It is difficult to imagine a more intrepid bunch than the 1978-79 Blue Devils. They block, lob, steal and stuff; they crash the boards, run-and-gun, and then fall back in their zone and pound opponents to bits; they're smart, tough and imaginative. In short, they are easily the team to beat, and nothing illustrates why better than an incident that occurred in practice the other day.
Most teams, even good ones, tend to look sluggish and indecisive in scrimmages, because it is tough for a player to work magic on a teammate who knows the plays as well as he does. So here comes Guard Bob Bender downcourt on a fast break, and who does he spy astride the foul lane itching for an alley-oop pass but Gene Banks. Bender puts up a good lob, but Center Mike Gminski sees the play developing and moves to cut off Banks. No problem for the man the Blue Devils call Tinkerbell—"because I float above the court," says Banks. He does just that and spikes a pass, volleyball-style, to Forward Kenny Dennard for a layup.
Now, at most places they would stop practice right there and pass around the champagne. They might even call off school for the rest of the week. But at Duke they perform this high-wire act every day—and damn the risks. And there are dangers in such full-blast practices, as evidenced a few sessions later when Banks went up for another lob, got submarined and spent the next couple of days in the hospital with a sore back.
"It's a little crazy, but it's our style and we feel we should stick to it," says Jim Spanarkel, a senior guard who, if you add up talent, guts and inspirational leadership, may be the most valuable player in the country. Despite persistent claims by opposing coaches that he is slow afoot, Spanarkel has a startling list of credits:
•ACC Rookie of the Year in 1976
•League leader in steals (twice)
•Best rebounding guard in ACC history
•Shot and made more free throws (220 of 255) than anyone in the nation last year.
Gminski is a 6'11" 250-pounder who has never fouled out of a game in his life. Banks passed out 11 assists in one game and, at 6'8", is almost as good a rebounder as Gminski. There were five occasions last season when Banks, Gminski and Spanarkel each scored 20 or more points in the same game.
Coach Bill Foster has a lot more athletes on hand who can—and will—play, such as Dennard, the loose-ball champion of the world; John Harrell, the point guard who committed only 51 turnovers in 34 games last season; and freshman Vince Taylor,
All were on display at a scrimmage held after Duke's homecoming football game at which an SRO crowd chanted, "Salt Lake City! Salt Lake City!" That is the site of this season's NCAA finals. Someone later asked Bender, a transfer student who played on Indiana's 1976 NCAA title team, if he is going to become the first college player to receive championship rings as a member of two different basketball teams.
"You can count on it," he said. You probably can.
2 NOTRE DAME
When most coaches talk about having good depth, what they really mean is that they've got one or two reserves who can dribble without falling down. As for the eighth and ninth men, like the fire extinguishers kept behind glass in public buildings, they are there to be used only in case of emergency.
This is not true at Notre Dame, however, where Coach Digger Phelps shuttles players in and out so often that it's always rush hour at the scorer's table. While the youthful Irish built a 23-8 record last season, they used 11 different starting lineups, and 10 players averaged at least 10 minutes per game.
As a result, Notre Dame has so many good, experienced men returning that Phelps recruited only one freshman, even though the Irish lost their top scorers and co-MVPs, Dave Batton and Duck Williams. The newcomer is Guard Mike Mitchell, Northern California's Player of the Year.
"With our kind of schedule, a team has to have depth and it has to use it," Phelps says. "This keeps the kids happy by giving them a chance to play, and it helps us win by wearing opponents down. Our kids are convinced that by playing the way we do, our turn will come sometime during the game, even if we fall way behind. No matter what the score is, we stick to the concept to keep everyone fresh for the final push."
To make this strategy work, Phelps needs 10 talented players who are all willing to subordinate themselves to his system. Only two of the Irish played more than 30 minutes a game last year. The result was a revolving-door team that outscored, outshot and outrebounded opponents by wide margins without any single player amassing impressive statistics.
Most coaches would be happy to have five players of Notre Dame's quality, never mind a whole roster of them. Guards Mitchell and Bill Hanzlik, forwards Tracy Jackson and Gilbert Salinas and Center Bill Laimbeer form an imposing lineup—one that at Notre Dame doesn't even start. The first five is made up of guards Stan Wilcox and Rich Branning, forwards Kelly Tripucka and Orlando Woolridge and Center Bruce Flowers.
