Valleys Upon Valleys


Posted Jul 3, 2012


It was a tumultuous ten years of basketball for the Bulldogs. Most of the moments of the last decade were negative. In this story Fletcher Page breaks down the ten biggest basketball stories during the Dawg Post the Magazine era.

1. 2008 Arkansas: Culmination of events to win the SEC Championship

By the time Georgia and Arkansas squared off for the SEC Championship on March 16, 2008 it just felt like the Bulldogs were supposed to win. After all, Georgia had won four games in three games, hit two buzzer beaters (more on that later), played in two different venues and survived a tornado in downtown Atlanta.

Call it fate or destiny or whatever – there was no way Georgia wasn’t beating the Razorbacks after all it had been through.

Terrence Woodbury had 16 points and Dave Bliss pulled down 11 rebounds as the Bulldogs won easily 66-57.

The improbable ride became a national story – Georgia was featured on the front page of USA Today following the victory.

It also saved Dennis Felton’s job (he was fired the next season).

How did Georgia go from a team below .500 to earning a berth in the NCAA Tournament?

The Bulldogs defeated Ole Miss with a buzzer beater from Dave Bliss in the first round. Easy enough.

Then a tornado devastated the downtown area and damaged the Georgia Dome, forcing the quarterfinals matchup with Kentucky to be played the following day at, of all places, Georgia Tech’s Alexander Memorial Coliseum. Zac Swansey hit a 3-pointer with just over a second to defeat the Wildcats, leaving the Kentucky faithful in ‘Catlanta’ shocked.

The Bulldogs had to turn around and play Mississippi State on the same day in the semifinals – a 64-60 win that was only slightly less dramatic.

All that mess set up the win over Arkansas. Nobody could have written that in fiction. But it happened. It all happened.

2. 2003: Jeremy Schaap jumps out on Jim Harrick

Jeremy Schaap and Jim Harrick will never be friends. That much became clear after a four-month investigation by ESPN and Schaap, which culminated with Schaap waiting outside Harrick’s office outside Stegeman Coliseum to interview Harrick.

“Jeremy Schaap waited behind the wall and jumped out,” Harrick later said in an interview Dick Vitale. “He contacted our sports information department, and because there’s a police thing in this town on Tony Cole, we’re not allowed to talk about that, and we relayed that to him. We’re very professional about it, and he unscrupulously stalked me out and hid behind a wall. Now Dick, what kind of journalism is that? Now Dick, this is sports!”

By the time of Harrick’s interview with Vitale it had become clear that his time in Athens was coming to and end, and much of Harrick’s vitriol was aimed at Schaap, who showed Harrick a copy of a Western Union receipt showing Jim Harrick Jr. had wired $300 to Tony Cole.

“He called me a sleaze bag,” Schaap told Tim Brando on Sporting News Radio. “Anybody who knows anything about journalism knows there is nothing improper about interviewing a public employee on public property, especially when the allegations were as serious as they were.”

3. 2008 Buzzer Beaters: Dave Bliss vs. Ole Miss/Zac Swansey vs. Kentucky

Ole Miss defeated Georgia 76-62 during the regular season in 2008. Kentucky had beaten the Bulldogs twice.

But none of that mattered after two game-winning shots in the SEC Tournament.

Georgia faced Ole Miss five days after that 14-point loss in the first round. There was little reason to believe the Bulldogs could win the second matchup with the Rebels and some speculated coach Dennis Felton was on the way out.

Regardless, Georgia came out playing strong from the tip. It led 44-40 at halftime and built a 13-point lead in the second half only to see Ole Miss storm back late to tie the game and force overtime.

The Bulldogs held a three-point lead with 10 seconds remaining before Rebels’ guard Chris Warren sank a 3 to tie the game once again. On the final possession of the game, senior forward Dave Bliss narrowly got off a shot with 0.4 seconds left that banked in for the win.

That win sent Georgia on to play Kentucky (one tornado and two days later). Once again the Bulldogs were forced into overtime. This time, however, it was Zac Swansey that provided the excitement in the closing seconds. A freshman guard from Dunwoody, Swansey scored five points in the extra period, including a turnaround 3-point shot with 1.2 seconds remaining to give Georgia a 60-56 victory.

The Bulldogs went on to beat Mississippi State and Arkansas to take the SEC title and save Felton’s job. And none of it would have been possible without the heroics of Bliss and Swansey.

4. March 2003: Forfeiting Postseason Play

As Georgia’s basketball program began to unravel in March of 2003, there was growing speculation about how the university would handle what was an ever-growing list of allegations against coach Jim Harrick and his staff.

The answer came on March 10th, when the school announced that not only had it suspended Harrick but pulled the Bulldogs, then ranked No. 21 in the country out of the SEC and NCAA tournaments.

The decision cost Georgia at least $270,000, which it would have received for participating in the conference tournament and probably another $100,000 on top of that as the Bulldogs almost certainly were headed for a bid in the NCAA Tournament.

“I respect the institution's decision and know they are conducting an investigation with integrity,” SEC commissioner Mike Slive said at the time. “I know it was a painful decision to make, but it is the best one for the institution as well as the S.E.C.'”

The decision was most painful for the Georgia players.

“We played this season for nothing,” Jonas Hayes told the New York Times.

5. 2011 Washington: An at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament

Anybody involved or interested in the Georgia basketball team that says they weren’t nervous on Selection Sunday in March of 2011 probably isn’t telling the truth.

Nobody knew if the Bulldogs would be included in March Madness after losing to Alabama twice in three games to end the regular season and in the SEC Tournament.

