FMU Head Coach Gary Edwards' weekly column

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for March 16, 2019

 

For the second year in a row and the third time in school history, the Francis Marion University men's basketball team has earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. Yes, the Patriots are in the "Big Dance".

Our opponent for the first round of the Southeast Regional is a familiar dance partner. Francis Marion takes on fellow Peach Belt rival Augusta University at 2:30 p.m. at Queens University of Charlotte.

With 13 wins in a row and a conference championship under their belt, the Jaguars are one of the hottest teams in the country. We've played them tough, though, having a chance to win our two regular season contests before ultimately losing both by five points each.

There is another basketball tournament being played in Charlotte this weekend. Pittsburgh beat Boston College by 10 in one of the first round games of the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament.

Do you realize just mentioning Pittsburgh and Boston College in the same breath as the Atlantic Coast Conference brings bile to my throat? I literally choke on the words.

They are two of the interloping imposters, along with Syracuse and Notre Dame, whose campuses sit squarely north of the Mason-Dixon Line. For those of us who grew up watching the original Atlantic Coast Conference, their inclusion is akin to Ulysses S. Grant sitting down to Sunday supper.

There was a time, my young friends, when the Atlantic Coast Conference basketball tournament was an impossible ticket to obtain, and arguably the most exciting sporting event in the country. Your team had to win the ACC to get an invitation to the NCAA Tournament.

The most exciting and nerve racking games I ever saw were those winner-take-all championship contests. Duke and North Carolina. North Carolina State and Wake Forest. Heck, even South Carolina and John Roche won it in 1971 before bolting to the SEC.

In 1975 the NCAA expanded its tournament to 32 teams. Teams that had not won their respective conference tournament (at-large teams) began to receive invitations to the dance.

And that began the slow process of draining much of the excitement from big-time conference tournaments. In terms of nail-biting drama, the Atlantic Coast Conference now takes a back seat to the Northeast Conference and its proud 2109 champion, Farleigh Dickenson.

Now the Atlantic Coast Conference has 15 teams from all over hell and back. Last year's tournament was played in Brooklyn, New York, but even that distance from Tobacco Road couldn't keep fans from hearing Bones McKinney turning over in his grave.

But there will be one exciting basketball tournament being played in Charlotte this weekend. Only the champion from the Southeast Regional will advance to the Elite Eight in Evansville, Indiana.

And all eight teams hail from south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for March 9, 2019

 

The Francis Marion University men's basketball team travels to Augusta this weekend for the Peach Belt Conference "Final Four". The 21-7 Patriots will take on USC-Aiken on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. at Christenberry Fieldhouse, after the host Jaguars tip things off on the men's side at 5:00 p.m. against UNC-Pembroke.

The winners play on Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. for the Peach Belt Championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament. For the champions it will be the culmination of a lot of hard work and sacrifice.

I have been fortunate enough in my basketball life to have participated in quite a few championship games as a player and as a coach. All have etched in my memory valuable life-lessons.

In 1995 my Charleston Southern Buccaneers played UNC-Greensboro in the Big South Championship. The game was a back and forth affair with the outcome being determined by the last possession.

UNC-Greensboro made two free-throws with 10 seconds left on the clock to take a one point lead. The Buccaneers inbounded the ball to All-Conference guard Eric Burks.

Nine, eight, seven…at times in his career Eric had been selfish, not wanting to trust his teammates…six, five… but this new and improved Eric passed the ball as he was doubled teamed.

Four, three…his teammate shot a wide open 15-footer, and missed…two, one…the rebound was batted against the rim and into the waiting hands of Eric Burks who sank the winning shot as time expired.

Pass the ball and it will come back to you. Help others and you will be rewarded.

I played college basketball at Virginia Wesleyan College. The Marlins played Christopher Newport College in the Dixie Conference Championship my senior season.

The game went to double overtime. Five Marlins had fouled out, and a little-used freshman, John Bledsoe, had to play. You notice how I remember John's name to this day. He hit a shot and four free-throws down the stretch to lead us to the championship.

You always must be prepared. You never know when your time will come.

And finally, when I coached at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, we were playing Salem for the NCAA East Region Championship at home. The game went down to the final minute tied.

Salem had two free-throws and missed the second, but Leon Piper, our 6-6, 240 pound forward didn't box out and they scored to take a three-point lead. Luckily the Indians came down and hit a three-point shot and ultimately won the championship.

After the game Leon said to me, "Coach, if my missed box out had cost us the championship, it would have stayed with me the rest of my life." Leon went on to have a wonderful professional career in France.

