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UGA fans give Bulldogs NCAA sendoff

Surprise SEC champions off to D.C. for Big Dance

By BY REBECCA McCARTHY

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Published on: 03/18/08

Athens Waving pompoms and woofing, about 300 people cheered the Georgia men's basketball team as they boarded buses Tuesday afternoon headed for Hartsfield-Jackson International and onto the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2002.

"We watched the games all weekend, and it was so inspiring, we had to come cheer them on," said Athens musician Jack Logan. He brought his two sons, six-year-old Charlie and four-year-old Henry to the send-off.

Doug and Jane Mathews were there, as well, taking photos for the website of the UGA Tipoff Club. They were also among the crowd who greeted the returning team Sunday night.

"We had to give these guys a send off," said Doug Mathews, a basketball supporter for 30 years. He and Jane will soon hit the road for Washington where the Bulldogs will play Xavier Thursday.

Long-time fan Jack Kehoe, 80, won't be going to Washington, but he'll be following the game closely on television. He's been attending UGA basketball games for 40 years.

The retired art professor remembers when he could count all the people in the stands. He remembers the Dominique Wilkins years, and the season when the Bulldogs went to the Final Four.

"I've seen it all," said Kehoe, 80. But he admitted he hadn't seen anything like Sunday's final game.

"I hope this kind of remarkable performance will spark greater support for basketball," he said. "They will need support and allegiance to get better."

Across the UGA campus, loyal long-time fans like Kehoe are floating on air. But students? Many can't believe the same team that had such a ho-hum season actually won the SEC championship.

"It's weird to come back to campus and people aren't excited," said freshman Thomas Carroll, 18, from Alexandria, Va. He listened to the game on the radio as he drove back to Athens from Charleston, "and was shocked they won," he said.

Unlike many people in his residence hall, Carroll actually went to a few basketball games this season. He said he tried to get people to come along, "but basketball isn't on the minds of a lot of students here. It's football."

If he can, Carroll will watch the Thursday's game in the Tate Student Center theatre, which seats 500 people. Latecomers to the event can catch the game on televisions in the center.

Or, he said, he may load up a group of friends and drive home to suburban Washington for the weekend game. That decision is still up in the air.

Sophomore Jessica Thai, 20, of Suwanee, said neither her friends nor she has had any interest in Georgia basketball. But if the team does well in the NCAA tournament, she may start going to games next season.

No matter how well the team does, associate law school dean Paul Kurtz will cheering them. He's been a season ticket holder for 33 years and says it takes "a lot of patience" to be a UGA basketball fan.

On Sunday, he was flying home from Tucson during the Dogs' last game. When he landed at Hartsfield-Jackson, he called home. His son Benjamin answered.

"So?" Kurtz asked.

"Do you believe in miracles?" his son said.

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