It’s time to support the home teams

sports@macon.comMarch 5, 2013 

Well, this is a big deal. Once again, the A-Sun will have its basketball tournaments in Macon at Mercer’s Hawkins Arena.

It’s a big deal because it’s here. It’s not in Columbus. It’s not in Augusta. It’s not in Savannah. And it’s definitely not in Atlanta.

I get a little territorial when it comes to sporting events in Middle Georgia. It probably has a lot to do with the fact that we’ve lost so much through the years. The Macon Whoopee didn’t make it. The Macon Knights had to fold. And the city of Rome (with a population of just more than 36,000) stole the Braves.

We have great high school sports in this area, but Mercer is a Division I basketball program that has become relevant.

Mercer has the best little arena you’ll ever find. Yes, it holds around 3,200 people, so it’s not Philips’ Arena. But it’s not Porter Gym either.

The best part about this year’s tournament is how good the host teams are this season. Mercer has a great chance to win both the men and the women’s championship.

Now let’s be honest and, for that matter, respectful. The Mercer women are going to have one heck of a challenge. Florida Gulf Coast just finished its second straight perfect conference season. The Eagles come in at 25-5 overall and will be tough to beat.

That does not diminish what Susie Gardner and her Bears have done this season. When Mercer held its tip-off banquet back in October, Gardner got up in front of the audience and admitted she didn’t know quite what to expect this season.

Gardner’s team was 6-23 last year and then was hit by injuries early on this season. But an amazing 19-10 record has Mercer as the No. 3 seed and as a team that could be dangerous on its own home court.

Then there’s the men’s team, which has been knocking on the door for a chance to hoist the A-Sun trophy for several years now. Bob Hoffman’s Bears won the regular-season title and will be the top seed this week, and again, it’s on their own home court.

Mercer is, for lack of a better term, at home on its own home court. The Bears are 13-0 this season at Hawkins Arena. They beat their opponents in games at Hawkins Arena by an average of right at 20 points per game.

This Mercer team has prepared for this moment. The Bears have been right there for a few years, getting closer to be in position to win a championship. And that’s why this year’s tournament could be a lot of fun.

Last year the Bears won 27 games and a postseason tournament. That was unbelievable. But it wasn’t the conference championship. A conference tournament title and a trip to the NCAA tournament are the one things missing from Hoffman’s résumé with Mercer. He has turned this program around, winning 48 of 69 games the past two years.

But it’s time for the Bears to win the conference title. They have the team, the talent. They have the momentum.

And they’re at home.

That’s where you, the fans, come in. This is important. Mercer has one of the best college basketball programs in the state. This city needs to support it by filling the seats of Hawkins Arena to give the Bears a true home-court advantage.

There’s going to be great basketball, no matter what, the next few days. The A-Sun is a solid conference with basketball as one of its sports. But having the home teams do well is what could make this a very special week.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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