Make sure you take care of the little things. Little things add up to big things.

The Patriots will do their best to bring home a championship trophy this weekend. And if we are lucky, we will learn a few things along the way.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for March 2, 2019

 

Shawty's like a melody in my head

That I can't keep out;

Got me singing like

Na na na na everyday

Lyrics of the song "Replay" by lyaz

 

I have never heard the song "Replay" and I have never heard of this fellow, lyaz, but I am sure he sings a very catchy tune. All I know is replay in college basketball has got me saying no no no no everyday.

If you haven't watched a college basketball game on television lately, let me fill you in on the action:

Player fouls another player above the shoulders. The officials go to the replay monitor to see if it was a flagrant foul. At least three minutes elapse as everyone stands around.

Player shoots and makes three-point shot. But it was close to the line so the officials huddle next to the replay monitor and after two minutes determine that it was indeed a three-point shot.

Player drives to the basket and a secondary defender comes over to take a charge. Official calls a charge but they have to review the play on the replay monitor to see if the defender was in the restricted arc under the basket. He was, so they change the call.

Two players battle for a ball that goes out of bounds. The official two feet from the play calls "Blue ball!". But he and the other two officials have to make sure it is indeed the blue team's ball and they look at it on the replay monitor over and over and over again.

Did you know the NCAA Division I referees you see on television make about $5,000 a game?

Make a call and stick with it and let's get on with the game!

Proponents of replay argue the officials have to make sure the call is correct. There is too much at stake for a game to be decided by an incorrect call.

I say "bull". Players make mistakes, coaches make mistakes, and it is OK for officials to make mistakes. It is a part of the game and it is a part of life.

If it is a doctor taking out the wrong kidney, then maybe we want a replay of the surgery. But college basketball games are not life and death.

LSU beat Kentucky the other day on an obvious offensive goaltending. It should have been called but it was not and it was not a reviewable play so the officials could not huddle around the television monitor.

Kentucky survived. And while Wildcat fans may have needed an extra shot of bourbon to put that game behind them, they are now making reservations for the Final Four.

Thank goodness Division II does not have replay. Unless, of course, an official's call goes against my team.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Feb. 23, 2019

 

Duke's Zion Williamson had the most talked about equipment malfunction this week since Janet Jackson inadvertently exposed her breast during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime show.

Only 33 seconds into the Blue Devils' ballyhooed basketball showdown with North Carolina, the 285-pound Williamson planted his left foot and blew out his size 11 Nike's. He also twisted his right knee in the process and watched the rest of the game from the locker room as the Tar Heels dismantled his Dukies in Cameron Indoor Stadium.

While watching my Nike stock plummet the next day, I couldn't help but think about some other infamous equipment malfunctions. Here in the Pee Dee, the Wilson-Hartsville boys' playoff basketball game had to be postponed a day because of a broken backboard.

It seems Hartsville's 270-pound Demonte Capehart missed a dunk in warm-ups, hung on the rim a bit, and shattered Wilson's glass backboard. It reminded basketball fans of Pitt's Jerome Lane demolishing a backboard in 1988 and Bill Raftery's legendary call of "Send it in, Jerome!"

Several years ago here at Francis Marion University, we had a rain out of a men's basketball game. Yes, a rain out of a basketball game.

Peach Belt foe Armstrong Atlantic was in town and during the end of the women's game at the Smith University Center, the heavens opened up and the rain came pouring down. Normally a roof would handle that type of deluge, but that night we found out we had a leak in the roof.

Our athletic director, Murray Hartzler was out of town at the NCAA convention, so Associate Director Mike Hawkins and I made the call that we could not play a basketball game in the rain.

We rescheduled the game, and Murray has never gone to the NCAA convention since.

Early in my career I had an equipment malfunction of my own. I was coaching Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) against Jerry Steele and the High Point Panthers in the NAIA District 26 championship game.

In my younger years, I was a little more animated on the sidelines than I am now and as I jumped up to argue an official's call, I ripped my black pants from bow to stern. I, of course, had my whitey tighties on underneath, but it was an embarrassment as I coached the rest of the game with a towel around my waste.

Everything seems to be in order for our Homecoming game this weekend against Flagler College. The roof has been repaired, the backboards have been cleaned, and my britches have been doubled stitched.

But you just never know. I wear a size 11, too.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Feb. 16, 2019

 

Peach Belt Cuisine

After a successful home-stand, the Francis Marion University men's basketball team takes to the road this weekend to play the University of North Georgia on Saturday afternoon, and then Young Harris College on Monday evening.

