunday afternoon, the Jackets hope that their stand-alone game will draw a standing-room only crowd, one primarily dressed in white and gold.
Getting a look at McCamish Pavilion has been the major drawing point thus far. It’s something even the players admit is special, especially after playing last season at The Arena at Gwinnett.
They can’t wait to make that run through the tunnel for the first time.
“A couple of days ago we actually lined up and just went through the whole entire warmup as if it was going to be a game day,” said Taylor. “We can’t really simulate the actual huge crowd in practice but, at the same time, once those lights came on and once we started the entire process of what it’s going to be like, the energy started to pick up.”
“We have dreamed about,” said Blaine, a 6-1 guard and an Atlanta native. “But now that it’s here we’re ready to go. We’re ready to play.”
They have to be, as they’ll line up against a Volunteers program, which is ranked No. 20 in the preseason poll by AP and No. 16 by USA Today/ESPN. They’re led by Preseason All-SEC First-Team guard Meighan Simmons and Preseason All-SEC Second-Team guard Ariel Massengale. It’s an emotional game for the Vols, who will be playing only their second game in the Holly Warlick Era.
What’s gotten lost with all the attention paid to McCamish and Summitt and the Vols, is the Jackets.
Head coach MaChelle Joseph’s program made the Sweet 16 last season and will play the kind of exciting, up-tempo basketball that is fun to watch. They want some recognition and are making the day about them.
“One thing that Coach Jo tells us every day is that you can’t face an opponent just by looking at what’s on the front of their jerseys,” said Taylor. “Historically and traditionally, yes, Tennessee is a great team but I believe and Coach Jo tells us that we are just as good as them on paper. We have to focus on what we have to bring to the table, focus on our positives and then take that and run with that.
“Last year, they went just as far as we did,” she added. “So I don’t think we’re going to focus on, ‘Oh, it’s Tennessee. Traditionally and historically they’re a great team.’ We’re going to focus on, ‘Hey, they lace their shoes up just like we lace our shoes up’ and that’s how we’re going to get out there and we’re going to bring it.”
This class of seniors also has something to prove. They want to extend the streak of 20-win seasons and NCAA Tournament berths and are gunning to top last year’s class as the all-time winningest class in program history. Filling the void left by the graduation of the last year’s five seniors is the challenge and one this class is up for.
“Our senior class last year led us for a great four years. They had great leadership and they raised the bar to where this senior class needs to be,” said Blain. “For us, we’re trying to help teach the freshmen, tell them what the system and just try to lead them in every way possible. Sunday could be really big. We just try to make every year better than what it was last year.”
Blain has added incentive as she is coming back after missing all but three games last season with a torn right ACL. She’s eager to get on the floor Sunday and start helping the team reach its raised expectations.
“We definitely are excited to live up to expectations,” she said. “We know what we have. We know what our goal is and feel like we can go get it if everybody’s on board and everybody plays their role.”
Tip-off is 2 p.m. on Sunday. It’s the last first game in the careers of Blain, Hamilton-Carter, and Taylor.
These seniors will do their part to make it’s not the last first of many great days to come.