Tidbits - March 30, 2017

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TIDBITS by RALPH SHEALY



NEVER THOUGHT

  I never thought I’d live to see the day when the University of South Carolina basketball team made the Final Four.
  I figured I had missed that opportunity when Carolina’s greatest team ever didn’t make the tournament field when I was 20 years.
  I certainly did not think this year’s team would be the one to make it.
  In my March 9 column I wrote:
  “I hope the Gamecocks do well in the SEC tournament and make the NCAA field, but I have absolutely no confidence in a team filled with terrible shooters.
  Frank Martin recruits shooters like Steve Spurrier’s staff recruited quarterbacks the last few years, apparently.
  Hopefully, he will find some for next year, because he sure ain’t got any this year.”
  The last nine games of the season, this team was 3-6. They even shot horribly in the games they won and the defense that was supposed to be so great, wasn’t.
  They lost in the first round of the Southeastern Conference Tournament, and I was surprised they got a seventh seed in the NCAAs. I figured them to be ten or 11.
  A Kentucky radio personality said, “South Carolina is the worst 7th seed in NCAA tournament history.”
  He has since apologized. Ironically, “the worst 7th seed in NCAA tournament history” is in the Final Four, and Kentucky is not.
  I don’t know what happened, but in the second half of the Marquette game, the Gamecocks relocated the rhythm they had in the first part of the season when they  were a very good team.
  To make it to the Final Four the Gamecocks, after beating 10th seed Marquette, beat a two seed, a three seed and a fourth seed in a row. Two of those teams, Duke and Baylor, were ranked Number One at times during the season. Even Marquette was favored over Carolina.
  Frank Martin has gotten to where Frank McGuire should have gotten. Frank Martin in the last two seasons  tied and broke Frank McGuire’s single season wins mark, 25.
  The 1971 Gamecocks began the year ranked number one. They lost during the season to Tennessee and Davison (I was there for both losses), but went 14-0 in the ACC.
  In those days, it didn’t matter if you won the regular season title. Only the tournament champion earned the NCAA bid, and that was the only team that could go to the tournament.
  The season was set up perfectly for the Gamecocks because they were hosting the Eastern Regional at Carolina Coliseum.
  But, “the best laid plans,” were not to be. Star John Roche sprained his ankle in the semifinals, and N.C. State held the ball (there was no shot clock back then) and beat the Gamecocks in the finals.
  The NCAA had a rule back then that if your school was hosting a NCAA regional, the team was ineligible to play in the NIT, which was very big back them.
  So, Carolina’s 25-3 team did not go anywhere. That loss to N.C. State was the most devastating I have ever experienced in my life.
  I’m sure the Gamecocks would have won  the regional and made it the Final Four. UCLA was in the midst of its historic National Championship run, so I don’t know if Carolina would have won the title, but at least they could have played for it.
  What happened to the Gamecocks in 1971 is one of the reasons the NCAA started expanding the field. Too many good teams were being left out.
  It’s hard to compare this year’s Gamecock team to 1971. As a student in 1971, I’m a little prejudiced, because that team made basketball in this state important.
  They gave birth to improved high school basketball that continues to this day.
  Kids, who weren’t Catholic, crossed themselves before they shot free throws just like John Roche did.
  I remember when former player George Felton was hired as the Gamecocks head basketball coach in the late 80s, and he came to a Saluda County Gamecock Club meeting at Lewis Givens’ lake house. I asked him if he was going to recruit New York, like his coach Frank McGuire did.
  “The heck with New York (paraphrasing). We have enough talent in this state.”
  I see this Final Four appearance paying great dividends, also. Too many of the top players our high schools produce go out of state to play.
  They are enamored by the Tar Heels and the Blues Devils, but now there is a team in this state that beat the Blue Devils, who beat the Tar Heels in the ACC tournament. Maybe, the top players will start staying home. Hear, that Zion?!!!
  Let’s give a shout out to Clemson. The Tigers lost six or seven games by a handful of points, including to Duke. Yes, they blew a 20 points lead and lost to Oakland in the NIT, but this team was close to being very good.
  Frank McGuire helped Clemson get better in basketball back then. Frank pretty much demanded the Coliseum be built. That happened, followed closely by Clemson getting Littlejohn.
  I’ve got a feeling Clemson basketball will strive to get better, just as Carolina’s football has been inspired to get better by Clemson’s national championship football team.
  During the tournament, I have enjoyed the love Frank Martin and his team have gotten from the national media. It is very similar to what Clemson’s football team got.
  Other than the basketball wins, Martin’s respect of a 13-year-old reporter, the greatest picture coming out of all this was Darius Rucker crying at the end of the Florida game.
  Many Gamecock fans shared that emotion, Darius.

WHAT TO WEAR?

  During the run of the Gamecock men and women in the NCAA tournament I have worn the same long-sleeve corduroy shirt on gameday.
  It’s not a Carolina shirt. It is a multi-color Tommy Hilfiger shirt I bought years ago.
  It was pretty cool when the tournaments began, but Sunday was a little too warm to wear long-sleeved corduroy shirt. I wore it and burned up.
  I’m writing this around at 7 p.m. on Monday. It’s still hot, but I’ll be putting on my corduroy shirt before the Gamecock women play.
  No, I have not watch one men’s game live. I have a nice tape I’ve built up, though.
  I have watched the blow-out wins by the women. I don’t think I can jinx those.
  I’m not the.only superstitious fan.
  I heard on the radio about one of the producers at 107.5 the Game.
  Sunday, one producer was working the basketball game and the other was doing the baseball game.
  After the baseball game was over, the producer told his co-worker he forgot to wear the same outfit he wore Friday when Carolina beat Baylor, and was going home to change.
  When he got home, he remembered he had washed the outfit and the clothes were still in the washing machine.
   He had to get back to work, and did not have time to put the clothes in the dryer, so he put them on wet and wore them back to the job.
  You do what you have to do!
  Oh, you may ask why I didn’t wear a Gamecock shirt during the basketball games? Well, the last times I wore a Gamecock shirt, Carolina lost to Clemsonl, 56-7, and to South Florida in the bowl game.

SPORTS’ STATE

  The Gamecock women earning a trip to the Final Four Monday night continues an amazing sports’ year for our state.
  Coastal Carolina winning the NCAA baseball World Series, was followed by Clemson’s national championship in football. Now, Carolina’s men’s and women’s basketball teams have made the Final Four.
  Throw in Greenville hosted the SEC women’s tournament and two rounds of the NCAA tourney, and Coastal hosted the ACC women.
  Add to that Columbia’s Dustin Johnson is the topped ranked golfer in the world and Clemson and Carolina are both currently ranked in the baseball top ten.
  Most importantly, all of these accomplishments have brought nothing but positive reflections on our state.
  What a great ride it has been! Hopefully, we can add some more trophies!