If you close your eyes and listen real hard, you can almost hear Frank McGuire's old Underground Railroad rumbling out of New York, carrying players south. McGuire's line terminated at Chapel Hill, N.C. for nine years and was extended to Columbia, S.C. until McGuire's retirement in 1980. Now it runs all the way to the Atlanta campus of Georgia Tech, and the man at the throttle is Yellow Jacket coach Bobby Cremins, the 37-year-old Bronx native who captained McGuire's 1970 Gamecock squad, which went 25-3.
Cremins has fortified his roster with enough representatives from the Bronx, Manhattan and Brooklyn to make Tech, 18-11 last season, the team to beat this time around in the ACC. "He knows all the coaches at the New York parochial schools," says McGuire, who now helps run the college basketball program at Madison Square Garden. "His friends look out for him the same way they did for me."
One of those New Yorkers is power forward John Salley, a junior from Brooklyn who came to Tech as a 6'9", 185-pound milquetoast who answered to the name Spider. "Strength was my greatest weakness," he says. Now, two years later, the Spider has metamorphosed into an imposing 7-foot, 224-pound tarantula.
But Cremins doesn't restrict his recruiting to New York. His backcourt, for instance, may be the finest in the country—and is probably the most disparate. At one guard is the 1983 ACC Rookie of the Year, junior Mark Price, the quintessential country boy from Enid, Okla. Price sings solo tenor in an Atlanta Baptist church choir, but on the basketball court he's an ensemble man all the way. He led the Yellow Jackets last season in scoring with 15.1 points per game and in assists with 121. His running mate is sophomore Bruce Dalrymple, who hails from Harlem and was the 1984 ACC Rookie of the Year. Dalrymple was the top rebounding guard in the conference, with 6.9 per game—sort of a power guard—and spent his summer working on his outside shot. "Without the jumper I wasn't a complete player," he says, so he spent part of every day taking 150 to 200 shots. In the first preseason intrasquad scrimmage, Dalrymple converted 10 of 11 shots from the floor.
This season a Tech freshman may win the conference's best-rookie award for the third straight year. This one is 6'6" McDonald's All-America Duane Ferrell, who has come from Towson, Md. to shore up what was the Jackets' weakest position last year, small forward. Ferrell, who can leap 40-inches off the floor from a standing start, made his mark in an early practice by catching a rebound behind his head with one hand and windmilling it back through the hoop over two defenders. "Then he held onto the rim and hung there looking at everybody," says Salley. Cremins expects Ferrell to help Tech improve its rebounding significantly. Last year the Yellow Jackets were seventh among the ACC's eight teams in that category.
Tech also has what every team now seems to need to reach the Final Four—a foreign-born center. But the Haitian Sensation, 6'11" senior Yvon Joseph, will be pushed—and he often needs pushing—by a 7-foot freshman from the Bronx named Antoine Ford. Ford wasn't highly touted because he played in the shadow of another Haitian, Virginia's Olden Polynice, at All Hallows High. But with his lanky frame, modified Afro and graceful moves, Ford has his teammates calling him L.A.—as in Lew Alcindor.
Another McDonald's all-star, freshman Bud Adams, a 6'7" pure shooter, and holdovers Scott Petway and Craig Neal give the Engineers exceptional depth. The biggest question is how the team will perform on the road. In the five years since Tech joined the ACC, it has been 2-37 in conference play outside Atlanta. But the Yellow Jackets have a 29-8 record at home over the last two seasons. One of the sites for the opening round of the NCAA tournament next March will be Atlanta, and Georgia Tech hopes to take part in the festivities.
Credit the restoration of the Ramblin' Wreck to Bobby Cremins, a helluvan engineer.