CHARLOTTE, N.C. - It may not have seemed like it while the Washington Huskies were traveling the 2,300 air miles between Seattle and Charlotte, but it is in fact a small world.
Here are the Huskies – in North Carolina for an NCAA tournament date tonight against the Georgia Bulldogs, who they will be meeting for the first time – and they keep bumping into familiar faces.
One belongs to Georgia coach Mark Fox, whose life changed dramatically in 1991 when he took a job as an assistant coach at UW under Lynn Nance.
“I met my wife (there),” Fox said. “There were a lot of young people in the department. We were friends first and we all just, you know, spent a lot of time together, and so that’s how we met.”
Not only that, but they also were introduced by Trent Johnson – then a UW assistant, later head coach at Stanford, and now Fox’s Southeastern Conference rival at LSU.
Fox admits basketball at Washington is bigger now than when he was there. But he says he learned things there that helped him in his first head coaching job at Nevada and now at Georgia.
“It certainly was a time when I was able to see, you know, some of the struggles of the profession,” Fox said. “I have fond memories of beating the No. 2 Arizona team; but really learning a lot about the trade of coaching and how to manage a team and how a program should operate.”
Meanwhile, in another crossing of paths, Georgia’s All-SEC forward Trey Thompkins not only played for UW coach Lorenzo Romar on the USA Select basketball team, but he also has known UW leading scorer Isaiah Thomas since they were about 15 years old.
“We played against each other (in AAU basketball) and we did some camps together,” Thompkins said. “Same Isaiah – he’s just a little bit stronger. Very confident, fast, quick. Confident is the only way to describe him.”
COLOR ME BLUE
There isn’t much purple on the streets of downtown Charlotte this week. But there’s plenty of blue, with both Duke and North Carolina starting the NCAA tournament here.
“We’re just embracing it,” said Duke’s Nolan Smith. “You have two rival schools right down the road and two great programs with two great coaches, and whenever you can bring us both so close together, you know, it’s great for basketball, and I think the fan base down here in Charlotte for both of us is going to be tremendous.”
Top-seeded Duke plays No. 16 Hampton at around 12:15 p.m. today. North Carolina meets Long Island around 4:15.
The UNC-LIU winner will face the Washington-Georgia winner on Sunday.
Hampton coach Edward Joyner Jr. said at media day Thursday that he will remind his players when they face the Blue Devils that even the most unlikely upsets are possible by showing them film of Hampton’s 2001 upset of No. 2 seed Iowa State and a lot more.
“Trust me, they’re going to see it along with ‘Miracle,’ ‘Rudy,’ and anything else you can find,” Joyner said. “If you’ve got any suggestions you can give it to me, but they will see it (Thursday night) along with anything else we can get to pump them up to try to come out and get a ballgame.”
Don Ruiz, 253-597-8808 firstname.lastname@example.org twitter/donruiztnt blog.thenewstribune.com/uwsports