The men’s basketball program at the University of Georgia (UGA), established in 1905, has enjoyed a number of successful seasons. As of 2016, Georgia has made twelve appearances in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament, reaching one Final Four (the tournament semifinals). Georgia has also made eleven trips to the National Invitation Tournament.
UGA fielded its first basketball team for the 1905-6 season, losing both of its games. The Bulldogs were coached for their first two seasons by W. T. Forbes, who was replaced by C. O. Heidler in the fall of 1907. UGA was originally a member of the Southern Conference, and in 1932 the Bulldogs became a charter member of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). Their first season in the SEC was in 1933.
The apex of the UGA program’s success was its appearance in the 1983 NCAA Final Four. Its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, Georgia earned an automatic NCAA bid by virtue of winning the SEC tournament for the first time in school history. Led by Hugh Durham, UGA basketball’s winningest coach, the team was an underdog entering the tournament. The Bulldogs defeated the defending national champion, the University of North Carolina (led by Michael Jordan), on the way to the 1983 Final Four. Georgia lost in the national semifinals to North Carolina State University, the eventual NCAA champion.
The greatest player in Georgia history is Dominique Wilkins, who went on to play fifteen seasons in the National Basketball Association (NBA) after three years at UGA. Wilkins played on Bulldogs teams from 1979 to 1982, scoring 1,688 career points and becoming the only Georgia player ever to have his uniform number (twenty-one) retired by the school. Wilkins, a forward for the Atlanta Hawks from 1982 to 1994, scored a total of 26,668 career points in the NBA and ranked among the top ten in league history at the time of his retirement, following the 1998-99 season.
Two other Bulldogs to achieve success after leaving UGA are Vern Fleming and Willie Anderson, who represented the United States in the Olympic Games. Fleming, a point guard, helped lead the United States to a gold medal at the 1984 Olympics, and Anderson won a bronze medal at the 1988 Olympics. Both Fleming and Anderson went on to play in the NBA for several seasons.
Georgia players have earned all-American honors nine times over the years, led by two-time selections Bob Lienhard (1969-70), Wilkins (1981-82), and Fleming (1983-84). Three different Bulldogs have been named academic all-Americans, including three-time first-team selection Alec Kessler, who was the national academic all-American of the year in 1989 and 1990.
One of UGA’s most successful coaches is Orlando “Tubby” Smith, who served as head coach for the 1995-96 and 1996-97 seasons, compiling a record of 45-19. Smith led Georgia to the NCAA tournament’s round of sixteen, or the Sweet Sixteen, during his first season in Athens. Smith left UGA to take the head coaching job at the University of Kentucky, where he won a national championship in his first year.
In the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Bulldog basketball program has seen both highs and lows. In 2001 and 2002 Georgia made back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances, equaling a school record. In the 2002-3 season Georgia won at least ten SEC games for the second time in a row, the first time in school annals that the program posted double-digit wins in back-to-back seasons of SEC play. The Bulldogs were ranked in the national polls for eleven consecutive weeks, the longest such streak in UGA history, and finished the year with a number twenty-five ranking in the Associated Press poll.
Late in the season, the Bulldogs endured a self-imposed ban on postseason tournaments because of alleged recruiting violations under head coach Jim Harrick. On April 10, 2003, former Western Kentucky University head coach Dennis Felton replaced Harrick as Georgia’s head coach.
In 2004 and 2007 the team played in the National Invitation Tournament, and in 2008 the Bulldogs advanced to the NCAA tournament after winning the SEC championship for the second time in the team’s history.
In January 2009 Felton was dismissed as head coach following a string of disappointing losses. Pete Herrmann, former associate head coach, stepped in as interim head coach to finish the season. He was succeeded in April 2009 by Mark Fox, the former head coach at the University of Nevada, who led the team to a winning season in 2010-11 and an at-large bid to the 2011 NCAA tournament.