Gary Edwards Column
When my Francis Marion University men’s basketball team hosts Clayton State this weekend, it will be my 1000th game as a collegiate head coach. When our long-time sports information director, Mike Hawkins, informed me of this milestone, my response was, “I am an old person.”
But not really. I just got an early start, and I have been lucky enough through the years to navigate the minefields of this profession successfully.
When I was in the ninth grade at Norfolk Collegiate School in Norfolk, Virginia, Coach Larry Riggs brought me up to the varsity for the season ending Tidewater Conference Tournament. The Oaks upset the heavily favored Norfolk Catholic Crusaders and I was hooked…I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I continued my playing career at Virginia Wesleyan College under Coach Don Forsyth. He hired me as Sports Information Director/Head Junior Varsity Coach/ Assistant Varsity Coach the day after I graduated.
After three years, my good friend Bob Valvano was instrumental in helping me land an assistant coaching job at Hofstra University. A conversation I had with the athletic director there at the time, Bob Getchell, paved the way for my future plans.
I asked him his opinion on the best way to rise in the coaching profession. He said, “Gary, you can be an assistant and ride someone else’s coattails, or you can get a program of your own and make your own mark.”
The latter choice appealed to me, so I applied for a job at tiny Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in Wilson, North Carolina. The Bulldogs had gone 4-21 the year before, no one else wanted the job, so they hired me as the head coach.
I was 26 years old.
My first game was a thrilling overtime win over UNC-Greensboro on November 16, 1984. And the rest, as they say, is history.
There have been so many memorable games:
Atlantic Christian’s upset of Belmont Abbey to go to the NAIA National Tournament.
Point-guard Eric Burks hitting a last-second shot to give Charleston Southern the 1995 Big South Championship and the Buccaneers beating UNLV at UNLV the following year
Indiana University of Pennsylvania earning multiple trips to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.
And I would have to rank this week’s win at #4 ranked USC-Aiken by the Francis Marion University men’s basketball team as one of the best, too.
I remember when Bruce Curtis, the Atlantic Christian athletic director, called me to tell me I had the job. I was standing in my basement apartment in Hempstead, New York, and I was listening to James Taylor sing, “Carolina in my Mind”.
Now, 1000 games later, I am still in Carolina doing what I love. And though I have more games behind me than ahead, I believe the best is yet to come.
Gary Edwards Column 2-02-19
I watched an NBA game on television the other night. I was with my Francis Marion men’s basketball team on the road, and I turned on the Houston Rockets game to kill some time in the hotel.
I really couldn’t believe what I was watching. Houston guard James Harden stood in the middle of the court dribbling the ball while his four teammates stood watching him.
When the 24-second shot clock wound down a bit, he would travel to gain spacing and then launch a 30-foot shot. Sometimes these scud missiles would find their mark, but many bounced harmlessly away.
I had not watched an NBA game in a long time, but I soon started talking to myself in my hotel room. This is the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player? This is how professional basketball is now played in America?
The answer to both questions is a pitiful yes. For a basketball aficionado, the current NBA is almost unwatchable.
Phil Jackson, who won multiple championships with the Bulls and Lakers, said, “...it’s really quite remarkable to see how far our game has fallen from a team game. Four guys stand around watching one guy dribble a basketball.”
After a pre-season tour of Spain, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook commented on how hard it was to guard the great professional basketball teams of Europe. He wasn’t used to guarding offensive players who actually move without the ball.
When I was growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, I would go over to the Jewish Community Center and watch the ABA Virginia Squires practice. I got a close up look at the talents of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Charlie Scott.
As great as their individual talents were, they always played together, moving the ball with precision and skill. Basketball was meant to be a team game.
But former NBA commissioner David Stern made a conscious decision years ago to shift the emphasis of the league from team accomplishments to individual accomplishments. He wanted to market the so-called superstars of the NBA.
So now we have a handful of superstars and very few decent teams in the NBA. And the defensive rules (defensive three seconds and no hand checking) make today’s NBA player look better offensively than they really are.
I have played and coached basketball for over 50 years, but I didn’t recognize the game I watched on television the other night. I am not really sure what it is but I am not going to watch it any more.
I have a hard enough time watching my own team play.