The Patriots are currently 17-4 overall and 13-3 in the Peach Belt Conference. Although the road is tough, we have played well away from home this year mainly because I know the best places to eat at each Peach Belt stop.

I used to love playing at North Georgia because Dahlonega boasted one of the best seafood restaurants in the country, The Back Porch. The owners were natives of the Outer Banks of North Carolina and they served only the freshest seafood prepared magnificently.

I've learned The Back Porch has closed since we traveled to Dahlonega last season. I am doing my best to hide my disappointment from the team as I search for a new restaurant.

Young Harris College is located in Young Harris, Georgia, but there is no descent place to eat there. But go down the road a bit to Hiwassee, Georgia, and you will find the best country buffet you've ever laid your hungry eyes on at Daniels' Steak House.

Don't get me started on Americus, Georgia, home of Georgia Southwestern. The only descent place to eat in town is the Roman Oven Pizza House, where you can hunker down on a great pizza buffet.

Down the road is Columbus, Georgia, and we usually eat at the Peachtree Mall food court. They also have the largest and nicest Burger King I have ever seen right outside the main gate of Columbus State University.

Flagler College and St. Augustine, Florida, is a culinary dream. Enjoy the best pizza in the country at Pizza Time in the historic district, Harry's is a wonderful seafood restaurant, and if you go to the beach, try Salt Life.

When we played Clayton State a few weeks ago I found a new place in Morrow, Georgia. Huynk Ky Saigon Noodle House is very good.

When in Milledgeville, Georgia, to play Georgia College, we have found The Brick to offer good pizza, but sometimes we just settle on Zaxby's.

We don't usually eat when we travel to Pembroke, North Carolina, but on a recent trip I noticed Fuller's Bar-B-Que had relocated there so that may change. When in Greenwood, South Carolina, for our Lander games, we've found you can't go wrong with the Dixie Drive-In.

So that just leaves USC-Aiken and Augusta. Before a game in Aiken, I love to eat at the Exit 22 Waffle House. I just don't think a fancy five-star restaurant has anything over Waffle House.

But after a victory in Augusta, or anywhere out in Georgia for that matter, I have to stop at the Krispy Kreme doughnut shop on Washington Road for a half-dozen hot ones. There is nothing as satisfying this side of heaven as a victory in your pocket and a box of hot ones on your front seat.

The Patriots are winning a lot of games and I am gaining a lot of weight. And we've never been happier.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Feb. 9, 2019

 

When my Francis Marion University men's basketball team hosts Clayton State this weekend, it will be my 1000th game as a collegiate head coach. When our long-time sports information director, Michael Hawkins, informed me of this milestone, my response was, "I am an old person."

But not really. I just got an early start, and I have been lucky enough through the years to navigate the minefields of this profession successfully.

When I was in the ninth grade at Norfolk Collegiate School in Norfolk, Virginia, Coach Larry Riggs brought me up to the varsity for the season-ending Tidewater Conference Tournament. The Oaks upset the heavily favored Norfolk Catholic Crusaders and I was hooked…I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I continued my playing career at Virginia Wesleyan College under Coach Don Forsyth. He hired me as Sports Information Director/Head Junior Varsity Coach/ Assistant Varsity Coach the day after I graduated.

After three years, my good friend Bob Valvano was instrumental in helping me land an assistant coaching job at Hofstra University. A conversation I had with the athletic director there at the time, Bob Getchell, paved the way for my future plans.

I asked him his opinion on the best way to rise in the coaching profession. He said, "Gary, you can be an assistant and ride someone else's coattails, or you can get a program of your own and make your own mark."

The latter choice appealed to me, so I applied for a job at tiny Atlantic Christian College (now Barton College) in Wilson, North Carolina. The Bulldogs had gone 4-21 the year before, no one else wanted the job, so they hired me as the head coach. I was 26 years old.

My first game was a thrilling overtime win over UNC-Greensboro on November 16, 1984. And the rest, as they say, is history.

There have been so many memorable games:

Atlantic Christian's upset of Belmont Abbey to go to the NAIA National Tournament.

Point-guard Eric Burks hitting a last-second shot to give Charleston Southern the 1995 Big South Championship and the Buccaneers beating UNLV at UNLV the following year.

Indiana University of Pennsylvania earning multiple trips to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight.

And I would have to rank this week's win at No.4 ranked USC-Aiken by the Francis Marion University men's basketball team as one of the best, too.

