ATHENS - The crowd - really, it's more like a gathering - settles in to watch a lame-duck coach lead a team that long ago began counting down a lost season. Those that came are enthusiastic, but there's not enough of them, not nearly enough, to drown out the incessant squeak of the sneakers or the banter among players, coaches and officials.
This scene at Georgia's Stegeman Coliseum has become the norm at college basketball arenas across the Peach State.
The sparse turnouts. The talent-poor teams. The overwhelming stench of defeat. All of it playing out during a truly wretched season for most of the state's Division I basketball programs.
Georgia and Georgia Tech, the two flagship universities, have managed a grand total of three wins in their respective conferences - two for the Bulldogs, one for the Yellow Jackets.
Kennesaw State has already reached 20 losses (21, actually), while Georgia Southern (8-19) and Georgia State (11-18) aren't far off the cutoff point for a truly miserable season. Only Mercer (17-13) has kept its head above the .500 waters, while Savannah State, long one of the nation's worst programs, has managed a 14-14 record largely by throwing a bunch of cream puffs on the schedule. (Is Carver Bible College an actual team?)
What makes this situation even more perplexing is the wealth of high school talent produced within these borders, more than enough for two or three NCAA-worthy teams.
'There's certainly enough talent in this state to carry our program,' Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. 'It's probably in the top five nationally.'
But many of the top prep players have either left the state or skipped college altogether.
Before the NBA passed a rule requiring at least one year of college hoops before entering the draft, Georgia produced a pair of No. 1 overall picks straight out of high school: Kwame Brown in 2001 and Dwight Howard three years later. This season, Kentucky's Jodie Meeks and Wake Forest's Al-Farouq Aminu are among the Georgia natives having a big impact beyond state borders.
'It's strange to me,' said Georgia Bulldogs freshman Dustin Ware, one of those who did stay. 'Every year I was in high school, Georgia was THE state, especially in the South. We just ran the South.'
That's not a recent phenomenon, either. Walt Frazier. Shareef Abdur-Raheem. Dale Ellis. Chris Morris. Gerald Wilkins. Kenny Walker. Pervis Ellison. Georgia natives all.
'If you took it state by state and had a playoff, Georgia, California, New York would be top teams,' Ware said. 'We always produce top players.'
But there's a huge disconnect between the level of play at the high school level and the standing of Georgia's seven D-I programs. In fact, an argument can be made that no comparable state is having such a wretched season on the court.
Peach State teams are a combined 78-118 (.398), with conference records totaling 30-69 (.303). Georgia Tech has the highest RPI ranking in the bunch (No. 161) and the average for all schools is a miserable 239. The worst of the bunch is Kennesaw State at 336 - ahead of only seven other teams.
Forty-two states, plus the District of Columbia, all have at least one higher-ranked team in the RPI, including Wyoming (where the University of Wyoming is the only D-I program) and North Dakota (which has North Dakota State at No. 104, even though sprawling Atlanta probably has neighborhoods with more people than that entire state).
Colorado is the only state with more than two D-I teams that doesn't have anyone ranked as high as Georgia Tech. The Rocky Mountain State's five programs are 54-85 (.388) overall and 21-51 (.292) in league play. But the average RPI of Colorado, Colorado State, Denver, Air Force and Northern Colorado comes out just ahead of Georgia's mark, so one could argue this state truly has the worst college basketball in the country.