Twenty years ago this semester, the College of Charleston men’s basketball team shocked the basketball world, ushering in an era in which the name “giant killers” would become synonymous with our storied program.
The date was January 16, 1993. Under the leadership of Coach John Kresse, the Cougars clobbered No. 8 Georgia Tech by a score of 84-67. The victory over Bobby Cremins’ Yellow Jackets was made even sweeter by the fact that just one week earlier, Georgia Tech had beaten the No. 1 Duke Blue Devils.
In the ensuing years – under Coach Kresse and later under Coach Cremins and Coach Doug Wojcik – our men’s basketball team gained and solidified a reputation for pulling off upsets over nationally ranked teams: Stanford in 1996, Maryland in 1997, North Carolina in 1998 and 2010, and most recently, Baylor in 2012.
But it all started with that Georgia Tech win on a winter’s night in Atlanta. That game put the College and our basketball program on the national map.
As we look back on that game and all that the College and our athletics program have accomplished over the past 20 years, let us not forget that the progress came about as a result of a bold decision just a few years earlier: The College’s decision in 1988 to leave the NAIA and step up to NCAA Division I.
Rather than take the safer route of moving from the NAIA to NCAA Division II, former CofC president Harry Lightsey decided that the College would leap all the way up to Division I.
The move required the College to invest significantly more in athletics, scholarships and academics to comply with NCAA rules. The transition also introduced a host of scheduling and facilities issues.
But looking back on that decision today, it seems obvious that it was the right call.
Despite the challenges we will face as we make the transition, I believe that our decision to move from the Southern Conference to the Colonial Athletic Association will prove to be another positive, pivotal moment in the College’s history.
Athletics Director Joe Hull, who’s been involved in collegiate athletics for decades, says many of the best-known college athletics programs in the nation rose to prominence as a result of a bold move to join a stronger league or because they were part of a league that grew stronger as a result of recruiting new members.
“This is true of the ACC, SEC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-12 and others,” Hull says. “In nearly every case, the athletics program and its associated university have benefitted from their move up.”
Our membership in the CAA also creates exciting new opportunities for our university outside of athletics. Through the Colonial Academic Alliance, our students, faculty and staff will have access to an array of learning, research, study abroad and professional development programs. Our marketing, admissions and fundraising operations will benefit from the College having a presence in larger population centers and larger media markets. And the value of our degrees will increase significantly as employers throughout the mid-Atlantic and Northeast become more familiar with the College.
Already, our coaches are seeing the positive benefits of membership in a conference with more national visibility.
Women’s basketball coach Natasha Adair says the Colonial’s high RPI ranking and history of sending multiple teams to the NCAA tournament provide a big recruiting boost. “The CAA will and has already piqued interest for the College of Charleston from some of the nation’s top women’s basketball recruits,” she says.
Volleyball coach Jason Kepner is also seeing increased interest in the College since the decision: “The announcement of our transition has already spiked interest in some of the major volleyball hotbeds of the Northeast.”
For men’s basketball coach Doug Wojcik, moving to the Colonial will be a homecoming of sorts. As a member of the U.S. Naval Academy basketball team from 1983 to 1986, Wojcik helped lead Navy to three consecutive Colonial championships and three NCAA Tournament appearances. “It will be fun to play teams in that region of the country and to be able to have the opportunity to see a lot of my college classmates, friends and family,” Wojcik says. “I have nothing but fond memories of the Colonial, and I am looking forward to the future.”
Twenty years from now, when we look back on our decision to join the Colonial, I’m confident that we will be pleased that we made the move, and we will see clearly that it marked another turning point in the story of the College and another step toward national prominence.
– President P. George Benson