I remember when Bruce Curtis, the Atlantic Christian athletic director, called me to tell me I had the job. I was standing in my basement apartment in Hempstead, New York, and I was listening to James Taylor sing, "Carolina in my Mind".

Now, 1000 games later, I am still in Carolina doing what I love. And though I have more games behind me than ahead, I believe the best is yet to come.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Feb. 2, 2019

 

I watched an NBA game on television the other night. I was with my Francis Marion men's basketball team on the road, and I turned on the Houston Rockets game to kill some time in the hotel.

I really couldn't believe what I was watching. Houston guard James Harden stood in the middle of the court dribbling the ball while his four teammates stood watching him.

When the 24-second shot clock wound down a bit, he would travel to gain spacing and then launch a 30-foot shot. Sometimes these scud missiles would find their mark, but many bounced harmlessly away.

I had not watched an NBA game in a long time, but I soon started talking to myself in my hotel room. This is the reigning NBA Most Valuable Player? This is how professional basketball is now played in America?

The answer to both questions is a pitiful yes. For a basketball aficionado, the current NBA is almost unwatchable.

Phil Jackson, who won multiple championships with the Bulls and Lakers, said, "…it's really quite remarkable to see how far our game has fallen from a team game. Four guys stand around watching one guy dribble a basketball."

After a pre-season tour of Spain, Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook commented on how hard it was to guard the great professional basketball teams of Europe. He wasn't used to guarding offensive players who actually move without the ball.

When I was growing up in Norfolk, Virginia, I would go over to the Jewish Community Center and watch the ABA Virginia Squires practice. I got a close up look at the talents of Julius Erving, George Gervin, and Charlie Scott.

As great as their individual talents were, they always played together, moving the ball with precision and skill. Basketball was meant to be a team game.

But former NBA commissioner David Stern made a conscious decision years ago to shift the emphasis of the league from team accomplishments to individual accomplishments. He wanted to market the so-called superstars of the NBA.

So now we have a handful of superstars and very few decent teams in the NBA. And the defensive rules (defensive three seconds and no hand checking) make today's NBA player look better offensively than they really are.

I have played and coached basketball for over 50 years, but I didn't recognize the game I watched on television the other night. I am not really sure what it is but I am not going to watch it any more.

I have a hard enough time watching my own team play.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Jan. 26, 2019

 

Most sports teams huddle. Football teams huddle after every play. My basketball team huddles in the locker room, right before we take the floor for the pre-game warm up.

We all put our hands together; the coach says "1-2-3", and then in unison the players say something like "Defense" or "Family" or "Patriots". It is usually a very unifying moment as the team prepares for battle.

The other night the Francis Marion University Patriots took their home floor against Peach Belt Conference rival Augusta. Right before the game, as my team broke from the traditional huddle, they yelled, "Have Fun".

Now I like to have fun as much as the next guy and I want my players to have fun playing the game of basketball, but that exclamation moments before one of the most important games of the year surprised me.

As it turned out, we didn't have a lot of fun in the first half against the Jaguars as we missed 19 of our first 20 shots. We made a game of it in the second half, but the damage was done and the visiting team came away with an 81-76 victory.

Do you think Patton's profanity-laced speech to the Third Army prior to D-Day in 1944 included the words "Have Fun"?

Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez made no mention of fun as he exclaimed "Burn the ships!" and gave his men no option but to press on in their conquest of Mexico in 1519.

I'm not comparing a basketball game to war, but there is an element of battle in every athletic competition. Sometimes you have to roll your sleeves up, get dirty in the trenches, sacrifice for all that is dear to you.

I have a framed cross-stitch in my office which states "Nothing we ever really want is easy." I am not sure we are effectively teaching or remembering this life-lesson.

There was a time when this country embraced sacrifice. Remember "Rosie the Riveter" or the rationing of World War II? Those were not especially fun times, but they were unifying times.

And the fun of victory was made sweeter by the sacrifice. The sweat and toil comes first; then can come the fun.

Our country needs that reminder now, and maybe I'll mention it to my team today as we take on Flagler College down in St. Augustine, Florida. Let's work together, play hard and play smart, and come away with a big road victory.

Now that will be fun!

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Jan. 19, 2019

 

There has been a lot of talk recently about the porous southern border of our country. Donald Trump wants to build a wall to help the situation.

If he wants to see porous, I can show him porous. Just come to Florence and watch my Francis Marion University men's basketball team play defense.

