Randy Smith: SoCon Tournament Memories

Friday, March 5, 2021 - by Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith
With the Southern Conference Tournament being played this week in Asheville, North Carolina, I am reminded of how much fun going to the event each and every year was. After all, I handled the TV play-by-play for 24 seasons beginning in 1981 as well as covering the tournament for two different TV stations. It was always a lot of work but as I've always said, it's not really work when you're having fun. 

I've written about the SoCon Tournament many times before, including the time my wife Shelia jumped over the scorer's table when the Mocs upset Marshall in the semi-finals in 1988. Or there was the time when Mocs player Benny Green slapped the ETSU cheerleader following the Mocs loss to the Bucs, creating a brawl inside the Mocs locker room between UTC players and East Tennessee cheerleaders.
Needless to say, that didn't turn out well for the cheerleaders. Both those games took place in Asheville which was always a lot of fun. However, my favorite city for the tournament has always been Charleston, South Carolina. The ocean, scenery, and great places to eat made the extra three hours to drive there more than worthwhile. 

It was always fun to watch Davidson's Stephen Curry play when the Wildcats were still a member of the Southern Conference. The SoCon Tournament was always in Charleston when he played and you could easily see why Curry was perhaps the greatest player in league history, except for maybe Jerry West when West Virginia was a member of the league. Curry was without a doubt the best shooter I ever saw on the basketball floor, and he has proven it over and over again as an NBA player.

On the television broadcasts I was honored to work with some great analysts on the air. The late Norm Sloan, Gerry Valencourt, Jon Albright, Nate Ross and Coach Bobby Cremins immediately comes to mind as well as my great friend, the late Coach Ron Bishop. Working six to seven games in three days with those guys was tough but always enjoyable. 

Perhaps the most memorable Southern Conference Tournament ever was one that never made it on television nor did anybody get to see the games. It was 1993 and the SoCon Women's Tournament was being played in Johnson City, Tennessee. I had my entire family with me that year and, when we left Chattanooga late on a Friday afternoon, it was raining very hard. As we approached Knoxville it began to turn to snow and by the time we arrived at our hotel in Johnson City, there was at least six to eight inches on the ground. We were in the midst of the biggest snow of our lifetime. The blizzard of 1993 dropped almost a foot and a half of snow and ice on Chattanooga, crippling the entire area for almost an entire week. In Johnson City, there was almost two feet of snow by the time it was over, and we were stranded in our hotel, unable to drive anywhere. The TV truck never made it to the gym, and the tournament was played by shuttling the players back and forth in four-wheel drive vehicles.

We were finally able to get out of there on Monday afternoon, when the interstate finally opened, but it took almost seven hours to get home when it usually took less than four. We had survived even though the restaurant at the hotel ran out of food. We were able to walk to a nearby Waffle House for food and we spent our time playing Trivial Pursuit in the lobby. Three days watching it snow with nowhere to go made for an interesting weekend, but we never lost power and we stayed warm the entire time. 

I miss those days, even being snowed in with nothing to do. We raised our children during that time and always made them a part of what we did. You can't ask for anything better than that.     

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com

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