Thursday, February 24, 2005

My first Georgia Tech basketball game

Yesterday I got a call from my friend Kasi David. He called to invite me to a G Tech basketball game. At first I was going to say no, because I was tired, but then he mentioned that it was against Duke.

Now, when you mention Duke to a kid born in 1974 and raised in the 1980s and 1990s, a few thoughts come to mind...
*Johnny Dawkins in 1986 breaking my heart and losing the National Championship to 'Never Nervous' Purvis Ellison's Louisville Cardinals.
*The night in March of 1990 that my father and I watched Duke lose to Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels in the National Championship game. A great night for Black America indeed.
*The night in March of 1991 that my family and I watched Duke beat Jerry Tarkanian's UNLV Runnin' Rebels in the Final Four game. A blow to my burgeoning ego in the 10th grade.
*My pure hatred as a teenager for Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill, Travis Hill, Brian Davis, Alaa Abdelnaby and the rest of the Blue Devils.

Despite my extreme dislike, see hate, of the Blue Devils, I reserve the most of my contempt to Coach K. He snarls and yells at refs, his face contorts and looks like a rat or a crow. His voice is kind of smarmy. I wonder how this guy could come into your living room and convince you to come to Durham, NC to play ball for him. But then again, with all of that snarling and contorting and shouting and complaining, he sure does win. He wins quite a bit. So, I accepted the invite to see Coach K and his newest edition of his Blue Devils.

I got to Ga Tech around 6:10 and met my buddy Kasi at his building in the center of campus. We parked my car and took a Tech Trolley to Fraternity Row, near the McDonald Center where the game was to be played. As we walked to the McDonald Center, frats were tailgating and we were surrounded by middle aged white men and women making their way to the game. You'd have thought it was a reunion, and not a basketball game.

Because Kasi is the graduate school SGA president he is on the Board of Directors of the G Tech Athletic Foundation and gets great season tickets to all sporting events, in this case 8 rows from the floor. As we walked in, I could feel the energy in the room, it was overwhelming. I searched for Coach K, but I didn't see him. I was quickly disappointed. But then, one of the fans remarked that he never comes out until later.

But there they were, in their dark blue uniforms, lined in black, the Duke Blue Devils. Their latest star J.J. Reddick, was the subject of signs, hand gestures and a barrage of profanity from the seemingly intimidating student section known affectionately as 'The Swarm.'

Then out he came, dressed to the nines, Coach K, was walking up and down the sidelines of the court, speaking to Dick Vitale, for yes, ESPN was there and shaking hands with Charles Barkley and Jermaine Dupri, for yes they were there too.

The McDonald's Center quickly filled up, and the average age of the fan around us was 49 to 55. All Georgia Tech alums who love their Jackets.

The game started off with a great deal of emotion, and Georgia Tech jumped out early, taking a 4-2 lead, and then J.J. started his assault. At one point, after several missed opportunities, attributed to Ishmael Muhammad and Luke whathisname, Tech was down 20-11. Led by Jarret Jack, they battled back in emotional and skillful style and tied it up by the half to make the score 33-33. Baty had several dazzling baskets down the stretch to counter J.J.'s electric first half of spot up shooting and perfect free throw shooting.

But then came the second half. And after 12 minutes of play the score was Duke 45- Tech 41. So with 7:59 to go, both teams played exceptionally well, with 2 or 3 ties, but so many missed opportunities and mistakes by Luke (who has neither strength, inside presence, moves, nor purpose) and Ishmael (I can't even catch a cold) Muhammad. Tech must have missed 15 free throws, and against Duke, you can't do that and win the game. You need everything that you can get.

In the end, it wasn't enough, but Tech played so valiantly. Perhaps if Luke had hit three or four of those wide open shots under the basket, or if Muhammad had not had 8 or 9 turnovers, or if Tech had hit more freethrows, the outcome would've been different.

Either way, the atmosphere was electric. I stood so much in the game, I didn't really need the seat at all. The fans were more into it than any game I'd ever been to in my life, and it was by far the loudest basketball venue I'd ever been to. I know Cameron Indoor is crazy, but the McDonald's Center has to be a close second or third behind that other school in the research triangle.

But Tech will be back. And maybe they'll learn from their mistakes and hit some freethrows. Either way, I know I enjoyed the night just fine, regardless of who won.

And I even got to see Coach K snarl, up close and personal, first hand.

I'm Joe and that's how I see it.


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