In our last four games we have given up 120, 92, 80, and 83 points respectively, but have won three out of those four. Our record stands at 10-2 overall and 6-1 in the tough Peach Belt Conference.

On average, the Patriots give up 86 points a game. When an opposing player drives to the basket we look like Manolete, the famous Spanish bullfighter, shouting "Ole" as the bull charges past.

We are not alone in our defensive ineptness. The Golden State Warriors of the NBA scored 51 points in the first quarter alone against the Denver Nuggets the other night.

The Philadelphia 76ers put up 83 in the first half against Minnesota on that same date, and a night later the Warriors beat the Pelicans, 147-140.

When the Oklahoma Thunder lost to the Atlanta Hawks, 142-126, OKC Coach Billy Donovan said, "What did we score, 126? That should be good enough for us to win."

I hear you Billy, but my Patriots have averaged over 100 points a game since Christmas and I am still nursing an ulcer because the games have been so close.

It's just a sign of the times. Defense is tough, and our society is now geared toward making things easier.

But easier is not necessarily better. I still believe defense wins championships.

We play Georgia Southwestern this afternoon on our campus at 3:30 p.m. When we traveled to Americus before the holidays we beat them in a very spirited contest, 90-85.

But we gave up 57 points in the second half of that game. It is going to be a monumental challenge for us to hold the talented Hurricanes to under 100 points.

I am not sure what our defensive game plan should be. Do you think the NCAA would let me build a wall?

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Jan. 12, 2019

 

Name That Number

Like most of you, I watched the Clemson Tigers dominate the Alabama Crimson Tide in college football's national championship game. Unlike most of you, I was confused most of the game.

On Alabama's first offensive possession, a Clemson defensive back wearing the number "8" picked off a pass and returned it 47 yards for a touchdown. Yeah, Tigers!

On Clemson's first offensive possession, quarterback Trevor Lawrence completed a 62-yard pass to a wide receiver wearing the number "8", setting up a touchdown run by Travis Etienne.

Yeah, Tigers!

I thought to myself, "That number "8" is a heck of a player! You don't see many guys playing both offense and defense any more in college football. What is his name?"

Here is where I started scratching my head. The number "8" who intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown was sophomore A. J. Terrell.

The number "8" who made the 62-yard reception leading to a touchdown was freshman Justyn Ross. He had six receptions for 153 yards and one touchdown and he doesn't look anything like A.J. Terrell.

Did you know in college football two players can have the same number as long as they are not on the field at the same time? Well, by golly, they can and it seems it has been going on for quite some time.

In 2009, the "Ol' Ball Coach", Steve Spurrier, effectively rotated Steve Garcia (#5) and Steve Gilmore (#5) at the quarterback position against Clemson. It confused the Tigers and led to a 34-17 Gamecocks victory.

I'm a pretty sharp guy so I don't know how this duplicate numbers thing got by me; probably because for the last 40 years I have been in a gym coaching basketball.

I currently coach the Francis Marion University men's team, and despite beating the #5 ranked USC-Aiken Pacers, 99-92, this week, we may be the worst defensive team I've ever seen.

In our two losses this year we have given up 115 and 120 points. Did I mention I am in charge of the defense?

I have been pondering and believe I have come up with a solution: Two different players, one a defensive specialist and one an offensive specialist, wearing the same number.

As soon as we score I can slip in the defensive specialist, and if we use the proper amount of make-up, no one will ever know. We'll have to do it on the fly; kind of like a hockey line-change.

Of course under current NCAA basketball rules this would not be legal, but there has to be a way around it. Does anyone know how I can get in touch with the "Ol' Ball Coach"?

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Jan. 5, 2019

 

Mascots Rule

Bevo, the massive white and brown longhorn steer who serves as the mascot for the University of Texas, was ready to do his part in the 2019 Sugar Bowl held on New Year's Day. About an hour before kickoff, he knocked down a barrier and charged little Uga, Georgia's bulldog mascot.

Uga was quickly pulled away, and Bevo's handlers got him under control before he could squash his canine counterpart, but the tone was set. The Longhorns were the more aggressive team all day, and Texas came away with a 28-21 upset of the Georgia Bulldogs.

The Clemson Tigers play the Alabama Crimson Tide on Monday night for the national championship. Let's take a look at how the mascots match up:

Crimson Tide is an unusual nickname, given to the University of Alabama football team by former Birmingham Age-Herald sports editor Hugh Roberts. After the 1907 Iron Bowl game against Auburn was played in a pouring rain, "a sea of red mud" turned Alabama's white jerseys crimson.

