You’d have to go back to this time of year in 2003 when Georgia Southern basketball was really, truly fun.
That’s not to say that there haven’t been players and teams at GSU that weren’t fun to watch since then, but back in December 2003, the whole Georgia Southern basketball experience was fun.
Beginning Dec. 20, 2003, with a win over Tennessee Temple, the Eagles won 13 straight. Were it not for an overtime loss at Southern Miss, it would’ve been 15.
After Christmas break, Hanner Fieldhouse started getting packed to the rafters for likely the most fun of times since the NCAA tournament teams of the 1980s and 90s. The Eagles were in the headlines as they’d started putting together one of the longest winning streaks in the nation. The “Hanner Hooligans,” which have gone dormant since then, took up entire sections in the gym, and boy, did that place get loud.
Since then, the disintegration of Georgia Southern basketball has been a slow burn. It started that season in the semifinals of the 2004 Southern Conference tournament with an overtime loss to Chattanooga.
One-and-dones in the SoCon tournament became commonplace after that. The program fell victim to itself from an academic scandal that went on during the 2007-08 season, from which all wins were vacated.
Last year, Mark Byington’s first as the Eagles’ head coach, the program finally made it back to the semifinals of the SoCon tournament, but lost to Wofford.
Now, things just might be looking up.
The team has done its part. They’re fun to watch. Jelani Hewitt is top-three nationally in scoring and steals. Eric Ferguson, having recently returned to the lineup, is getting back into form and looks to provide plenty more of the highlight-reel dunks that have become his signature. Undersized forward Angel Matias might be the most fundamentally-sound technician the Eagles have seen in the paint in a decade. Trent Wiedeman is an all-conference-level center.
This team has a high motor. It rebounds. It plays defense.
Again, they have done their part, so far. The only losses for the Eagles (7-2 as of Monday) came on the road against Illinois in a 90-81 game they could have won and a 61-59 setback at Central Florida they most definitely should have won.
But to get the program back to the levels it reached in 2003 and 2004, it takes a village. Of all college sports in which a crowd can help a team win, college basketball is the most pronounced.
The Eagles won’t know how they match up against the Sun Belt Conference until the season gets in full swing. But one thing is for sure — Georgia Southern basketball has the potential to be fun again.