Today was an interesting day for me. It’s not every day I hike what winds up being 9 miles and then I watch the ACC title game from a rooftop deck in Oakland.
But Saturday, March 13 was like that.
I feel like getting a bit introspective, so you’re just going to have to bear with me here.
Likely the only reason I care about college basketball at all goes back to my freshman year at Georgia Tech, 2003-2004. I didn’t attend a single basketball game that year, so yeah, it’s sufficient to say that I didn’t take much notice. But I did know about the NCAA Tournament, and we were a three seed.
Suddenly, the basketball team became a thing to me. Jarret Jack was definitely the best player, but everyone’s favorite player was probably Will Bynum (whom I know for a fact is shorter than me, we’ll get to that in a bit), plenty of folks liked BJ Elder, and, of course, Luke Schenscher Has a Posse. (And boy howdy could Ish Mohamed dunk a basketball.) That team got through the bracket, with some scrapes closer than other, but the team reached the final four. The RA’s in my freshman dorm put together a watch party in the basement of my dorm.
We entered the semi-final against Oklahoma State as underdogs to one of the last Eddie Johnson Oklahoma State teams, at least according to Jim Nantz and Billy Packer. (And boy howdy, nobody misses Billy Packer, eh?) The game was tight, and tense, with Tech gradually giving up a lead in the second half. Here’s the end of the game:
(Yeah, definitely pumped my first again after Bynum’s layup goes in.)
After the horn sounds we all cleared out of the basement and began wandering out West Campus thinking that we should all be doing something but having absolutely not idea what to do. Which, yeah, it was Georgia Tech, that makes a certain amount of sense.
We don’t need to talk about the national title game.
The next season was equally exciting, but the high point for me was the 2005 game against Wake Forest in a regular season ACC contest. You see, Wake was good then, as they had a guy named Chris Paul manning the point for them. I had joined the Swarm for both football and basketball, with basketball tickets back then being pretty hard to get, even in the Swarm. (I’m pretty sure I camped out for Duke tickets at least once.) The main benefit is what we got to stand on risers right behind the court. It’s hard to describe how much fun that was and how much I miss it.
Anyway, the 2005 Wake game went into overtime. 7 points were scored. 4 points by Jarret Jack, 3 by Chris Paul, and we won. It was the first and only time I had stormed a court. In the milieu of standing on the court with basically everyone else, I found myself standing right next to Will Bynum. Georgia Tech’s media guide had him listed at 5’11”, and I’m here to tell y’all that he was not taller than me, and I’m 5’10”.
The other thing I remember is that the next day was kinda rainy and I was taking the shuttle bus back to my dorm, and I saw Jarret Jack just sitting on the bus just like everyone else. He wound up being an NBA lottery pick after that season and richer than I’ll ever be. At a lot of schools now, at least in football, athletes are fully remote, even in the absence of a global pandemic. But I can report in 2005 he went to at least one class.
The years since then turned to underachieving and Tech trying to make the most of the terrible contract we’d given Paul Hewitt after the final four run. We haven’t made the NCAA tournament since 2010.
That will change now.
The past four years have been rough for Georgia Tech basketball. Starting over under Josh Pastner, he almost immediately got in trouble with the NCAA for poor decision making on his part, that ultimately resulted in the team taking a postseason ban last year. There’s been a player that I’ve liked almost as much as Will Bynum, and he’s unquestionably the heart and soul of this team: Jose Alvarado.
It was extremely appropriate that the ACC title game essentially ended with Alvarado stealing the ball from FSU and passing off for the game sealing assist. I have just known that this dude does not like to lose for the past four years. He’s definitely a guy that most people would describe as “scrappy”. But he guys his way through injuries, and unlike a lot of guys who do, he still makes the team better around him.
Tech suffered two awful losses to begin the year, losses that hurt their shot for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The team acknowledged after the game last night that it was extremely low moment for then. Alvarado admitted that he wouldn’t have believed you if you’d told him they’d be ACC Champions after the loss to Mercer.
But here we are. I know that there will be those that say that Tech only played two games in the tournament because UVA had to bow out. That the ACC is down this year. Sure. Fine. But a conference record above .500 – a rare thing indeed. Eight straight wins.