An Essay

Do you ever start writing an email, blog comment, letter to a girl friend, and pause before touching the send/post button? I do. That's where I am tonight. I am finishing a glass of Booker's and watching FSU pull ahead of Cincinnati. Maybe the Bourbon has created a sense of genius that does not exist. Perhaps I am just an arrogant SOB. But I am full of doubt and optimism in a simultaneous mash that I will try to distill for you in a few paragraphs.

Brian Gregory is trying to remake Georgia Tech into a basketball team that can be playing on this night a year from now (or the year after). What does he have to accomplish to make that happen? First, he has to find quality basketball players from amongst the thousands of teenage dreamers and pretenders who think they are the stars of the next decade of hoops history. I kid you not. I was one of those dreamers. I eventually played some college hoops, but no one thought of me as a star. Not even in high school. But I had those dreams.

Next he has to find the right combination of personalities that will mesh together with his and each other's enormous egos. One guy, like Glen Rice, Jr, who thinks of himself as the star of stars, or someone else of enormous talent but minute work ethic, can diminish the collection of talent and act as the opponents' proxy to assure defeat in game after game. This is especially true for close games when trust and loyalty can turn five guys into a team that wins, or with the lack thereof, a team that invents excuses for what went wrong.

And the coach has to make believers of these kids. They have to know in their heart of hearts the coach has the brains, experience, personality, drive, and guts to make a difference in not only the team's results, but also each individual player's potential to reach their own lofty goals. He has to make Derrick Favors or Iman Shumpert think playing their best for the team is also the best for them as future NBA draft picks. And, he has to deliver on that assumed promise.

Even if Gregory does all these things he can have a Coach K moment. This year Duke looked like a near perfect team. Then, with two games left in their season, Ryan Kelley injured his foot. One player! Not three or four guys getting hurt or drunk or lustful with co-eds from another dorm. This happens to teams all the time, but the balance between very good and average is a very delicate thing in 2012. Maybe it always was. But Duke finished the regular ACC schedule looking pretty average, then won ugly before losing in the tournament, then folded before a #15 seed in the NCAAs.

Tonight, UNC's Kendall Marshall broke a bone in his wrist during a win over Creighton. I watched the TarHeels play without him several times this season when he was injured or resting. They are an average team when he is sitting on the sideline.

Let's assume we can put all the pieces together for a wonderful surprising season next year. Will we be as good as Duke without Ryan Kelley? Or UNC without Kendall Marshall? I hope so, but that is a stretch.

Be patient with Brian Gregory and the team he is building. It will take time. And the potential for success will be fragile. FSU is up by a point early in the 2nd half. They may be the ACC's best shot right now. Kansas was down with under a minute and won. "Good" requires a definition with many flaws in college basketball. But, good teams finds ways to win. Enjoy the ride. Support our team. Don't let your expectations run wild.

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