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Georgia Tech's Cremins Discovers That Being Nice Guy Has a Price

December 27, 1987|JOHN FEINSTEIN | The Washington Post

ATLANTA — Bobby Cremins has just been through the wringer, one of those nights when he feels as if nothing is working, when he screams and yells and jumps up and down and still walks off the floor seeing the silly mistakes in his mind's eye like a haunting nightmare that keeps coming back.

"I was very disappointed in this game," he said, shaking his silver-haired head, his voice thick with the Bronx of his boyhood. "I really got on (Duane) Ferrell at halftime. We need him to play well and he wasn't. The play that (Craig) Neal made at the end of the half, that shot he took, was bad. Worse than bad. If I had taken a shot like that at South Carolina, I don't think Frank McGuire would have let me come out of the locker room for the second half. It was a joke.

"We had 20 turnovers in the game. That's just ridiculous."

He paused. "Of course, it was a good win."

That display, moments after Georgia Tech had blitzed Louisiana State, 87-70, last week, is typical Cremins. LSU had been a nemesis for two seasons, beating the Yellow Jackets three times, twice in the National Collegiate Athletic Assn. tournament. Georgia Tech responded emphatically in the Omni, a victory that left the players full of themselves. "We're coming into our own now," point guard Neal said. "Last year, we wouldn't have won a game like this."

Cremins didn't see it that way. He can't. As good a coach as he is, he wants to be better. As good a program as he has built at Georgia Tech, he sees deficiencies. As happy as he is with his life, he worries about the future.

"His mind is always on the next thing," said assistant coach Kevin Cantwell, a longtime friend. "Tell him something and he's apt to forget it five minutes later. But when he's focused on something, there's no stopping him. He's never satisfied until he succeeds. And even then, he isn't always satisfied."

In six seasons at Georgia Tech, Cremins has turned the worst program in Atlantic Coast Conference history--1-29 in league play during the two seasons before he arrived--into a perennial national contender.

The Yellow Jackets won the ACC tournament in 1985 and reached the NCAA tournament final eight. They have been to three straight NCAA tournaments. During one stretch, Cremins recruited four straight ACC rookies of the year: Mark Price, Bruce Dalrymple, Ferrell and Tommy Hammonds. He has the odds-on favorite to win it this year, Dennis Scott.

In short, Cremins is a winner, a big-time winner who has been rewarded with a lucrative contract, plenty of endorsement money and status in his profession at age 39 envied by most.

He isn't satisfied.

"I want this to be a great program," he said, driving toward a preseason scrimmage on a rainy night. "The first few years after I got here, we kept going up, doing better every year. We weren't getting guys the whole world wanted, we were getting guys who came here and got better like Price, (John) Salley and (Yvon) Joseph. Dalrymple was the first big name recruit we had.

"But then after we had the great year in '85, people picked us No. 1 in '86 and that team was under a microscope all season. I wanted us to peak that year in March, but we just didn't do it. I felt like I let Price and Salley down not getting them to the Final Four. We still haven't done that yet, and until we do, I won't be completely happy."

If then.

When Cremins arrived at Georgia Tech, the situation was so hopeless and his enthusiasm so boundless that every reporter in the country felt obligated to pop down here, spend a day or two being charmed by Cremins and then deliver a paean to his future greatness. By his second year in the league, Cremins had a nickname: media darling.

Cremins was funny--sometimes on purpose--and he was good. Most of all he was intense. He had been that kind of player at South Carolina, playing on great teams that never quite reached the pinnacle.

He was an overachiever who took losing so hard that he often had to go off by himself for days at a time after a loss. That hasn't changed. He had coached six years at Appalachian State and taken a lowly program to two NCAA bids when Georgia Tech called on him--after two other coaches had turned it down--in 1981. Given the chance at Georgia Tech, he was determined to make the most of it.

"My dream was always to coach in the ACC," he said. "I'm an ACC guy. I played in the league and always wanted the chance to come back. We worked hard, everyone in the program did and that's why we got better. But we can't stop now. There's still a lot more to do."

Having gotten the program going with players such as Price, Salley and Joseph, Cremins was able to move to the next level, recruiting blue-chip players Ferrell, Hammonds and, most recently, Scott. Other coaches tell the story of Hammonds announcing to the four finalists--Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Florida and Virginia Tech--his choice by saying, "I've decided to go to Tech."

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