Georgia Southern’s men’s basketball program can trace its origins to the late 1920s, when the university was known as Georgia Normal School. In their inaugural season, 1926-27, the “Blue Tide” posted their first victory, a 26-7 decision over Benedictine. The team subsequently was known as the “Professors” until the late 1950s, when they adopted the Eagles as the school mascot.
The team plays at Hanner Fieldhouse on the school campus, where the largest crowd in school history (5,303 attendees) gathered on March 4, 1989, to see Arkansas–Little Rock beat Georgia Southern 80-63, ending their seventeen-game winning streak, a school record.
From 1955 to 1968 Georgia Southern competed in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, making five national tournament appearances, including one trip to the championship round. In 1968 the Eagles became a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division II institution, and later joined the NCAA’s Division I ranks. After a dozen years (1980-92) as a member of the Trans America Athletic Conference, Georgia Southern joined the Southern Conference in 1992 and remains in that league today.
Over the course of its history, the school’s basketball program has employed thirteen coaches, three of whom served for twelve years or more. J. B. Scearce (1947-67 and 1977-80) coached more than twenty-three years, compiled an overall record of 396 wins and 225 losses, and brought the program into the modern day. B. L. “Crook” Smith coached from 1930 to 1942 with a record of 116-60. The school had no team during 1943-46, due to World War II (1941-45).
Frank Kerns (1981-94) presided over many of Georgia Southern’s greatest basketball achievements, leading the Eagles to the NCAA Tournament three times (1983, 1987, 1992) and the National Invitation Tournament twice (1988, 1989). Kerns posted a record of 244 wins and 118 losses in his thirteen years as head coach. Unfortunately, Kerns’s tenure at Georgia Southern did not end well. He and several assistants left the program before an NCAA investigation determined he was involved in a case of academic fraud, which cost the team five scholarships and a ban from tournament play for the 1995-96 season.
After two separate stints as an assistant coach in Statesboro, Jeff Price was appointed head coach in 1999, and by the time he left Statesboro in 2009, he posted a 165-133 record, which included the program’s first Southern Conference championship, in 2002. The team duplicated that accomplishment in 2004, winning the league title again. Price was named Southern Conference Coach of the Year for the 1999-2000 season.
Price left Georgia Southern in 2009, after a miserable 8-22 season. His successor, Charlton Young, started in ninety-seven straight games as an Eagle between 1989 and 1993. He was similarly successful as head coach, leading the team to a surprise second-place finish in the 2012 Southern Conference standings.
Mark Byington replaced Young in 2013, after Young left for Florida State University. By the end of the 2015-16 season, Byington posted a 58-49 record.
Julius Jenkins, who played at Georgia Southern from 1999 to 2003, is the team’s all-time top scorer with 1,870 points. Johnny Mills (1971-74) holds the record for best career average, 19.2 points per game, and season average, 24.3 points in 1971-72.
Michael Curry and Jeff Sanders are perhaps Georgia Southern’s best-known basketball players. Curry (1986-90) holds the school record for most games played in a career (119) and led the Eagles in scoring in fourteen games as a senior. He is the only player in Georgia Southern history to score more than 1,000 points and rank in the top ten in rebounds, steals, and field goal percentage. After beginning his professional career in Germany, Curry played with the Detroit Pistons, Philadelphia 76ers, and Milwaukee Bucks in the National Basketball Association (NBA).
Sanders (1986-89) is one of three Eagles players to have his jersey retired by the school (the others are Scotty Perkins, who played from 1949 to 1951, and Curry). He is among the team’s all-time leaders in numerous categories, including games started (first with 117), points scored (second with 1,861), rebounds (fourth with 893), free throws made (second with 329), and field goals made (second with 772). Sanders was selected in the first round (twentieth overall) of the 1989 NBA draft by the Chicago Bulls. He played with the Atlanta Hawks and Charlotte Hornets before completing his career in Turkey.