However, Alabama's actual mascot is costumed elephant named Big Al.

Hugh Roberts of the Atlanta Journal described Alabama Coach Wallace Wade's 1930 team as the "Red Elephants" after they took the field in a game against Mississippi State. Bear Bryant let a student dress up as Big Al in 1979.

OK, so we've got an elephant on one sideline and a tiger on the other. Clemson coach and later President, Walter Merritt Riggs, brought the Tiger name with him from his alma mater, Auburn, in 1896.

Clemson's first costumed mascot was the Southern Gentleman, a student dressed in a purple formal suit with top hat and cane. A guy in a purple suit didn't exactly put fear in opponent's hearts so in 1973 they came up with "The Tiger".

As far as I can tell, that's it for the name. A fairly unimaginative nickname (over 1,354 teams call themselves "Tigers") lends itself to a fairly unimaginative name for the mascot.

Anyway, the name does not matter. What matters is who would prevail in a battle between the two. Big Al vs. The Tiger.

Those who study such things say a tiger might be able to handle a baby elephant, but it wouldn't even try to tangle with a big one. There is a video on YouTube of an elephant chasing a tiger but it never seems to catch it.

So there you go, a sign, an omen for Monday night's game. Will the size of Alabama wear down and catch the speed of Clemson?

I'm not sure. The only thing I know is they both would probably feast on a chicken.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Dec. 22, 2018

 

Have you ever tried to do your Christmas shopping in Americus, Georgia? I thought not. Unless you are looking for stocking stuffers from the Dollar General, you just can't get it done there.

And yet Dave Brunk, the Commissioner of the Peach Belt Conference, insists on sending me and my merry band of elves, also known as the Francis Marion University men's basketball team, to this shopping wasteland during the holidays each year to play Georgia Southwestern.

We usually come home with a loss and no presents under the team bus. But let me tell you about this year; let me tell you about my team.

On Monday, the Patriots beat the Hurricanes in front of a packed Education Day house by the score of 90-85. We played at 11:00 a.m. so 2,000 screaming students from Sumter County could attend the game.

A morning game suited us just fine because we regularly practice at 6:00 a.m. The Patriots raced to a 45-28 halftime lead while the Hurricanes were rubbing the sleep out of their eyes.

Brandon Parker scored a career-high 36 points on only nine shots from the field. Figure that one out. Jaquez Smith chipped in 20 points and a bunch of assists.

And then on Wednesday, I'll be darned if we didn't do the exact same thing to a very talented Columbus State team. Again, we led at halftime, held on down the stretch, and beat the Cougars by that same 90-85 score.

All seven Patriots who played hit at least one three-point shot. Ryan Davis made four in the first half alone in front of his entire family. Freshman Kailex Stephens had another double figure scoring and rebounding game.

I was so pleased with winning two games on this annual trip to Southwest Georgia; I broke out my old high school pep rally cheer in the locker room after the game. It's on the roof…oh, yeah…100 proof…oh, yeah.

But the greatest present this old coach could ever receive is just the opportunity to coach these guys. I told them before the Columbus game I would not trade a one of them for anyone else in the conference.

And that has nothing to do with their basketball ability. They are polite. They are unselfish. They are coachable. They are grateful. Through seven straight wins they have remained hungry and humble.

At this stage in my career, to be able to work with such wonderful young men, well, it is a blessing.

A Christmas gift like no other.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Dec. 15, 2018

 

Be Careful What You Tweet

The Heisman Trophy, given annually to the nation's finest college football player, was awarded to Oklahoma's Kyler Murray a week ago in New York City. Less than 24 hours after giving a humble and gracious acceptance speech, the young quarterback was apologizing for "homophobic" tweets he made when he was 14-15 years old.

USA Today reporter Scott Gleason had uncovered the tweets months before, but waited to run the story until it would have maximum effect. Journalistic ethics be damned when there is a juicy tweet out there.

If Kyler Murray had robbed a bank when he was 14-15 years old, his juvenile record would have been sealed and chances are good no one would be the wiser. But tweet something stupid as a youngster and it could stay with you forever.

Despite winning the Heisman, Murray may be more talented at baseball than football. He signed a $4.66 million contract with the Oakland Athletics last year and is expected to be in spring training after his football season is over.

As a baseball player he will feel right at home defending insensitive tweets. Atlanta Braves pitcher Sean Newcomb came close to pitching a no-hitter against the Dodgers last year, but all the reporters could talk about were his tweets from 2011.

