FTRS Q&A Special: History Lesson

Daniel Miller doing what he does best. - Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

We asked reader Vespula, a basketball-obsessed Jacket since her days as a student in the 70s, to compare the current beesketball team to the ones of yore and give us some perspective on how things have changed. Bone up on your history, or you're doomed to repeat it.

Vespula made this interesting comment on a story a while back, and it jumped out of the page to us here at FTRS. Her experienced perspective is one we value here, so we decided to ask her a few questions about the current iteration of beesketball so we might better gauge where we are historically. Her fascinating and vivid answers are below, marginally edited. Enjoy!

FTRS: What are some qualities of teams of old that you'd like to see this team take on?

Vespula: If I could coach or enhance this 2013 team in any way, I would like to see them improve their shooting accuracy. The players look nervous when they have the ball, they shoot too soon or hold the ball too long and shoot out of panic and desperation. That is a lack of confidence or practice or (I fear) talent. Free throw shooting is another matter, and they should be a lot better at that. I also am very disappointed with the number of turnovers for walks that I see on this team. Again, I don't know if that is nervousness or insufficient practice or level of ability, but that really hurts the team. On the positive side, Tech is rebounding well in most games, and Miller is a jewel on this team in that department.

FTRS: Have you ever seen a Tech basketball team dig themselves out of a hole like this one (not only concerning the record, but the apparent mental rut the team is stuck in)? Do you remember how they did it?

Vespula: I would have to go back to the 1982-1983 team for that, I think. It was Bobby Cremins' second season with the Jackets, and we were still a little bit of a laughingstock in the ACC. Cremins had brought in Mark Price, an undersized point guard, and a big center named Yvon Joseph from Haiti. Joseph was already 25 years old, was not used to playing American basketball, but he was like a wrecking crane moving up and down the court. His technique was as polished as a bull in a rodeo, but with him blocking out the center and Price hitting three's like a Marine sniper, Tech slowly became a force in the conference. Cremins taught the team to finesse their moves to let Joseph send a pass to them when the lilliputian guards and forwards of the other teams crowded him in; Cremins realized that Joseph had a habit of simply rolling over an opponent and knocking him to the floor when he got frustrated, but he taught him to look for the fast-moving inside players on the team or go to Price, if there was no inside shot. That seemed to turn the whole attitude of the team and Tech rolled to an ACC tournament championship two years later and appeared in the Sweet 16 as well.

FTRS: Who was the best Tech basketball coach you've ever seen, and how do you think he'd handle this? I'm sure the answer is going to be Cremins, but I figured what the heck.

Vespula: WIthout a doubt Bobby Cremins was the best. If you didn't live through the earlier eras it is really hard to describe HOW much better he was. John "Whack" Hyder was legendary and iconic in the early 70's. He beat Adolph Rupp at Kentucky when the 'Cats were ranked #1 in the nation, and he took Tech to its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. In 1971, when yours truly was a Tech sophomore, the team went 23-9, but Tech students didn't care. The Technique published cartoons begging the students to come to the games. One of my professors for Thermo was a Purdue grad, and he chastised the whole class for not caring about basketball. The most lively thing I ever saw at a 70's game was the student section at the time razzing a UGA player who thought it was still the 1950's and slicky hair was cool. We chanted "greaseball" at him the whole game. But that was the extent of it. Rah!
Coach Dwane Morrison succeeded Whack Hyder. He was from a different planet from those with human life forms. The most famous thing he ever did was take the team to Moscow one year. During the trip, Morrison got up early one morning, went out to Red Square, and belted out his version of "God Bless America" in Leonid Brezhnev's USSR. That stunt put us internationally on par with the time our famously rowdy students hit Notre Dame coach Ara Parseghian with a dead fish on national TV. As a coach, Dwane Morrison performed like a singer. As a recruiter, he was as good as any person in Red Square we ever had.
Cremins was on a different level. Tech was in the lowest period of its basketball and football programs of the modern era during the late 70's and early 80's. Football had faltered under Pepper Rodgers. He was replaced by Bill Curry, who does know something about football, but has the personality of a local radio newscaster. Cremins, by contrast, was an instant star. WIth his snappy, New York accent, sharp dressed look featuring yellow or gold ties, and that famous, blizzard-white, free-flying natural cut hair, he was The Man for the New Wave rock era. He was young, dynamic, and had passion on the sidelines that drew you in. You could feel his belief in his teams and his drive to make them win. The players loved him, the fans loved him, and he turned Alexander Memorial Coliseum from the campus joke (the Big Tit) into The Thrillerdome. Tech people tuned into nationally broadcast games that featured OUR basketball team regularly. People from Carolina and Duke and State actually went out of their way to toss barbed slurs at us instead of ignoring us as they had before. It was Cremins who broke us into the big time. When Cremins' career stumbled a bit in the late 90's, his firing was not met with favor from a lot of Tech fans, and he remains for basketball what Dodd and Heisman are to Tech football. He's the greatest.
Briefly, Paul Hewitt started fast and showed tremendous potential. Tech basketball fans were in disbelieving euphoria when the team went to the National Championship game in 2004. But Hewitt could not sustain success because the players did not respect him. His coaching instructions and knowledge of the game were strong, and he could have brought teams to live out their real potentials, but you could see after 2004 that the team members ignored him. He would yell instructions to them during a game, and some would turn their backs on him and play selfish street ball with a "me first" attitude. Something in Hewitt did not command respect, and it was his downfall.
Brian Gregory knows all the fundamentals, he seems to explain things well to the players on the sidelines, but somehow there is no response from them. It is different from the reactions players were having to Paul Hewitt. They don't show disrespect, but they don't execute. For this reason, I am currently thinking that the problem on the present Georgia Tech basketball team is more related to the level of talent on the team than the competence of the coaching. This means that Gregory MUST recruit and recruit well for next year. This is hopefully the year that Gregory can show he has some of what set Cremins apart - the eye for "horse flesh" that separates good from great players, and the ability to charm those players to one of the top five engineering institutions in the United States. Let us hope he can deliver.

Thanks to Vespula for her great insight, and to you for reading!

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