A basketball odyssey

Jump shot: Five stops in five days show colleges are a degree apart with their hoop hoopla, whether it be N.C. State's Reynolds wrap, Ivy Leaguers itching for points, or camping out in `Krzyzewskiville.'

February 02, 1999|By DON MARKUS | DON MARKUS,SUN STAFF

A week in the life of a college basketball season is a blur of games, big and small, some overhyped and others overlooked. It is merely a fraction of what has become a five-month marathon that begins in early November and ends in a mad dash in late March.

The rivalries are played out, not only between coaches and teams, but between players and fans. And, in one celebrated case, within the structure of a family. Last week was no different than most. A few upsets and a few simply left upset. Here are snapshots of five of those games played over five days.

It's Tuesday night in Athens, Ga. The students are lined up outside Stegeman Coliseum nearly three hours before the 9: 30 tip-off for Georgia and Kentucky. A production crew from Home Box Office is here to film a segment for Bryant Gumbel's "Real Sports." Call it "The Smith Family Reunion -- Revisited."

A year ago, when Tubby Smith returned for his first game since leaving Georgia for Kentucky a few months before, the event was built to near biblical proportions. There was Smith going up against his former assistant, Ron Jirsa. There were two of his three sons, Saul and G. G., playing against each other.

"It was strange the first time, but I'm sure it'll be just as emotional," Tubby Smith had said the day before this year's game. "Having our sons play against each other, it's tough on the family."

Saul Smith, now a sophomore, would have gone to Georgia had his father remained. Instead, he followed the family to Lexington and played on Kentucky's national championship team last season. G. G. Smith, now a senior, was the only one to stay behind.

"You try to put it out of your mind, but you can't," says G. G. Smith. "Kentucky was always a big game for us when my dad was here because he worked there for Coach [Rick] Pitino. It's a big game because it's Kentucky. But it's a bigger game because of what the family goes through."

As hard as it is for Tubby Smith and his sons, it is much more difficult for his wife and their mother, Donna. She sits behind the Kentucky bench, holding a blue pompon in one hand and a red one in the other. She is also holding something else: her breath.

"As a mother, you want everyone to do well and no one to get hurt," she says. "You want both teams to win, but you know that's not possible."

The sixth-ranked Wildcats take over in overtime for a 91-83 win, the closest of the three games the schools have played since Tubby Smith left.

Neither of the Smith brothers gets the best of each other, though G. G. contributes more (nine points, nine assists in 41 minutes) to his team's moral victory as the starting point guard than Saul, a reserve who plays both backcourt positions, helps Kentucky (six points, two assists in 19 minutes).

Even as kids, the two oldest Smith brothers never fought like future 'Cats and Dawgs. Asked if he found himself rooting against his brother Tuesday night, Saul Smith says, "It never gets like that. He's a smart player. He's capable of making the big play. I'm just happy we won."

Says G. G. Smith: "Last year the game was so hyped. Last year was a bigger deal. I just look at it as a loss."

The fans seem to take the reunion aspect more seriously than the Smiths. The cheers Tubby Smith received last year have turned mostly to boos, and Saul Smith hears derisive shouts of "Daddy's boy daddy's boy." But they also turn their frustration on Smith's successor.

After going to the NCAA tournament in each of Smith's two seasons as head coach, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 1997, the Bulldogs have gone backward under Jirsa. They finished 20-15 after a third-round loss in the NIT last season, and the loss to Kentucky drops them to 12-8.

As Smith comes in for his post-game news conference, G. G. Smith is leaving the room. The two hug in the hallway. Later, after G. G. Smith gets dressed, he walks down the hall with his parents as the HBO cameras roll.

Donna Smith pulls her oldest son aside to take care of what her husband calls "some family housekeeping."

G. G. Smith's driver's license back in Kentucky is about to expire.

In `Krzyzewskiville,' bring tent

It's around 4 Wednesday afternoon in Durham, N.C., and the parking lot outside Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke University is filled with students waiting for the doors to open for that night's 9 o'clock game against hated archrival North Carolina.

Eric Gordon, a junior from Owings Mills, has spent the last 10 days sleeping mostly in his car, which is parked near the tent he and 11 classmates have shared in the place they call "Krzyzewskiville (pop. 1,200)."

After several students, including Gordon, sneaked into last year's home game against the Tar Heels, the system has become a little more sophisticated. The university also changed its policy to prevent students from camping out for as much as six or seven weeks.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.