Runnin’ with the Bulldogs

I remember Rick Scruggs when he was still Ricky Scruggs.

Granted, Rick Scruggs may have still been Ricky Scruggs as early as Wednesday morning before his Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs became the latest small college team to shock the world with their decisive victory over mighty Kentucky in Rupp Arena.

Still, it was nice to see Scruggs coach Gardner-Webb to the big win — especially since it didn’t come against my alma mater or anything.

And it couldn’t happen to a better group than those on the hardwood and in the athletic offices at Gardner-Webb. I used to live in Boiling Springs when I worked at The Daily Courier in Forest City, and since there were a ton of G-W alumni in Rutherford County, I would cover all of the home football games and a basketball game here and there. (The Herald will likely adopt the same kind of strategy for Campbell when its football program is up and running. We will for sure staff all home games.)

G-W was about as accessible for information as a high school. As a media member, you essentially got what you asked for — a visit to practice, an interview with any player or coach and a seat at any game you wanted. Even when the story was about the team that was playing G-W, as it was whenever Lefty Driesell brought his Georgia State team into the small gym, G-W was accommodating. (Again, this goes for Campbell as well, which handled Matt Doherty’s return to coaching in North Carolina two years ago with a deft touch.)

Which brings me back to Stokes, who was ALWAYS referred to as Ricky in every press release and e-mail sent from the university to the media back when I was getting them. It was fun to see him interviewed all day Thursday on every ESPN outlet. He appeared on ESPN Radio’s “Mike and Mike”, on The Artist Formerly known as “Cold Pizza”, on Bob Ley’s “Outside the Lines” and on ESPNEWS. Here was a guy I would run into at The Snack Shop in Boiling Springs, only now he was on my TV talking about the latest in what is becoming a longer and longer line of monumental upsets in college athletics.

The fact that two of those upsets — the biggest two, actually, much bigger than the two Division II schools’ exhibition basketball wins over Big Ten teams this week — have come from schools in western North Carolina is riveting. And while the Appalachian State win over Michigan was and still is a shocker, G-W’s stunner may be even more eye-opening.

Remember, the Mountaineers were coming off back-to-back national championships in 1-AA. And while the level is a lower than regular Division 1 football, winning two titles is still a striking achievement, and you can bet that pound-for-pound, App. St. gets better football recruits than G-W gets hoopsters. After all, the Bulldogs’ top player, Grayson Flittner, who had 22 points and 11 rebounds against Kentucky, was a walk-on from an Indiana town of 600. G-W lost 21 games a year ago and was picked to finish eighth in the Atlantic Sun Conference — well behind Campbell.

Sure, Michigan and Kentucky may not be the traditional powers this season that they have been. But both upsets came in legendary venues where the will of the crowd can sometimes carry a team, or in many cases, frighten the team fighting to pull off the miracle into folding down the stretch.

That didn’t happen with either Cinderella. G-W was so good, in fact, that it never trailed, opening with a 14-0 lead and coasting to a 16-point win. The Wildcats never got within seven points of the Bulldogs.

Not a bad showing by Ricky and the boys.

Oh, wait. I meant Rick and the boys.

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