The Georgia Institute of Technology first appeared on the intercollegiate basketball scene in 1906. Since that time, the basketball tradition at Georgia Tech has grown to national repute on the strength of such coaches as John “Whack” Hyder and Bobby Cremins, and such players as Roger Kaiser, Rich Yunkus, Mark Price, John Salley, Tom Hammonds, and Matt Harpring. Today’s Yellow Jackets, coached by Paul Hewitt, compete in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Georgia Tech has played its home games at Alexander Memorial Coliseum in Atlanta since 1956. The arena is named for William Alexander, who revived the basketball program in 1919 and coached the team for four years. (Before Alexander’s arrival, financial difficulties and the lack of a permanent facility in which to play home games had caused problems for the Yellow Jackets for almost a decade.) The coliseum is nicknamed the Thrillerdome, a reference to the many close games the Yellow Jackets have played in the building, and is regarded as one of the toughest arenas for opposing teams.
Although the origin of the nickname Yellow Jackets is uncertain, most historians say it originated as a description of the fans who attended games wearing yellow coats and jackets (the school’s team colors are yellow and black). The first known reference to the nickname appeared in the Atlanta Constitution in 1905. Other nicknames given to the team over the years include the Engineers, the Techs, the Golden Tornado, the Blacksmiths, and the Ramblin’ Wreck.
Georgia Tech became a charter member of the Southeastern Conference in 1932 (the first season was in 1933) and won the conference title in 1938. Coach Hyder, whose teams won 292 games in twenty-two seasons, put the program on the national map when his 1955 team defeated Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky team, ending the Wildcats’ 129-game winning streak at home.
The Yellow Jackets played their first National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament game in 1960. Coached by Hyder and led by all-American Kaiser, the team defeated Ohio University before losing in the second round to the eventual champion, Ohio State. Hyder continued to have strong teams in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1964, Georgia Tech’s final season in the Southeastern Conference, the team went undefeated at home and was the conference runner-up. In 1971 the Yellow Jackets, led by Yunkus, reached the finals of the National Invitation Tournament but lost to the University of North Carolina.
Georgia Tech became a charter member of the Metro Conference in 1975 (the first season started in 1976), and then became the eighth member of the ACC in 1978 (the first season started in 1979). As of the 2004-5 season the Yellow Jackets have won three ACC tournament championships and two regular season conference titles. Through 2016, Georgia Tech has received sixteen berths in the NCAA tournament, and seven of its teams have made it into the round of final sixteen teams—the Sweet Sixteen—of the tournament. Two teams have made it into the Final Four.
The 1985 team, led by head coach Bobby Cremins and players Mark Price, Bruce Dalrymple, and John Salley, won the school’s first ACC championship and advanced to the final eight in the NCAA tournament. Georgia Tech’s nine consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament in the mid-1980s and the early 1990s accounted for the nation’s fourth-longest active streak, which ended in 1994. Cremins’s nineteen-year tenure (1981-2000) stands as the team’s most successful era. Cremins is Georgia Tech’s all-time winningest coach and is third among all ACC coaches. Upon his retirement after the 1999-2000 season, his teams had won 354 games and lost 237 for a .599 winning percentage. Paul Hewitt, who became head coach after Cremins retired, took the team to the 2004 NCAA tournament finals, where Georgia Tech lost to the University of Connecticut.
Georgia Tech has had five of its players named first-team all-Americans as of the 2015-16 season. Fourteen ACC rookies of the year have played for the Yellow Jackets, and one was named national freshman of the year. From 1982 through 2015 twenty-eight Georgia Tech players have been selected to the all-conference team, seventeen players have been selected in the first round of the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft, and twenty-five total players either have been drafted or have signed NBA contracts.
The team has retired six numbers worn by its most outstanding players: Matt Harpring (fifteen), Tom Hammonds (twenty), John Salley (twenty-two), Mark Price (twenty-five), Rich Yunkus (forty), and Roger Kaiser (twenty-one).