Remember when college basketball featured teams with a mix of veteran stars coupled with the hot young freshman that was brought in to be the missing piece? No…ok. Well how about the ones who had a scoring tandem that lit up arenas night in and night out. No…really. Ok last one. Remember the teams who had a point guard whose handle was enough entertainment to keep you glued to your television no matter the score? Before we even attempt to wreck our brains trying to figure out the last time we witnessed any of these scenarios while living in a one-and-done, mid-major parody, low scoring era of college basketball, I invite you to take a trip back into time when it was all about the young guns, the true stars of a sport that dazzled us all twice a week from November to March.
It’s no secret that I am a basketball fanatic. I still have countless VCR tapes (yes VCR) in my storage with games from my youth. I loved every aspect of the game from the college fight songs to the corny pre-game intros that came on to give you a movie-like storyline about the upcoming game. But most of all, I was enamored by the true essence of stardom that was first introduced to us each and every year. Today’s game only allows us to get to know a player for one season, and then they are gone, only to average three points per game in an NBA career that didn’t end up as they had pictured (but that is a story all to itself). My fondest memories of college basketball came in the late 80’s and early 90’s watching teams like UNLV, players like Rodney Monroe of N.C. State and Chris Jackson (before he became Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf), leading into the era of the Fab Five. It was so much about swag before it was even considered to be a fashionable word. But then, there was one player who took my enthusiasm to a totally different level.
Growing up in ACC country, I was preprogrammed to like either North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina State, or Wake Forest. As a kid I admit that I dabbled in them all. But that is when I realized that it was never about the teams for me, it was all about the players. Heading into the 1989-90 season, all the talk was about Duke, Carolina, and even Clemson in the ACC. But because of an All-American freshman point guard hailing from Rego Park in Queens, New York, the dynamic of not only my world changed, but so did all of college basketball.
Kenny Anderson was not just your average incoming freshman who even on an elevated platform was perceived as the next great player in school history, he was something college basketball fans had never seen before. Kenny was a child prodigy who in high school became the first three-time Parade All-American since Lew Alcindor and first to be named All-City four times. He brought a flare to the game with his wizardry of the basketball displaying the skills he had developed on the playgrounds of New York. Anderson was a brash freshman, who made a bold prediction after settling on Georgia Tech over the likes of Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse. He told reporters that he would take the Yellow Jackets to the Final Four. Well, he did. Averaging nearly 21 points, 8 assists, and 2.5 steals, he was the engine of the Tech squad, however he was not the only piece of the puzzle.
Brian Oliver, a senior from local Smyrna, Georgia was the glue guy for the Yellow Jackets. While also averaging 21 points per game, it was his all-around play that made him one of the most productive players in the school’s history. Oliver is the only player to have at least 1,800 points, 600 rebounds (612), and 500 assists (538).
With Anderson averaging 20-plus, and Oliver doing the same, one would think that there would be no more room for anyone else to score. But sometimes in history, the odds are not only defied but simply obliterated. Enter the most deadly weapon, the sharp-shooting sniper Mr. Dennis Scott, who poured in an additional ridiculous 27.7 points per game. Scott made more than 350 3-pointers in only three seasons of work, and was recognized during his junior year as the ACC Player of the Year and well as the Associated Press National Player of the Year.
So let’s revisit one of our initial questions. When was the last time you can remember a team that featured a scoring tandem that would light up arenas every night out? You would have to venture back to 1989-90 when Anderson, Oliver, and Scott formed the trio best known as “Lethal Weapon 3.” Going 24-5 in the regular season, the team reeled off seven victories in their last nine and were in full-stride when then swept three games in the ACC Tournament for the school's second league title.
While Lethal Weapon 3 was already a household name, the NCAA Tournament made it into a spectacle. In their first round matchup versus East Tennessee State, the Jackets had their foot on the gas with the intentions of running over anything in their path. They would score on eight of their first nine possessions, connecting on 16 of the first 19 shots. Dennis Scott posted 36 points leading Tech into a huge second round battle with LSU and SEC Player of the Year Chris Jackson and the mammoth combination of Shaquille O’Neal and Stanley Roberts. The game started the exact opposite of the previous one, as Georgia Tech missed 15 of their first 19 shots. However, the trio would fight back as Scott’s 30 points, accompanied by Anderson’s 26 helped to lift them past the Tigers 94-91.
In the round of the Sweet Sixteen, Georgia Tech needed a little bit of luck to advance past a tough matchup with Michigan State and their All-American guard Steve Smith. With the score tied 75-73 with six seconds remaining, Smith was sent to the line to seal what would be a Michigan State win by knocking down both free throws. He would miss the front end of a one-and-one, giving Georgia Tech the rebound, putting the ball in the hands of Anderson who feverishly pushed it up court only to knock down what appears to be a 3-pointer and the buzzer sounds. A controversial play none-the-less, the basket was counted although determined that Anderson had a foot on the line making it a two point field goal. The Jackets would go on to defeat Michigan State in overtime behind Anderson’s 31 points.
In the Elite Eight game versus Minnesota, the trio produced their most prolific scoring performance of the season. In a 93-91 win, the threesome of Scott (40), Anderson (30) and Oliver (19) would score 89 of the team's 93 points. It was validation that they could play with any team in the country and had to be taken seriously as a threat to win the national championship. By the time they reached the Final Four in Denver, the Jackets had knocked off nine ranked team over the course of the season, but Anderson felt Georgia Tech wasn't getting the respect they deserved heading into the national semi-final against second-ranked UNLV.
"Everyone was talking about how bad we were going to get blown out," he remembered. "Really, it was like that the whole tournament. People would say that it was just Dennis Scott, Brian Oliver and me. They would say that we were just a perimeter team. It was like that the entire tournament, so I do think we played with a chip on our shoulder."
Unfortunately the magical run came to an end at the hands of UNLV, who in my opinion may have been one the greatest teams in college basketball history. Tech made their point as for a minute looked as if they may be heading for the shocking upset leading 53-46 at halftime. However UNLV’s pressure defense began to smother Tech and eventually took over, thus ending their season in a 90-81 loss. Regardless, the legend of Lethal Weapon 3 will always be remembered and celebrated as one of college basketball’s most amazing teams of all time. And for what we are witnessing in the world of basketball today, it may be a safe bet to say that we will never see anything like this ever again. #RESPECT.