I was looking through some of my old Niner collectibles recently and came across the 97-98 Sports Illustrated College Hoops preview. Just wanted to share for those new to the program.
We were projected Sweet 16 and had a half page write up on our team. We didn’t realize how good we had it back then.
[b] (13) UNC Charlotte [/b] Don't forget the 49ers when talking about tough teams on Tobacco Road
During the upcoming season coach Melvin Watkins will occasionally march his 49ers out of sparkling, year-old Halton Arena and hold practice in Belk Gym, the 49ers’ old home court, which is known as the Mine Shaft because of its damp air and poor lighting. Watkins, who has spent his entire working life employed at UNC Charlotte, doesn’t want the players in his spiffed-up program to forget what things used to be like. “Teams used to beg us to turn on the lights in the old gym,” says Watkins, "and we had to keep telling them, ‘They’re on, we swear.’ "
When Watkins played for the 49ers from 1973-74 to 1976-77, they never lost a game in the Mine Shaft and, led by Cedric Maxwell, advanced to the '77 Final Four, where they lost to eventual national champion Marquette. A year later Watkins had his degree in economics and was hired as an assistant coach. He spent the next 18 years working under three coaches—and through numerous rebuilding efforts—until he was promoted before last season. He responded by guiding UNC Charlotte (22-9) to the Conference USA White Division title and a first-round upset of Georgetown in the NCAA tournament. “I guess I’ve seen this program come full circle,” he says. “Maybe we’ve even gone around twice.”