Washington Nationals shortstop Trae Turner had to apologize for tweets he made as a teenager, as did Milwaukee Brewers reliever, Josh Hader. Perhaps baseball players are more susceptible to ill-conceived tweets than other professional athletes because some actually know how to write.

I council my own players not to tweet anything that might ever come close to being offensive to anyone. Freshman Winston Hill is an unabashed Gamecocks fan on Twitter, but he is young and has time to outgrow it.

Voltaire was a big free-speech guy and is wrongly attributed with saying, "I may disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." There was no twitter back in the 17th century, though.

Today, you'd better be careful what you tweet because your words could come back to haunt you.

Unless, of course, you're the President.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Dec. 1, 2018

 

Thank you, Mom

The Francis Marion men's basketball team plays the University of North Georgia today at 3:30 p.m. at the Smith Center on our campus. It will be our first Peach Belt Conference game of the season, but my 985th game as a collegiate head coach.

Before most of those games my Mom has been able to tell me "Good Luck", either in person or by phone. She is the person I usually call first after each game. Win or lose, I have always felt better after that call.

I have been required before each season to send Mom a schedule which she puts on her refrigerator. After our post-game talk, she then writes a W or an L next to that game.

"Tell those boys I am proud of them", she would exclaim after writing down a W. It was always tell those boys something. Tell them we need a win today, tell them they have to play harder, tell them to keep trying.

If she had to write down an L on her little refrigerator schedule, she might throw in a few colorful words about the referees, or the other team, or anything else that might have led to the loss. Her son, the coach, has never contributed to any loss.

When my mom played women's basketball, three players were on the offensive side of the court and three players were on the defensive side. She was an offensive player and was a very good shooter.

She would come out with me when I was a young player myself and shoot at my backyard hoop in Virginia Beach. She was very competitive and loved beating me in anything. The basketball shooting game of HORSE, cards, duck pin bowling…you name it, she wanted to win at it.

I got my competitiveness from her. I'll always be on time because of her. I'll roll my sleeves up and work through a problem because of her.

My mother could not wish me luck before today's game against North Georgia. Carol Jean Parker Edwards passed away in the early evening hours of November 28, 2018, here in Florence.

I brought her here from Virginia Beach because I had naively thought the wonderful doctors of our region could ride in like the cavalry and save her from the illness she had battled for almost two months. God said, "Whoa there, Hoss…it is time for her to rest, it is time for her to come home."

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, "No one you love is ever really dead." I know I will feel my mother's presence today as I coach. But I know my heart will ache after the game when I can't call her to report a W or an L.

My dear, sweet mother. I'm the one telling you "Good Luck" today, as you travel a road we all must take. And from my heart, and from my soul, thank you.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Nov. 24, 2018

 

The Francis Marion University men's basketball team traveled to Raleigh, North Carolina, this past Tuesday for a game against Shaw University. I drove from Virginia Beach, Virginia, and met the team in the Bears' tiny gymnasium.

I had to meet the team because I am doing my best to care for my mother, Carol, who has been in a hospital and is now in a rehabilitation facility near our home. For two months now she has been unable to keep food down, and she continues to get weaker and weaker while the doctors continue to scratch their heads over the cause.

Jim Valvano used to be the basketball coach at North Carolina State, also located in Raleigh. Perhaps that is why my melancholy thoughts turned to him as I drove past the cotton fields running parallel to Highway 58.

Only 10 years after leading the Wolfpack to the 1983 National Championship, he sat down with Sports Illustrated writer Gary Smith and spoke of his relationship with sports as he battled a cancer that ravaged his body and would soon kill him.

"The triviality of it just clobbers me," he said. "You get this sick and you say to yourself, sports mean nothing. And that feels terrible. God, I devoted my whole life to it."

I have devoted my whole life to sports as well. And yet, I thought about how insignificant this game against the Shaw Bears was in relation to the very sick mother I just left behind.

I got to the Shaw campus early and walked around. It was a clear, chilly night, and as I walked I talked to the moon and the stars and asked for many things; some for my mother and some for me.

And then the game began. The Bears boasted the #1 scorer in the nation, Amir Hinton, who was averaging over 35 points a game. Chances were slim my young Patriots were going to pull off an upset.

But we kept battling and hanging in there as the game went back and forth. The hostile crowd was going nuts. We kept our composure, hit some big shots down the stretch, and won the game, 80-72.

It was quite an accomplishment. "That is why athletics are important," wrote British sportswriter Brian Glanville. "They demonstrate the scope of human possibility, which is unlimited. The inconceivable is conceived, and then it is accomplished."

