For those that graduated from Tech more than 10 years ago, the name Darryl Dora lives in infamy. For me, his three-pointer in double-overtime to beat then number-two ranked Kansas was the start to one of my favorite nights as a student. We rushed the court, we drank, and we skipped class the next day.
That win propelled Tech into a number six seed in the NCAA tournament and an opening round win against the 11 seeded UCLA bruins. Next up was a three-seed Adam Morrison and Gonzaga. We won. Morrison cried. And Tech was onto the Sweet 16. It was validation that we were more than a coach. We were a team, and a good one.
I live and breathe Tech football, but I enjoy basketball more than most. While I was at Tech, this basketball season was better than any football seasons while I was there (eight-win season, bowl wins). While football was a craze among the students, basketball was equally as celebrated. We had the Fro Bros (look them up if you don't know), and lines from the USA back to the architecture building to get into basketball games.
After another good season and an NCAA tournament birth, it then went south. Really south. Pat Knight, Billy Clyde and Chris Walker led us to the bottom. For those that don't follow basketball as closely, think Mike Leach to Tommy Tuberville, and then multiply it by five.
But in came Tubby Smith. A man known for winning the right way. He attacked Florida in recruiting, grabbing Justin Gray (my favorite Tech basketball player of all time) and CJ Williamson. He grabbed Zach Smith from Plano and Keenan Evans from Richardson. He built a team with talent that could play together.
"We have not overachieved; we belong here." - Tubby Smith
The difference between this year and 11 years ago is that we entered this year without known scorers that could carry a team. We knew Toddrick Gotcher could hit threes, but he didn't have the ability to carry a team.
The 2004-05 team had four players with more points (Ronald Ross - 578, Jay Jackson - 504, Martin Zeno - 413, and Devonne Giles - 373) than this year's leading scorer (Gotcher - 349). They could light up scoreboards and hit threes at key times in games.
But this year's team played better defense, thus needing less points to win. They played as a team. And most importantly, they tasted victory. They know how to win, which will carry over to next year, and the year after. The core group of sophomores will teach the ones behind them how to win. They'll follow Tubby. And then they'll follow Pooh.
This year was better than 2004-05 because it was less expected. It was better because we knew how bad it had been, and how bad it had felt to not win a game in conference. We finally got to experience winning. We got to experience turning a game on and seeing fans in the arena. We got to see monster dunks, alley oops, and key three pointers. We saw fans rush courts. And we played in the NCAA tournament.
Failure makes success taste so much better. When Kliff holds up a Big 12 trophy, it will taste a little sweeter knowing what Tuberville left him. The same rings true for basketball; this season was so sweet knowing how bad the past 10 years felt.
The best part is that it's just starting. Tubby, Zach, Justin, Keenan, Aaron, Norense and company know how to win. They know how to represent Tech, and they know what it takes to get to the NCAA tournament.
We were a year ahead of schedule. We gained experience. And next year is going to be more fun than this year.
And who knows, maybe we'll get to experience another sweet 16 visit 12 months from now, just like we did 11 years ago. This time though, it will be sweeter.