As it turned out, Georgia was solidly in the tournament as a 10-seed, drawing the fast-paced Washington Huskies in the first round.

Athletic director Greg McGarity had a look of pride on his face for two days in Charlotte as his team shared the same practice court as national powers North Carolina and Duke.

It felt like Georgia belonged. And the game versus Washington proved that. The game was tied at 28 at halftime and the second half remained equally as close. In the end, Huskies guard Isaiah Thomas was too much, scoring 19 points as Washington won 68-65.

Trey Thompkins had 26 points and Travis Leslie added 12. The junior duo would later turn pro, leaving Georgia in rebuilding mode one year after finally making it into the Big Dance as an at-large after years of frustration and struggle.

6. 2005 Offseason: Lou Williams declares for the NBA

Dennis Felton needed a marquee player to lead his team. He needed a high profile recruit from the state of Georgia to keep establishing in-roads into the hot bed of talent around the Atlanta area.

Briefly Felton addressed those needs with Lou Williams.

A 6-1, 175-pound guard from South Gwinnett High, Williams was the two-time Mr. Georgia Basketball and the second all-time leading scorer in the state’s history.

Williams and teammate Mike Mercer formed a dangerous combo, winning the state title in their junior year. Williams averaged over 27 points and more than five assists in his senior season, winning the Naismith Prep Player of the Year.

He and Mercer committed to Felton and Georgia. Mercer ended up in Athens. Williams opted for the NBA.

Poor workouts and questions about his size hurt his stock. The Philadelphia 76ers finally took him with the 45th overall pick – a point of frustration for Georgia fans who wanted to see Williams play for at least one season for the Bulldogs.

The loss hurt Georgia tremendously. Williams was a talent that Felton never could match on the recruiting trail. Mercer flamed out after only two seasons, as the Bulldogs continued to struggle without a sure fire go-to guy.

Meanwhile Williams had struggles of his own. He was sent to the NBA Developmental League for a brief stint in his second season and took time to find his way in the pro ranks.

As time went by Williams got better and thrived in a sixth man role. He eventually signed a five-year contract worth $25 million in 2008.

Felton was fired in 2009, four years after Williams left him hanging without a star.

7. 2008 Offseason: Mark Fox arrives in Athens

Mark Fox was hired in April of 2008 after a somewhat drawn out process to find Dennis Felton’s replacement that included numerous names and rumors.

Mike Anderson of Missouri came up. So did Frank Haith of Miami, Oliver Purnell from Clemson and Anthony Grant at Virginia Commonwealth.

Each news organization seemed to find a new candidate for the job as the days wore on. And when then athletic director Damon Evans finally settled on the man for the job, nobody had predicted his choice.

Fox had spent five seasons coaching at Nevada, making the NCAA Tournament on three occasions.

While he was a coach that not many expected to get the job, Fox began his tenure by making solid hires on his staff and saying all the right things to the media during his first offseason.

He generated excitement from the fan base and began recruiting players to fit his system.

“When I first came to Georgia I asked for the help of everyone because we needed it,” Fox said. “We've received it. I do want to thank everyone who has helped our program improve and move forward. This is not a short-term project, and there's work left to do. But I'm very excited about our new deal, and continuing our mission to build Georgia basketball.”

8. 2011 Kentucky: Win over the Wildcats

Everything was looking up for the Georgia basketball team after its 77-70 win over Kentucky on Jan. 8, 2011.

The Bulldogs opened SEC play by stunning the No. 11 Wildcats for their ninth straight win – the team’s longest streak since the 1983 season.

Trey Thompkins had 25 points, Jeremy Price grabbed 10 rebounds and Travis Leslie had four assists. With those three players playing well Georgia became a viable NCAA tournament team.

The win placed Georgia in control of the SEC East and at the time the Bulldogs were a popular pick to contend for the conference title.

That didn’t come to fruition, but the win over Kentucky was Mark Fox’s first signature win and made Georgia a national team to watch.

9. 2003 Offseason: The Dennis Felton Era begins

The task was monumental for Dennis Felton as he sat with Vince Dooley to his side and with his wife in the audience – child in her lap fighting off sleep. Felton was seen as a cleaner. A head coach who was prepared to do things the right way in order to get the Bulldogs back on track from the desaster Jim Harrick left the program in.

No on thought Felton would quickly turn around the Bulldogs, but at the moment he was introduced to the country as Georgia’s next head coach Felton seemed like a good pick. He’d had success against Kentucky (the top basketball school in the SEC) and was considered squeaky clean.

But years later Felton left Georgia as damaged as he’d received it. The Bulldogs continued anemic recruiting efforts and were unable to become a winner for all but one of his seasons at the helm.

10. Summer 2010: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope commits to Georgia

Sticking to his low-key style, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope quietly committed to Georgia in July of 2010.

Long suffering fans of the program weren’t as calm about the news. Caldwell-Pope was the biggest name to commit to Georgia since Lou Williams did six years earlier (we know how that turned out).

A five-star guard from Greenville, Caldwell-Pope signed his letter-of-intent in the fall, sealing the deal on Mark Fox’s first McDonald’s All-American at Georgia.

The recruiting win proved Georgia could compete for top-tiered talent in the state and gave the Bulldogs a face for the future in the wake of Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins turning pro.

As a freshman, Caldwell-Pope averaged 13.2 points and 5.2 rebounds per game and was clear early in the season that he would return for a second season. Bulldogs fans hope the best is yet to come.


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