Months before his death, Jim Valvano said, "That's it! That's the value of sports. All those games, they mean nothing-and they mean everything."

I drove back from Raleigh with a renewed spirit and optimism. I am bringing my mom here to Florence today to get some second opinions and to continue her recovery.

We won't give up. We will never give up.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Nov. 17, 2018

 

I am a father. I cried last week as I watched another father, Jason Coffman, speak to the media after learning his son, Cody Coffman, was among those shot and killed at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, California.

Any father, any human, would have been moved to tears by his raw emotion. Yes, it saddened me, but it also made me mad as hell for the rest of the day. And then that night, at basketball practice for my team, I worried about how we would defend the pick-and-roll against Catawba.

Less than a year ago, on February 14, 2018, a gunman opened fire at Marjory Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, Florida, killing 17. The next day the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Chicago Blackhawks, 3-2, in a National Hockey League Game.

On October 1, 2017, 58 people attending a country music concert in Las Vegas, Nevada, were gunned down by a sniper shooting from the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino. On October 2, the Kansas City Chiefs beat the Washington Redskins in the Monday Night Game. The Chiefs wore their lucky red jerseys and white pants.

And on December 15, 2012, in men's college basketball, Bucknell beat LaSalle, 74-66, Fordham outlasted Princeton, 63-60, and UMass defeated Elon, 78-73. A day earlier, Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and killed 20 precious, innocent, little children.

The Tree of Life synagogue, Mother Emmanuel in Charleston, the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas; God help us! But God only helps those who help themselves.

There is nothing wrong with playing athletic contests after a national tragedy. President George Bush threw out the first pitch at Yankee Stadium after 9/11 and it inspired us, it united us, and it helped to heal us.

But there is something wrong with putting our collective heads in the sand and pretending we don't have a serious problem in our society. I hate to bring it up with the big South Carolina-Clemson game just a week away, but we are all to blame.

As American citizens we protest and march and confront Senators in elevators over a variety of issues. None are more important or, do I dare say, as important as our citizens being gunned down as they try to sing or dance or worship.

It is time, today, before the Saturday football games kick off, to demand more of ourselves and of our leaders. It is time we stopped worrying about the low hanging fruit of scandal and cosmetic legislation, and confront the very real problems facing our country and our society.

If we don't, we are not going to have a country or a society worth living in.

 

FMU men's basketball head coach Gary Edwards' weekly column for Nov. 10, 2018

 

We are in the heart of college football season, but college basketball and thus my weekly column have begun. I am excited because we have a good, young team, and because there is just so much to talk about!

For most of the 40 years I have roamed a college sideline, I have tried to speak the truth. If you are a reader of this column, or if you listen to my postgame comments, you know I have an aversion to "coachspeak".

Seldom do we hear an original thought from a coach. They spew the same old moldy comments and we, the fans, devour them like we are hunkered down at the buffet line at Quincy's.

Clemson football coach Dabo Swinney is better than most. I enjoy listening to him, but a week ago he said of Louisville, "They're the best 2-6 team I've seen. I don't know how else to say it."

Come on, Dabo! Before scoring 77 points on them you could have said it is obvious the Cardinals have headed south for the winter, the defense is like Swiss cheese, and you were looking forward to your son scoring his first collegiate touchdown.

But that's not what coaches say. After going scoreless in the second half and getting beat in the Monday night game by Tennessee, Cowboy coach Jason Garrett said, "I thought we did some good things in the game."

Boston College coach Steve Addazio said this about Clemson, "I will humbly and candidly tell you that this may be the best team I've seen in my career." The Tigers could be in trouble this week.

It's not just the coaches. One of the big things on Twitter now is for high school athletes to say they have been blessed by a scholarship offer from this or that school.

One of our recruits did it just the other day. "Blessed to have received an offer from Francis Marion University." And that is nice, and I am not questioning the sincerity of this young man.

But I bet part of him would like to say, "A little disappointed in receiving an offer from Division II Francis Marion University and not Division I University of South Carolina. I thought I was better than that and Frank Martin is an idiot."

But if you are a player, or a coach (or a politician?) you can't really say what you think. But I will keep trying.

So as we begin the season with two games in Salisbury, North Carolina this weekend, I am worried about how our young players will react to the physicality of the college game. I believe the NCAA is an ineffective and hypocritical organization. I love the Pecan Festival. I think Newberry stinks but because of our youth it will take a miracle for us to win today.

How's that?