Towers’ Take: Georgia’s tradition provides baseline for growth
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Friday night was proof that it can be done. The scene at the College Basketball Hall of Fame enshrinement ceremonies was yet another illustration that basketball could again be a big thing at Georgia.
Hugh Durham and Dominique Wilkins were inducted during an elaborate ceremony here at the Arvest Bank Theatre at The Midland (think Fox Theatre). The event, hosted by Doug Gottlieb and Sean Farnham, will be broadcast on ESPNU on Dec. 15 at 6 p.m. These two former Georgia greats were among eight individuals recognized for their exemplary accomplishments during days gone by. And that’s saying something when you look at the list of men they went in with. Mark Aguirre, Bob Boozer, Doug Collins, Lionel “L-Train” Simmons, Jamaal Wilkes, Mike Montgomery. Giants of the game, for sure.
But what made it particular cool was these two Bulldogs really were the center of attention. They set up their interview session as the finale of Friday’s show. And they were great. Of them all, Durham was really star of the night.
Many in attendance were surprised to hear that Durham ended his career as the winningest coach at three different schools (Florida State, Georgia and Jacksonville). Farnham asked Durham at what point he decided he wanted to come out of retirement, which he did after Georgia and before taking over at Jacksonville.
“Well, after I’d been retired a little while I was playing golf with a friend and I asked him if he knew when ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ came on,” Durham said under the bright television lights. “He said, ‘no.’ I said, ‘well, I do,’ and that’s when I knew I should probably do something else.”
Brought down the house.
What really struck me, though, was the scene immediately after the show was over. One of the things they do is they have an official photographer there who is available to take pictures of the inductees with their families and supporting parties on the Arvest Theatre stage. Not only did
Georgia have the largest group there, by far, but the photographer could hardly fit them all in his frame. He ended up having to pick up his ladder and move it back several feet.
In all, there were about 80 people there in support of the Georgia duo. Athletic Director Greg McGarity, assistant AD John Bateman and head basketball coach Mark Fox flew out for the ceremony on Thursday. The rest of the group, which of course included Durham and his extend family, also included a fairly large contingent of fans, as well as a few former players.
I’ve heard a lot of people say over the years that Georgia has no basketball tradition. Seeing all those people spread out across the stage made me think to myself, “oh yes it does.” Durham provided it many years ago. It just hasn’t been significantly built upon since his departure 21 years ago.
Durham always has preached one cornerstone to success in basketball, and he referred to it several times again this weekend: “You’ve gotta have great players,” he said.
And that’s what Durham changed while he was at Georgia. He got the best basketball players to come there. It’s still hard to fathom but, in the days that The Coliseum still hosted the rodeo every April, he was able to sign the likes of Wilkins and Vern Fleming and Terry Fair. They were among five high school All-Americans Durham would ink in his first two years on campus.
There are indications Fox can have the same kind of recruiting success. He signed 5-star prospect Kentavious Caldwell-Pope a few years ago. He recently signed Rayshaan Hammonds of Norcross, the nation’s No. 12-rated power forward and one of Durham’s legacies, 6-10 Nicolas Claxton, the son of 7-footer Charles Claxton. But the Bulldogs’ biggest prize still sits out there unclaimed. Georgia is a finalist, along with Duke and Harvard, for Wendell Carter, a 6-10, 250-pound forward and a top 5 national player out of Pace Academy. He’s scheduled to reveal his selection on Wednesday.
When Durham had his biggest success at Georgia, several of the nation’s best players decided to come play there together. They bought his pitch to come build something great together rather than just becoming “the next in line” at some of these traditional powerhouses. Imagine of the Bulldogs can do that again?
Maybe 20 years from now Fox and Carter can be up on that Hall of Fame stage, laughing and joking about what a great time they had.