By Andrew Clausen
- Georgia Tech and Florida A&M will meet for the seventh time on Dec. 17, the first game for the Yellow Jackets coming out of fall semester final exams. All of the prior meetings have occurred in Atlanta (Tech is 6-0), but this will be the first one in McCamish Pavilion. The Rattlers are under new leadership this season, with former Tech assistant Robert McCullum at the helm. This is the 10th in a series of previews of the Yellow Jackets' non-conference opponents.
Location: Tallahassee, Fla.
Conference: Mid-Eastern Atlantic (MEAC)
Home arena: Alfred Lawson, Jr. Multipurpose Center (9,639)
2016-17 Record: 7-23, 2-12 in the MEAC (10th)
Post-Season: Lost to Savannah State in the First Round of MEAC Tournament, 82-78
NCAA Postseason Appearances (Last): Three (2007)
All-time series record: 6-0, Georgia Tech (last meeting in 2011)
Head coach: Robert McCullum (first season)
Starters returning/lost: 4/1
Top scorer returning: Desmond Williams (16.2)
Top rebounder returning: Desmond Williams (6.1)
Quick preview for 2017-18
First-year head coach Robert McCullum, a former assistant coach at Georgia Tech, was brought in to lead Florida A&M into a new era. Luckily for McCullum, all but one starter from last season has eligibility left and will help lead a young squad forward. Playing 14 of their first 17 games on the road, the Rattlers will need to have a road warrior mentality for the majority of the season. With tough non-conference games against Stephen F. Austin, Mercer, Georgia Tech and Texas, FAMU will be battle-tested when MEAC play begins.
Desmond Williams, Marcus Barham, Nicholas Severado and Derrick Dandridge all return from last season’s lineup and will look to be the mainstay upperclassmen as the team rebuilds.
Quick recap of 2016-17
It was a disappointing year for Florida A&M (7-23 overall and 2-12 in conference), which started from the get-go when it fell into a 2-11 hole, and the Rattlers lost 10 straight games heading into the new year. Although it seemed that A&M was able to right the ship, beginning MEAC action 3-0, a 2-5 stretch toward the middle of conference slate and a heartbreaking 77-65 double-overtime loss to Norfolk State would derail the team’s momentum.
Leading the Rattlers’ offense was Desmond Williams and Marcus Barham, who finished as the lone players in double digits with 16.2 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. Williams also led the team on the glass, grabbing 6.1 rebounds per game, and at the charity stripe, attempting a team-best 172 free throws.
Greatest Program Accomplishment
After starting off the year 1-10 in 2003-04, Florida A&M went on an impressive run late in the season finish 15-17 (10-8 MEAC) and make only its second berth in the NCAA Tournament and its first since 1999. Led by Terrence Woods, who averaged 20.3 points per game that season off 40.3 percent shooting from three-point range, the Rattlers would face Lehigh in the opening game.
Thanks to 21 points from Woods and a double-double from Michael Harper (11 points, 12 rebounds), A&M overcame Lehigh 72-57 to get its first NCAA Division I Tournament victory in front of nearly 8,000 fans at the University of Dayton. Unfortunately for the Rattlers, they would have to face No. 1-seeded Kentucky, which ended A&M’s run with a 96-76 defeat.
Greatest player in program history
Hailing from Tampa, Fla., Jerome James played for Florida A&M from 1995-98. The 7-foot-1 center played 81 games for the Rattlers, averaging 16.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 4.5 blocks for his career while shooting 49.5 percent from the field. En route to back-to-back all-MEAC honors, James solidified himself as the greatest rim-protector in A&M history, leading Division I with 4.6 blocks per game in 1997-98.
James declared for the 1998 NBA draft after that season and was selected in the second round (36th overall) by the Sacramento Kings. He appeared in 16 games (partially due to that year’s NBA lockout) before playing overseas.
Place to visit on campus or in the city
Right on the campus of Florida A&M is the Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum, housed within Carnegie Library. The center contains regalia and printed material that focuses on information “significant to African Americans and their experiences and contributions in Florida and the Southeastern United States.” One of only 10 such archives in the U.S. and one of the largest repositories of African-American history in the southeast, the center offers students and tourists a unique education in the region’s history.