Mercer nearing end of an era

February 26, 2014 

There are three games left at home, maybe as many as six and perhaps even more if things don’t go exactly the way the team wants them to go.

And then a memorable and success-filled era is over.

Mercer hasn’t had many truly memorable and success-filled eras, and the one still being authored by its men’s basketball team is superb by any standard. In short, this is an historic basketball season for the Bears, and it has come with plenty of pressure.

For one, it’s the program’s final season in the A-Sun, a better basketball conference than it gets credit for and a better overall conference than many, including some at Mercer, want to admit.

The football-driven move to the Southern Conference is something for the “Let’s take a look at all this in five years” file, as is pretty much the case with all of the often inexplicable conference-jumping of the past few years.

After all, more sports fans in America know more about Florida Gulf Coast basketball than anything in Southern Conference football since Appalachian State beat Michigan (and then fired that coach five years later).

There’s a good chance that Mercer can build similar attention and respect next month if the Bears can make it to the NCAA tournament.

The Bears aren’t as sexy or flashy as their A-Sun rivals from Dunk City, but good grief, Bill Walton set new broadcast standards in expressing his love during the Bears’ NIT game at BYU last March. And the ever-huggable Bobby Knight clearly became a fan during an NIT win at Tennessee.

Adding more pressure, the countdown nears the end of arguably the best senior class in any sport at Mercer, with one of the most impactful players in Mercer sports history.

The 88-48 record in this four-season span is the best in Mercer men’s basketball history by a couple of steps, and it includes the program’s first NIT bid and a CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship.

Seven seniors who all play when it counts is fairly unheard of on a quality basketball team. For six of them to have started and ended their careers in the same spot is almost miraculous. To be sure, the collection of seniors is worthy of any and all credit and respect, and all have played huge -- if not often subtle -- roles in establishing the program.

But, frankly, it doesn’t happen without Langston Hall.

The point guard is the most important position on the floor, and Hall has started from day one. He’s in the program’s all-time top 10 in five major categories. And Hall could be Mercer’s first conference player of the year since 1992-93 and only fourth ever. More on him next week.

That’s only part of the senior class’s resume.

To have watched this team morph during a 15-18 season in 2010-11 to three straight 20-win seasons and two with more than 25 wins -- yes, assuming as much for this season -- is to respect what people are supposed to respect in sports and rarely do.

It’s about chemistry, teamwork, consistency and substance.

This is the best basketball -- on its level -- played in Macon since the legendary Southwest days of decades ago. And Don Richardson would love this team.

The bandwagon surprisingly still has room, ostensibly because Mercer sports still aren’t on that many radars in the area, despite recent success in men’s basketball, football and baseball. There’s still more of an “Eh, guess I’ll check it out” factor -- including the student body -- than an established fan base that makes it part of its routine.

But for those who have let this show slide by, that’s too bad. They’ve missed out.

Those who haven’t need no reminder to enjoy and cherish what remains.

Contact Michael A. Lough at 744-4626 or mlough@macon.com.

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