In 1991, the Atlanta Braves became relevant. They had a remarkable season and came within one win of a World Series championship.
After that magical season, baseball went to a whole new level in Georgia. Kids wanted to play baseball again, and youth league participation skyrocketed. Later in the 1990s, more players from Georgia started getting drafted by big league clubs.
Will that residual impact of the Braves’ success be duplicated with the Hawks’ strong season this year? Could this actually become a basketball state?
The Hawks still have a lot of work to do, and there is concern considering they have lost four of seven games since their exciting 19-game winning streak. The lead for home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference is down to 5.5 games.
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But they have gotten people excited about basketball around here. Of course, in Middle Georgia, that excitement probably started in March when Mercer beat Duke.
The Bears are finding things a little more difficult lately, with a mostly new roster. Bob Hoffman’s team was 4-4 in its past eight games before Saturday’s game at Samford. There is no denying, however, that Mercer has become important in this community the past few seasons. The win over the Blue Devils last year just justified the hard work that has gone into making Mercer’s program significant.
When will Georgia and Georgia Tech get on track? The Bulldogs have had two horrible games after starting out strong in the SEC (they played late Saturday night at Alabama). Maybe they can finish better and make the NCAA tournament for the first time in four years.
Georgia Tech’s program is a mess right now. The Yellow Jackets were blown out by North Carolina on Saturday and have no shot at the NCAA tournament. Brian Gregory is in his fourth season as the head coach. He’s now 19-48 in ACC play, which should be completely unacceptable.
Gregory could get a reprieve, but it might only be because Georgia Tech is already paying one man to not coach the Yellow Jackets as they paid Paul Hewitt millions to go away. Do they want to pay a second person millions to go away?
It’s a shame how both Georgia and Georgia Tech have become insignificant in recent years. It’s tough to see Stegeman Coliseum, for example, half empty for a week-day game. Fans within a drive of Athens don’t seem to want to go watch Georgia play. Is Georgia not doing enough to promote those games to that audience, or have people just stopped caring?
Maybe it’s being too optimistic hoping the success of one team -- one that has not been very relevant for years -- could start a trend. But maybe if the Hawks do have a special season, it will rub off a bit.
The Hawks have gotten cold with their shooting, which is exactly what made them a huge story before the All-Star break. They must stay healthy the rest of the way. Plus, the Hawks need to stop this stretch to not lose the tremendous confidence they had earlier during the winning streak. Teams are gunning for them now, so the pressure will be on.
It’s not just the pressure to win, but the pressure to make the game of basketball relevant again in Georgia. The Braves did it years ago with baseball, so maybe the Hawks can do the same thing with basketball.
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 email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.