March Madness at CCSU

By Doug Gorman

It's no secret, but I absolutely love college basketball.

It's been a passion of mine since 1980 when the Louisville Cardinals beat UCLA to win the national title.

I lived and breathed with every shot that team took during that season, and although 25 years later some of the details have grown a little fuzzy, I still remember the way Darrell Griffith dunked the basketball. Cable television wasn't nearly as big then as it is now, but he could have been an ESPN highlight every night.

I moved to Atlanta a few months after the Cardinals gave head coach Denny Crum a championship, but I stayed a Louisville fan until I graduated from high school in 1983.

Then I discovered the ACC. That was about the time, Bobby Cremins came to Atlanta and made the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets a national power.

Watching those early Tech teams go from ACC doormat to contender was exciting as players such as Mark Price and John Salley laid the foundation for years of success down on the Flats.

To this day, I love the ACC. To me, it's the most most competitive league in all of college basketball.

But exciting basketball isn't reserved for the major college ranks. Anybody in the Southern Crescent who didn't get to Clayton State to watch the men and women play this season missed out on something special.

Both teams play the game at a high level. Skeptics shouldn't be fooled by the Division II label. No, the teams don't play in front of 10,000 fans, and even Dick Vitale might not know about CCSU's winning teams, but basketball on the Morrow campus is a major success story.

The Clayton State Lady Lakers have set all kinds of records this season under the direction of first-year head coach Dennis Cox.

With a 21-6 overall record and a 13-3 mark in the Peach Belt Conference, the Lady Lakers won the regular-season league title. Thursday night they won their first game in the PBC tournament.

The Lady Lakers are loaded with talent and are one of those teams where a different player is capable of stepping it up each game. Jamika Hindsman is averaging 13.5 points per game, Shelcey Harp is averaging 12.8 and Jasmine Patterson is scoring 11.6.

The Lady Lakers stellar play earned them a first-round bye in the conference tournament.

Regardless of what happens in the PBC tournament, Cox's club should have already punched its ticket to the NCAA Division II tournament. That too would be a first for the school.

On the men's side, CCSU is also trying to win a tournament title. At times this year the men's team underachieved. Now, they are playing as well as anybody in the PBC.

The Lakers won't start their portion of the conference tournament until today, but after getting hot down the stretch with three straight victories, I think they are the team to beat.

One of those recent victories was a double overtime thriller against defending NCAA Division II national champion and PBC rival Kennesaw State.

The energy inside the CCSU gym that night was electrifying as the capacity crowd watched the Lakers win their biggest game in school history. Head coach Gordon Gibbons has been the architect of this team for the last four years. The veteran coach has won more than 300 games in his career, including 76 since taking over at CCSU four years ago.

The Lakers have built their success around solid defense, but they have plenty of players who can step it up on offense too. Senior Craig Butts is averaging 16.8 points a game and B.J. Puckett is averaging 11.8

No wonder an outbreak of March Madness is spreading through the Morrow campus.

(Doug Gorman is sports editor of the Daily. His column runs on Fridays. He can be e-mailed at dgorman@news-daily.com )