Tuesday, November 12, 2013
Building Back The Magic!
As Vanderbilt begins another men's basketball season with an opening home game against Georgia State (November 12), it's clearly a rebuilding situation for the program. But as the Centennial Class at VU, we know all about that. Our freshman year (1969-70), despite high expectations because of a recent Number #1 national recruiting class, the Dores were picked high but finished with losing marks, both in the SEC (8-10, 6th place) and overall (12-14).
Sophomore year ('70-'71) it was a .500 mark overall (13-13) as well as in the conference (9-9, 4th place). In 1971-72, our junior year, Vanderbilt showed improvement again, going 16-10 and 10-8 in the SEC, again finishing in 4th place in the conference.
So fronted by a quartet of solid seniors (above, L To R, Rod Freeman, Chris Schweer, Ray Maddox and Steve Turner) providing leadership (and great rebounding), Vandy seems poised for potentially great things our senior year. And indeed the Black & Gold began the season with impresssive road victories at both Louisville and at Kansas. (With Steve Womack, I went up for that Louisville game to cover it for WRVU. I remember how excited the team was winning in such an historic venue as Freedom Hall where the game played).
The Dores started 8-1 in the pre-conference, losing only to Memphis State at Memorial Gym. While disappointed that game got away late from the Dores, come March it didn't look quite so bad as the Tigers would finish as national runner-ups to perennial NCAA champs UCLA.
Then came a memorable SEC season with Vanderbilt going 13-5 and losing only one home SEC game (versus Alabama and future VU Coach C.M. Newton). The wins included finally scratching the four year itch of defeating Tennessee and Coach Ray Mears, smashing the Big Orange 86-74 in our final game as seniors.....
And then there was this unforgettable win as freshman Joe Ford (a Kentucky native) hit two free throws after time expired to defeat the eventual SEC champion and Elite Eight runnerupWildcats 76-75. Ford, a member of the soon to be famed F-Troop along with Jeff Fosnes and Butch Fehrer, was carried off the floor that night by VU students and fans.
But despite sweeping Kentucky home and home, losing to Alabama home and away as well as losses on the road to UT, Auburn and Florida doomed the Dores to lose the SEC title. In fact because in those days only the SEC regular season champion was invited to the Big Dance, and because home teams could not go to any other post-season tourneys (such as the NIT & the short-lived Commissioner'sTournament) if the school hosted the NCAA Regionals (which we did that spring), this Vandy squad, despite finishing 20-6 overall and tied for second in the SEC STAYED HOME that year. No post-season
40 years later, it still seems so unfair!
But what the Class of 1973 Seniors helped to build came to fruition the following season as the core of the 1973-74 team (the F-Troop and seniors Terry Compton, Lee Fowler, Bill Ligon and SEC Player of the Year Jan Van Breda Kolff) led Vanderbilt to only its second SEC title in school history under the leadership of already legendary coach Roy Skinner.