Per Matt
I love All-Star Weekend. Every year, the week after the Super Bowl signifies football season (both college and the NFL) has technically ended, while batters and catchers have officially reported to MLB’s Spring Training. As college baseball begins, the NHL and NBA leagues showcase their superstar athletes with annual exhibitions. While I’ve never really been a fan of these games (or their skills competitions), it’s officially time for me to focus on college basketball… finally!

Technically, I’ll watch a game or two leading up to this date during the awards season, but I’ll never fully vest my attention into the sport until this time. And Southern Hoops: A History of SEC Basketball does a terrific job of getting me into the spirit.

Much like Saturdays in the South, this seven-part SEC Storied sports-documentary series from the creators of ESPN’s 30 for 30 recounts the college basketball history that just means more. And just like the advertisements proclaim, “Even icons have to start somewhere. Before they changed the game, they changed the conference.”

Through three episodes, there’s the good, there’s the bad and there’s the ugly elements of true-life history that occasionally bleed into sports, and that’s when everybody seems to have an opinion of the topics at hand. “Part One (1930-1959),” “Part Two (1960-1970)” and “Part Three (1971-1979)” discuss the basketball players, coaches and schools that are found fighting injustices via race or sex or their lack of resources.

Via archive footage, vintage audio recordings and interviews with surviving players and coaches, along with authors and sports journalists, the biggest topics of their time are discussed, whether it’s poor small-town schools, unfair Jim Crow laws, Title IX demands or simply barrier breaking, these college coaches and administers strengthen my faith in humanity.

Early beginnings introduce Adolph Rupp’s transition from successful high-school coach to his record-breaking college tenure, to LSU’s tenures of Bob Pettit and Dale Brown, to Pat Summitt’s ascension from graduate assistant to the legendary head coach who broke all the rules at Tennessee. This last topic definitely deserved more time and details, or even an entire episode!

While the agony of defeat is definitely highlighted for all concerned, the celebration of hard work actually paying off gets even more of the spotlight. And watching these three episodes brought nostalgic tears to my eyes!

Growing up near the Tennessee-Kentucky border, childhood memories of growing up without cable TV and religiously watching UK games on the weekends came flooding back to me while watching this series. I know all about players attempting to escape their small-town lives for bigger and better things — I’ve got the first-hand experience! And narrator Omari Hardwick, paired with the impactful music composed by Brian Keane, set the table for an emotional experience.

The only complaint I have is the episodes feel constrained with their topics. While airing one episode per year might have been a little much, I would have preferred more time focused on individual characters, along with the integration of each school within the conference.

Overall, I truly enjoyed this trip down the hardwood memory lane. Episode Four tips off tonight. I cannot wait to see what’s in store for the Final Four episodes!