Marion Busby didn't really believe the College of Charleston would make the 1994 NCAA tournament and so he wasn't the least bit nervous during the CBS selection show. The Cougars' junior point guard watched in a dorm room with teammates Marcus Woods, Thad Delaney and Patrick King as the bracket was gradually unveiled.
"We were laughing and joking around," Busby said this week, recalling the magical moment that changed the perception of the College of Charleston as a basketball program and university.
At 23-4, the Cougars had a shot. But because they were in just their third year of NCAA Division I status and still ineligible to win the Trans America Athletic Conference tournament, hopes rested on an at-large bid rarely dispensed to schools from such small conferences. Few bracketologists had the upstart Cougars in the field.
Assistant coach Gregg Marshall, now the head coach at Wichita State, and sports information director Tony Ciuffo were bullish.
"Those two guys kept telling the players we were going to make it," Busby said.
Head coach John Kresse didn't want his team at a selection show watch party at Arizona's, a now defunct restaurant on East Bay Street.
"He told us not to go because he didn't want people to see us disappointed if we didn't make it," Busby said.
Kresse was realistic.
"I thought we were NIT-bound," he said.
Then the magical moment, the flash of <URL destination="">first-round games scheduled for Lexington, Ky.
</URL>No. 5 Wake Forest vs. No. 12 College of Charleston.
"We started jumping around and chest-bumping," Busby said.
Down the hallway, players in other rooms were celebrating, too. They all gathered and hurried down King Street toward Arizona's.
"We were running down the street yelling and screaming," Busby said. "People must have thought we were crazy."
That Tim Duncan kid
Hard to believe, but Marion Busby is already 40. He and his wife Melanie have three boys: Justin (15), Jalen (13) and Trey (9), all active in basketball and baseball. Busby is a supervisor at Pawleys Island Golf, coaches youth sports and runs a basketball camp (ESA Hoops).
Busby doesn't think he altered College of Charleston history.
He is wrong.
The 1994 NCAA tournament was a turning point, the start of a postseason streak that included four NCAA tournament trips and two NIT appearances over six seasons. The burst of success led to an increase in applications and a jump in the school's academic profile.
Busby in 2011 was enshrined in the College of Charleston Athletic Hall of Fame. He was at his best during that 1993-94 season.
Getting into position to be considered for an NCAA tournament bid wasn't easy that year. The Cougars were 1-2 in TAAC play after road losses to Mercer and Central Florida.
Then they won 16 in a row, narrowly avoiding disaster with a 51-49 win at The Citadel. Busby was named first-team All-TAAC, and led the Cougars with a 16.6 scoring average.
Once in the tournament, Busby personified the steadfast Cougars. Though Kresse was a stickler for film study even in the College of Charleston's NAIA days, Busby was the first to break out Wake Forest tape.
He recorded the 1994 ACC Tournament, completed just hours before the bracket was announced. For two reasons.
"I'm a Duke fan," Busby said. And he thought maybe, just maybe the Cougars would be matched against an ACC team if they defied odds and made the NCAA field.
Sure enough, he had tape from Wake Forest's 86-84 ACC semifinal loss to defending national champion North Carolina.
Busby began studying Sunday night.
"When coach Kresse and the staff gave us the scouting report, I already knew their whole lineup," Busby said.
The key to beating Dave Odom's Wake Forest Deacons, Busby thought, was stopping star guard Randolph Childress, a member of the ACC's 50th Anniversary Team.
"We had Marcus Woods and his nickname was 'The Glove' because he could lock up pretty much any offensive player in the nation," Busby said. "I guarded Childress a little but Marcus frustrated him the whole game."
Childress scored 14 points but went 0-for-3 from 3-point range. He had five turnovers.
But reserve guard Rusty LaRue, who doubled as a Wake Forest quarterback and later won an NBA championship ring playing for the Chicago Bulls, made two late 3-pointers. And the star of the Deacons' 68-58 victory was a 17-year-old freshman center named Tim Duncan.
The perennial NBA All-Star had 16 points, 13 rebounds and eight blocks against the Cougars.
"The scouting report on Duncan was that he was young and that he was very good on defense but that he didn't shoot much," Busby said. "He almost had a triple-double against us."
Busby was magnificent: 21 points, four assists, zero turnovers.
Though the dream season ended with a loss, Busby came to realize that the College of Charleston recruiting pitch was on target when Kresse and Co. made visits to Columbia's Eau Claire High School.
"Gregg Marshall and (former assistant coach) Dwane Grace kept preaching to me that if I signed with C of C, other players would follow," Busby said. "They were right. After I came, Thad came, and then Rodney Conner and later Sedric Webber."
Busby keeps spreading kudos.
"It wasn't just me," he said. "It was a bunch of us that bought into Coach Kresse's system. But he also adapted to us, because we wanted to run more than he was really used to running. I don't look at it as changing the program. I just look at it as we just wanted to win. Yes, we wanted to make an impact, but we didn't realize we were going to go to the NCAA tournament in our third season playing Division I."
Busby doesn't talk to his sons much about his basketball playing days. But not long ago, 15-year-old Justin Busby - a baseball and basketball standout at Waccamaw High School - found the College of Charleston-Wake Forest game on YouTube and watched with friends.
He offered a succinct analysis.
"Hey, Dad, you were pretty good."
The 1994 NCAA tournament selection committee sure thought so.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff
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