Lilly’s Dawg Blog.
In 1983 the Men’s Georgia basketball team made a historic run in the college basketball tournament all the way to the last four teams. It was a great time to be a UGA fan because the football team was also on a roll at that time. Things were good in my life. I had just turned thirteen when Coach Hugh Durham guided the basketball team through a murderous East side of the tournament bracket. Sports Illustrated, which I read cover to cover, would have a bracket on the inside of the March magazine that you could pencil in winners of the games. I was so proud to see Georgia as the #4 seed in the East! Although Georgia did not have a winning basketball history I thought for sure we could win it all. After all, the football team had recently won a national championship in 1980 and played for two more in 1981 and 1982.
The Dawgs had to play VCU in the first game of the tournament, and I thought we would blow them out, so I was more worried about them having to play #1 St. Johns in the next game. The gamed turned out to be very close throughout, and I began to wonder if we were going to win. VCU played a great game and Georgia played a bad game, but the Dawgs pulled the win out in a close one 56-54. I could not wait for the next game where we did have to play #1 seed St. Johns. The Redmen, name since changed due to PC, had one of my all-time favorite players Chris Mullins. I admit I tried to play just like him when I played my junior high games. The Dawgs were underdogs going into the game, and all the pundits assured the nation St. Johns was going to advance and not Georgia. To make matters worse, the game was to be played in Syracuse! Almost a home game for St. Johns. The Dawgs played a great game and upset St. Johns 70-67 to set a game against the mighty North Carolina Tar Heels.
North Carolina was the best of the best, the four corners offense, Coach Dean Smith, past champions, and fans all over the nation. Also, the team that won would be moving onto the last four. This was the biggest game ever for Georgia basketball. I was caught up in the enormity and the emotions of the game for sure, and I was feeling the pressure myself. Once again the pundits did not give the Dawgs a chance. No way a UGA could beat two great teams, and no way a UGA team could make it to the semifinals. I ask you to ponder these great players on UNC’s team that year. Michael Jordan, Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, and Brad Daugherty. What a group! Well, that all did not matter because the Dawgs were not impressed or afraid and won the game 82-77. We, my team, was going to the semifinal!
This is where the story gets even more intriguing. The Dawgs had to play #6 seed N.C. State. Surely we could beat these guys. Their record was not that good, and they had no name players on the team. State had this charismatic coach that ran up and down the sidelines and was always hugging his players after games. This was more a freak show. Little did we all now at the time that N.C. State was making the most fabulous college basketball tournament run of all-time, and all their starters were about to become household names forever in tournament history. The Dawgs lost 67-60, and as a new teenager I sat down and cried. However, this story was not over for me.
I knew the Georgia starting lineup by heart that year, and I still do. Lamar Heard, Vern Flemming, James Banks, Gerald Crosby, and Terry Fair. I loved those guys because they played for UGA, but they were also a great team. This was the best team UGA ever had in my opinion, so these five guys are royalty to me. In 2013 the 1983 team was honored at halftime of a home game for their 30-year anniversary. All the players were back in town along with Coach Durham. The best part was that it was on the same day as they were honoring all the returning Letterman for UGA basketball. So, I was going to be on the same floor as my childhood heroes! I got to talk with them and hear stories about the whole season. I told James Banks about how I had cried when I was thirteen, and he said: “ you know what, I did the same thing after the game.” I timidly asked the captain of the team, Lamar Heard, if I could get a picture with him. He said do you want a picture with the whole team? I was stunned and tried to say don’t, but he was such a great man he called the entire team over for a picture. Before I knew it was surrounded by the 1983 semifinal UGA basketball team. This was indeed one of the best moments of my life. Sadly Lamar Heard died way too early in 2017, but he will live on in my life as one of the best Damn Good Dawgs ever!
“*Any opinions are those of the author, John N Lilly III, and are not necessarily those of Raymond James or its affiliates. Expressions of opinion are as of the date of publication and are subject to change. The author’s use of humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, etc, is intended to be understood as such, and does not represent an official position regarding any particular subject, individual, or entity.”