ATHENS — What a great day for Georgia basketball that both coach Hugh Durham and player Dominique Wilkins were elected for induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame in the same year. There’s really not much arguing the point — they ARE Georgia’s greatest when it comes to basketball.
Tuesday’s news of their impending induction brought up an interesting discussion point with me and a friend, who also happens to be a big UGA basketball fan (yes, they do exist, and in increasing number). As these things usually do, it initiated a debate about who would be included on Georgia basketball’s Mt. Rushmore.
I was — and am — of the opinion that it has to be separated between players and coaches. Each set deserves its own mountain. And in that regard, Durham stands alone. There are no other faces on his hillside.
Nobody else has come close to Durham’s accomplishments of winningest, longest-tenured, only Final Four, only SEC championship. Yes, Tubby Smith was good for two years. But sticking around only half a presidential term doesn’t warrant a chisel stroke.
Where it got interesting was when the discussion turned to great Georgia players. What four faces would appear on that hillside?
In my mind — and everybody else’s, really — Wilkins is the best to have ever donned a UGA uniform. Never minding wins and losses and scoring titles and the like, there was a reason Wilkins was dubbed “The Human Highlight Film” coming out of Georgia. While Wilkins was the SEC’s scoring champion in 1981 with 23.6 points per game, it was the way he played. Wilkins was probably the last Bulldogs’ player that people went just to see him play. Just the other day, before any of this came to light, former Georgia quarterback Buck Belue was talking about how fun it was as a student back then to go to the Coliseum to watch Wilkins in action.
“I was talking to Dominique this morning and I said, ‘You know, Dominique, you are the most impactful player in Georgia basketball history.’ And I believe that,” Durham told me Tuesday. “That’s not a knock on anybody else. It’s just the way it happened. And he still is.”
For that reason, Wilkins is in George Washington’s place of prominence on UGA basketball’s Mt. Rushmore. But who’s up there with him?
I can tell you only who I’d put there. Alongside Dominique, I’d have Alec Kessler, Vern Fleming and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope.
Kessler could make a good argument was Georgia’s best of all time. He was the leading scorer and rebounder on the only team in school history to win the SEC championship in 1990. What’s more, he graduated with a 3.91 GPA in microbiology.
Fleming, to me, is like the forgotten man among Georgia greats. He was Mr. Everything for the Bulldogs in the year after Wilkins left early for the NBA. He was the biggest star on a team full of stars, averaging 16.9 points and leading the Bulldogs to one of the unlikeliest Final Four berths in NCAA history.
Caldwell-Pope was the best overall Georgia player I’ve personally witnessed since the time of Fleming and Wilkins. So good was Caldwell-Pope that he was named the SEC’s player of the year in a season (2013) that his team didn’t even have a winning record (15-17). He led the team in something like nine statistical categories.
That’s my UGA basketball Mt. Rushmore. Yours might look different.
I can’t speak much about the old Georgia basketball days with greats such as Bob Lienhard and Zippy Morocco. And I personally witnessed a lot of other truly great players in action. Guys like Jarvis Hayes, Litterial Green and Willie and Shandon Anderson were exceptional players on exceptional teams.
But I feel pretty good about my four. Yours?