The NCAA is celebrating 75 years of March Madness this season.
Today Georgia will welcome back the team that had its deepest run ever in the tournament for a 30th anniversary reunion of the Bulldogs’ 1983 Final Four team.
Among those from that team expected back in Stegeman Coliseum for the Mississippi State game are Lamar Heard, James Banks, Derrick Floyd, Donald Hartry and Monroe Jones. The program will recognize some 50 former lettermen in all.
A year after Dominique Wilkins headed to the NBA, Georgia upset top-seed St. John’s and No. 2 seed North Carolina in the tournament.
“It was a tremendous accomplishment for our team because Dominique had gone hardship and, of course, most people didn’t think that we had enough coming back that we would be able to make a run,” said former Georgia coach Hugh Durham, who lives in Jacksonville, except for the summers he spends in Banner Elk, N.C. “Fortunately, the players coming back didn’t feel the same way.
From a coaching standpoint, there’s always a special place in your memory bank for teams that come together and play better as a unit maybe than as a collection of individuals. That’s pretty much what we did.”
Guard Vern Fleming, a first-round NBA draft pick, was the team’s leading scorer.
The fourth-seeded Bulldogs won the program’s first ever SEC tournament title and knocked off the Tar Heels and Michael Jordan 82-77 to get to the Final Four. Sam Perkins stoked the fire by saying before the game in Syracuse he didn’t know Georgia’s conference.
“It gave us something to talk about, that’s for sure,” said Durham, now 75.
Georgia lost 67-60 in the semifinals to N.C. State, which went on to win the national title.
“We played N.C. State tough until the end,” said Durham, the winningest coach in Georgia history with a 298-216 record from 1978-95. “Early in the game, we didn’t shoot the ball very well, but we had enough grit and pride that we kept playing and we played pretty good down the stretch.”
Brandon Morris, a freshman forward now for Georgia, didn’t know about the Bulldogs’ Final Four history when he looked at coming to Georgia.
He heard about the Bulldogs’ trip to the NCAA tournament two years ago on a team with Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie.
Sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell Pope learned about the 1983 team when he “did a little research on Georgia” when he was recruited.
Asked about the program nowadays, Durham said: “I pull for Georgia and I think coach (Mark) Fox does a good coaching job. I just want good things to happen. I can’t tell you because I’m not there and I don’t see things on a day to day basis, but I enjoy watching them play on TV. I don’t know what they’ve done recruiting.”
Georgia has commitments from two players for its 2013 class — shooting guard Juwan Parker and point guard J.J. Frazier. Both are rated as three star prospects by Scout.com.
Fox said he made sure that photos of Bulldogs players and teams from the past were displayed at Georgia.
“We put up pictures of that team,” Fox said. “It’s great that they come back. Hopefully, our guys will play in a way that those guys will be proud of.”