January 21, 2014

Super Fan: What a great weekend of reliving the golden era of USC basketball

With the exception of one glitch, for a dyed-in-the-wool South Carolina basketball/football fan, this past Saturday was a double-dipping bonanza.

With the exception of one glitch, for a dyed-in-the-wool South Carolina basketball/football fan, this past Saturday was a double-dipping bonanza.

Actually, this special weekend began Friday afternoon with the renaming of several blocks of Green Street to McGuire Way, to honor the legendary Coach Frank McGuire. Afterwards around 80 former players from four decades ('40s, '50s, '60s, and '70s) of Gamecock basketball moved inside Colonial Life Arena for a reception. All I can say about it is that were more than a few revised versions of events of their playing days.

The former players met with the Tipoff Club Saturday morning with Bobby Cremins as the moderator, who of course had the best quip of the meeting. Former USC coaches George Felton and Eddie Fogler were there. “Those are both pretty good coaches,” Bobby said, “but they'll never match my record of being the only undefeated coach to coach here,” a reference to his one day as Carolina's head coach after the 1992-93 season before he decided to return to Georgia Tech.

I was back at the arena by 3 p.m. for an autograph signing by the McGuire-era players set for 3:15-3:45. I remember thinking on the drive over that there was no way 30 minutes would be enough time, and I was right. When I arrived there were already hundreds of fans crowded on the concourse. (Luckily, the players agreed to come back after the game).

But there they all were, the heroes of the magical era of South Carolina basketball - Cremins, Kevin Joyce, Alex English, Jack Thompson, Brian Winters, Bobby Carver - and on and on.

This was special for me because Coach McGuire's first year at USC was also my first. I went to games in the old Carolina Field House to watch the pre-Carolina Coliseum teams led by Thompson, Skip Harkicka, John Schroeder, Frank Standard and Jim Fox play.

That '64-65 team won just six games, and two of those were against Erskine, but the excitement they created with the way they played the game was electric.

There was no assigned seating in the 3,200-seat Field House, so we would be waiting when the Russell House cafeteria opened at 5 p.m., so we could eat and be in our seats by 5:30 for a 7 p.m. tipoff. It was such a phenomena. We would begin with plenty of room, but by the time the game started we were lucky if we could raise our arms.

Coach McGuire and those guys will always have a special place in my heart for leading USC into the golden era of big-time basketball.

Coach Frank Martin's Gamecocks did their part to rev up the large crowd and the 20 football recruits on hand, by taking a 10-point lead over Ole Miss to the locker room at intermission.

I haven't been able to verify it, but I'm told that early in the season a certain television commentator said he thought Coach Spurrier had “lost his enthusiasm.” That person did not see him Saturday afternoon.

In what has become a delightful habit, the 2013 football team was honored at halftime and presented the third-straight bowl trophy and the fifth-straight State Championship trophy to a very enthusiastic crowd.

And talk about enthusiasm, you could hear it in Coach Spurrier's voice as he rattled off all the accomplishments of his program, and especially when he was getting in a few digs about the rival up the road.

There were 20-25 players on the court with him, and he went down the line and introduced every one of them. I would bet the farm that neither Joe Paterno nor Bobby Bowden could have done that when they were 68.

Coach Spurrier and his staff -- that appears will remain intact -- all got much-deserved raises, and continuity is a key ingredient in moving a program forward.

The glitch of the day was that the Gamecocks lost to the Rebels by one point, 75-74, but you can see that all the pieces are there, it's just a very young team feeling their way.

It was a great day and a great time to be Gamecock!

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