Area hoops fans have no idea what they’re missing

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 17, 2002

Sports Columnist

Quick memo to the majority of the residents of Pike and surrounding counties:

You have no idea what you’ve been missing.

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I’ve been a huge fan of the sport of basketball almost as long as I can remember. So naturally, when I entered Troy State University as a freshman in the mid-eighties, I was anxious to go to my first game at Sartain Hall, to see what kind of team I would be rooting for the next four years or so. I had high hopes that the Trojans would be at least a competitive program, and if not that, an exciting team to watch.

Over the years since then, I have never been disappointed, as year in and year out, the Trojans have been more than just competitive, and always exciting. I’ve seen the pre-game razzle-dazzle of "Gametime is Showtime" in the late eighties. I’ve seen such tremendous talents as Reed, Thomas, and McCord come and go. And yes, I was actually there the time Troy State made ESPN Sportscenter by dropping 258 points in one game on DeVry.

But I’m here to tell you, none of those were any more exciting than some of the things I’ve seen lately at Trojan Arena.

It really doesn’t matter where your preferences lie as far as the game of basketball is concerned. If you consider yourself a purist of the game, the Trojans offer tight defense, solid shooting, and unselfish ball distribution. If the fast-paced high-flying variety is more your cup of tea, they retain in their arsenal a variety of rim-jarring alley-oops, breakaway’s, and rebound jams.

So why do they have to perform these wonderful feats in front of more empty seats than people? It is to the coaching staff’s credit, as well as their own self-motivation, that they are able to perform at such a high level without a packed house to urge them on. But it seems like such a shame that more of you aren’t sharing the electricity that is present when the Trojans hit the court.

Just to give you a taste of what you’ve been missing, last week’s home games were a wonderful display of what Troy State basketball has to offer.

The Trojans came out on fire against UCF, blistering the nets at a pace of 63.6 percent shooting in the first half. They ended the game shooting over 50 percent for the second time already this season. What makes that all the more impressive is that the Trojans hit a season-high 16 three-pointers in the game. For most teams, those aren’t considered high-percentage shots.

The UCF game was also a remarkable showcase of versatility, as four different players scored in double-figures. The opponents were at a loss as to who they should concentrate on defensively, as threes rained down from every direction, and each Troy State player found the open man all night long.

As impressive as that showing was, it was merely the warm-up act for what was to come Saturday night.

Florida Atlantic came to town a much improved team over previous seasons, boasting a 6-2 record in the Atlantic Sun Conference. It figured to be a battle, with Troy State owning a 4-2 record of its own in conference play. The game lived up to its billing and then some. The two teams swapped leads for the entire regulation periodand two overtimes as well.

Lemayn Wilson had the game of his life, scoring 43 points, most by a Trojan in three years, and pulling down 10 rebounds. I don’t know if the coaches made an adjustment at halftime that caused them to put the ball in his hands more in the second half, but Wilson really lit up when they needed it most. 37 of his points came after halftime, and he was responsible for 11 of TSU’s 17 points in double-overtime to ensure the victory.

To be honest, however, it seemed to me to be such a team effort that I was surprised to learn Wilson’s point total. I even remarked to Coach Maestri that I had a tough time deciding who the player of the game was. There were heroics to be found in nearly every Trojan uniform that night.

With only 10 seconds left in regulation and the Trojans trailing by three, Robert Rushing drove hard down the lane. As he went airborne toward the basket, he absorbed a hard foul and kept his concentration enough to roll in a layup. Then he calmly sank his free-throw to send the game to overtime.

Foul trouble allowed Rob Lewin to play the majority of the two overtime periods, and he responded to the challenge. FAU found it next to impossible to get a decent look at the basket inside, as Lewin seemed to challenge every shot. He also threw down a two-handed slam on a pass from Rushing as he sneaked in on the baseline.

And no one who was there will ever forget the aerial display that Lacedrick Pettway put on. On two separate occasions, he brought the crowd to its feet by going above the rim to jam in rebounds. It looked as though he thrust his entire arm through the rim on the second one.

Now there are are six home games remaining for the Trojans this season. As well and as hard as they have played this year, I can only imagine what they would be like in front of a packed house. In the confines of a basketball arena, more than most other sports, the athletes tend to feed off the intensity of the fans. Because of the close proximity to the spectators, the players can actually hear the words of support and encouragement and it makes a difference.

There is no telling what this team can accomplish if we get behind them. If you are reading this and are even a casual basketball fan, you are missing out on the chance to see a talented, energetic, hard-working, and well-coached team just a short drive from where you live.

January 23rd is your next opportunity. Come see what you’re missing.