Nov. 10, 2012
By Matt Winkeljohn
If the sight of Kenny Anderson, Dennis Scott and Brian Oliver yucking it up wasn’t enough to tingle the spine Friday night at Georgia Tech, there were countless other opportunities to get on a Buzz.
You had to have a special pass to attend the pre-game reception casting Tech’s basketball history when they still had drinks in hand. To feel the real-time push toward the future, you merely needed a ticket because they ringed the floor at halftime.
It’s been a while since there was an full-power athletic adrenaline shot to athletics on The Flats anything like the opening of McCamish Pavilion and for reasons that went far beyond the novel beauty of the new basketball arena.
Frankly, no disrespect to the women’s basketball team that made it to the Sweet 16 last spring or the baseball team that upset everybody to win the ACC tournament a couple months later, but those happened on foreign soil and in front of far fewer eyeballs.
There have been notable potholes mixed in of late.
One need not go all the way back to Lethal Weapon 3 in 1990, when Anderson, Scott, Oliver and Co. rolled to the Final Four to find the most recent electric moment, but . . . it’s been a little dry around here for a while.
Not Friday. The Yellow Jackets crushed Tulane 79-61 in the first game even though the Green Wave’s roster returned in their personnel every point they scored last year when they thumped the Jackets in New Orleans.
And yet Friday’s result was merely a bonus.
That was nowhere near the story on a night where you could see Anderson, Oliver, Scott, Yunkus, Kaiser, Harpring, Hammonds, Salley, Forrest, Best, Dalrymple, Cremins and many more names from Tech’s basketball past all in the same place at the same time.
There were something like 160 former coaches, players and staff members back on campus, the kind of gathering you will NEVER see again.
I saw Simit Shah, an ardent Tech fan and wise younger man younger, tingling. He posted something on Facebook about peeing himself.
When was the last time you saw Tech students lined up a couple hundred yards deep more than an hour before a basketball game? Or the student seats full? The basketball arena soldout? ANYTHING loud?
Who can recall when last there was genuine heart-felt vibe in the house?
It all happened last night at McCamish Pavilion.
Marshall Hunter is a Tech man, and that’s a label that means more than the first glace would indicate because Tech struggles to find its fans.
The school is different. Sorry to bring up annoying realities here, but the sidewalk fan long coveted by the brass on The Flats has been elusive. There’s nothing sidewalk about Marshall, but he’s a lead-in here.
There is a difference between football, where chasing the required number of fans starts with the reality that Tech doesn’t graduate a ton of people and is then multiplied by the reality that so many of the school’s alums go off to chase millions rather than follow their alma mater’s sports teams.
Marshall may or may not be a millionaire, but the number of former Jackets who stick around and show up all the time is painfully slim.
There’s only so many of those folks, which is why Bobby Dodd Stadium needs sidewalk fans in a big way.
McCamish Pavilion needs those folks, too, if not to the same degree.
Tech basketball in recent years lost even its diehards. That’s hurt. Just as egregious, the student quotient which was so loud and so ardent for so long shrank to irrelevance in recent years.
Those folks have a far bigger impact on the atmosphere in a college basketball arena than they do at football games.
Good news: they were out in force Friday night. They weren’t as loud or wacky as I remember from years back, but they have been assigned some prime seats and I believe they can rise to that task.
Brian Gregory, the Tech coach who – I’ll be honest – seemed underwhelming for the first while, is on it. He has said, from the jump, that the Jackets need to re-enlist their student support.
The kids holding Buzz cards were stacked a couple hundred yards deep in line before the Tulane game. That is a very positive sign.
Gregory has plans for everybody.
He is, by far, the No. 1 reason all those former Tech hoopsters were in the house Friday night. Those players and former coaches never stopped loving their alma mater.
There has been under Gregory a warm hand extended to everyone who has been a part of what was. Jason Morris was there Friday, and so was Jason Collier’s widow and her children. Gregory absolutely embraces the idea of history checking up on the present. That hasn’t always been the case.
This is a huge development.
“We were in the tunnel with all the former players and coaches, and even they were really fired up before the game,” the short coach said. “I told the guys that you’re not going to be perfect, but when you put that jersey on, you play with the pride it deserves.”
How freaking jacked does that make you?
You won’t see Cremins and Forrest and Harpring and their ilk at every game. They’re busy as hell, most of them. But you’ll see them some, and not just when they’re scheduled for some special occasion.
Gregory very much wants to connect the past with the present and the future.
That’s a good thing because while Tech is not on Tobacco Road, there is a history on The Flats that is special in ways that’ll make you tingle if you’re a Tech man (or woman).
If you’re one of them, you soon find yourself saying, as Hunter did, “I love this. I’ve waited for this. I absolutely love this.”
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