By Tim Gardner
The University of Georgia’s 1983 National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) Eastern Regional Championship and Final Four team coached by Avery County resident and College Basketball Hall of Famer Hugh Durham was honored at halftime of the school’s 75-68 Southeastern Conference victory over Kentucky February 11 in Athens, GA.
Durham, his assistants (Don Beasley, Eddie Biedenbach, Larry Gay and Joe Cunningham), many players and various support staff members from that 1982-83 season team attended the 40th year reunion ceremony and the game before a sellout crowd of 10,376 at Stegeman Coliseum. The reunion included various other team events and was spearheaded by University of Georgia Assistant Athletics Director John Bateman, a manager on that team, and other school and athletics department officials. Georgia, which claimed that championship and Final Four berth in its first- ever NCAA Tournament appearance, also won the SEC Tournament title that season.
The 1982-83 Georgia team featured a collection of talented players who complimented each other’s play extremely well and peaked at the necessary time going into the postseason. Those Bulldogs won a school record and SEC-best 24 wins that season. They included: guards Gerald Crosby, Vern Fleming, Monroe Jones, Derrick Floyd, Donald Hartry, Glenn Ross and Monroe Jones; guard/forward Horace McMillan; forwards James Banks, Sid Trusdale, Lamar Heard, Greg Bozman, Mike Morris and Joe Ward; forwards/centers Terry Fair, Richard Corhen and Efron Jackson; and center Troy Hitchcock.
Fair, Heard and Floyd provided senior leadership and all-around solid play, juniors Banks and Fleming were the team’s top two scorers and sophomores Crosby and Corhen were talented rotational players who were heavily relied upon when they were most needed to make big plays and they usually did. And the rest of the team’s players were good and consistent contributors to its success-each in his own various specialties.
Three players from that team have passed away- Fair and Heard, co- captains, along with reserve Hitchcock. But they were fondly remembered during the reunion ceremony.
The 85-year-old Durham, who has a home in Banner Elk, recalled specifics and intangibles of that most-accomplished team in Bulldogs’ history: “That was an experienced team with great player chemistry. It was made up of really good players who played well together. I never heard a player on that team talk about his statistics or how much playing time he got. Instead, it was more about playing hard for one another. That was one of the primary reasons we achieved the success we did that season.”
Georgia entered the SEC Tournament played in Birmingham, AL as the Number 6 seed, but proceeded to beat Mississippi (69-55), Tennessee (79- 60) and Alabama (86-71) in succession to win the conference title and secure the Bulldogs’ NCAA Tournament bid.
They then played well enough to reach the Final Four in Albuquerque before falling to North Carolina State, the eventual national champion. Fourth-seeded Georgia edged fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth (56-54) in the NCAA’s Round of 32 in Greensboro, NC to advance to the “Sweet
Sixteen” of the Eastern Regionals at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, NY. There, Georgia knocked off the regional’s top-seeded St. John’s, 70-67, and shocked second-seeded and defending National Champion North Carolina and superstar player Michael Jordan, 82-77, two days later to win the regional championship and advance to the NCAA Final Four.
Both St. Johns and North Carolina had a National Player of The Year for the 1982-1983 season as chosen by various ratings organizations–Chris Mullen of St. Johns and North Carolina’s Michael Jordan. But neither could lead their teams past Georgia, whose players outplayed their teams at
most crucial times.
Versus St. Johns, Georgia had four players score in double figures, including 27 points by Fair, who also grabbed nine rebounds.
Georgia’s wins over St. Johns and North Carolina are still considered two of the biggest upsets in NCAA Tournament history—especially the one against North Carolina. Although St. Johns was seeded higher than North Carolina, it is a general consensus that North Carolina was the better team. Before a crowd of almost 23,000, Georgia played North Carolina, that, like St. Johns, had been atop the national polls during the 1982-83 regular season. Besides Jordan, North Carolina featured two more All-Americans in Sam Perkins and Brad Daugherty. But the Bulldogs got 20 points from Banks (7-of-10 field goals; 6-of-6 free throws) and 17 each from Fleming and Crosby enroute to the victory.
To provide proof how monumental Georgia’s win over North Carolina was, consider that the Bulldogs had lost their greatest player ever in All- American forward Dominique Wilkins, who had entered the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft after the previous season and that they had no starter taller than 6-foot-7 competing against a Tar Heels team with much more height, over-all talent and tradition. But Georgia shot the ball well, forcing North Carolina out of its zone defense into man-to-man defense. And the Tar Heels could not contain Georgia’s speed and quickness, as the Bulldogs repeatedly beat North Carolina up-and-down the floor. Georgia also scorched the nets from the floor, making 32-of-57 shots (56 percent) for the game.
Banks was named the Most Outstanding Player (MOP) of the East Regional, and Fleming was the Most Valuable Player (MVP) of the 1983 SEC Tournament.
Several of the players on Georgia’s 1982-83 team were recruited and signed to play for the University of Georgia by another coach with strong Avery County ties, Roger Banks. The last head basketball coach at old Newland High School and the first at Avery County High, following the consolidation of Newland, Crossnore and Cranberry High Schools, Roger Banks was an assistant coach and recruiting director to Durham for three seasons (1978-79, 1979-80 and 1980-81). Roger Banks served fifteen years as a collegiate assistant coach and recruiting director at five schools, which besides Georgia, includes Gardner-Webb, Austin Peay, Georgia Tech and Auburn. He earned a reputation as one of the best recruiters in college basketball history after signing top players for each school, including some who became All-Americans and NBA standouts.
He currently lives in the North Carolina High Country community of Linville Falls.
Durham became Georgia’s head coach in 1978 and faced a major reconstruction job. Prior to his tenure with the Bulldogs, Georgia had never been to either the NCAA or NIT Tournaments, had never won a
Southeastern Conference (SEC) regular season or tournament championship and had losing records in 23 of the previous 27 seasons. But he immediately embarked on a remarkable transformation project with “Durham’s Dunkyard Dawgs” that produced the most prolific era of Georgia Basketball. During his seventeen years as head coach (1978-79 through 1994-95 seasons), Durham led the Bulldogs to five NCAA Tournaments, seven National Invitation Tournaments (NIT), the Eastern Regional title and
NCAA Final Four, one NIT Final Four and their first SEC Regular Season and Tournament championships.
He is still the coach with the most wins in Georgia Basketball history. He posted 633 career victories in 37 seasons as a head coach, with 230 at Florida State University from 1967-78; 297 at the University of Georgia from 1979-95; and 106 at Jacksonville University from 1998-2005. Durham also coached Florida State to the 1972 NCAA Final Four and national championship game.
He also played and served as an assistant at Florida State. The legendary Durham was enshrined in the College Basketball Hall of Fame for his coaching feats in 2016.
A Lyndon, KY native, Durham is married to the former Malinda Dixon of Jacksonville, FL. They have three sons– David, Doug and Jim—and six grandchildren. Doug was named as a National Assistant Basketball Coach of The Year while coaching as an assistant for his father at Jacksonville. They also coached against each other as head coaches during the 1994-95 season when Hugh’s Georgia Bulldogs beat Doug’s Georgia Southern University Eagles, 87-57.
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