But then, at Notre Dame starting doesn't mean that much. "Ours is a team of specialists," says Woolridge, and he's right. Depending on the opponent, the Irish will go mostly with a power lineup, a running lineup, a pressing lineup or a shooting lineup.
If anyone stands out on this team of equals, it is Tripucka. Although sixth in playing time as a freshman last season, he was third in scoring and rebounding, and led Notre Dame in field-goal shooting (57%). Complementing his ability is a have-no-fear attitude that comes from having grown up in a family of outstanding athletes. His father Frank was an All-America quarterback for the Irish; brothers Todd and Tracy started in basketball at Lafayette; T.K. played hoops at Fordham; and Mark quarterbacked the Massachusetts football team. From his childhood, Kelly remembers some rough backyard beatings that left him crying, but he says, "I'm not the type of player to get nervous before a big game. I want a piece of the action. When I leave here, I'm going to have one of those championship rings." He might get it this spring.
In Los Angeles, the city in which the unpredictable is the norm, there are only about three things the citizenry can depend on year in and year out: brush fires in summer, mud slides in winter and the UCLA basketball team. This season, barring a midwinter brush fire started by crosstown rival USC, the Bruins will make it 13 conference championships in a row, mainly because of Roy Hamilton, perhaps the finest guard in college, and David Greenwood, maybe the best forward this side of the NBA. The two seniors are starting their ninth season as teammates, having put together their Mr. Inside-Mr. Outside act in the eighth grade. As a junior, Hamilton had the highest shooting percentage—.540—of any backcourt player in UCLA history, while also leading the Pac-8 in assists. Greenwood, his 6'9" roommate, who was a unanimous All-America pick, led the league in rebounding and was second in scoring with a 17.5 average.
Hamilton, a lefthander who dribbles as well as he passes and shoots, is so quick that Bruin scouts knew they wanted him the first time they ever saw him take the court—in the 10th grade. He leads UCLA's running game, and as often as not, the target he hits at break's end is Greenwood. "The most enjoyable part of the game for me is the fast break," says Greenwood, "especially when Roy has the ball and he sets me up for a dunk." Greenwood backs up his slams with a nice outside jump shot.
Second-year Coach Gary Cunningham is missing one of his best players from last season, Guard Raymond Townsend, but long-range shooter Brad Holland should fill in nicely. UCLA has no Alcindor or Walton in the pivot, but it should be improved there, if only because 6'9" Gig Sims has added a bit of muscle to his Olive Oyl physique. Should the shot-blocking Sims tire at game's or season's end, as he did in 1977-78, 6'9" Darrell Allums, who is almost 30 pounds heavier, is an able replacement. In the corner opposite Greenwood, UCLA can use good shooter Kiki Vandeweghe or good defender James Wilkes.
UCLA lost only three times last season and zipped through what some observers called the Pathetic 8 with a 14-0 record. The schedule is tougher this time, including another home-and-home pair with Notre Dame, which handed UCLA two of its three defeats last season; 18 games in an expanded and much-improved conference; and fewer games than usual at Pauley Pavilion. But even with an extra loss or two, UCLA seems certain to win the first championship of the Pac-10.
What has Bruin fans worried is not this season but next. UCLA has had two straight subpar recruiting crops. The only sophomore on the team is out for the season with an injured knee. This fall Cunningham brought in only two freshmen: Guard Tyren Naulls, nephew of Bruin alumnus and former pro Willie, and Forward Mike Sanders, who was twice Louisiana's Player of the Year. Help must come from junior colleges, because it seems unlikely that the present juniors—Sims, Allums, Vandeweghe and Wilkes—have the talent to carry on the tradition. Nonetheless, for this season at least, the partnership of Greenwood and Hamilton seems to ensure that Angelenos can count on UCLA winning its annual title.
4 MICHIGAN ST.
The way Jud Heathcote sees it, Michigan State would win the NCAAs this year if only he could work out a slight change in the rules. With five of the top six players back from last season's surprising Big Ten champs, the Spartan coach says, "We will have as good a lineup as any in the country. In fact, if they passed a rule limiting everyone to just five men, we'd win it all." Because one of the five is Earvin Johnson, Heathcote could be right.
With Johnson directing the Magic Show, Michigan State won its first conference championship in 19 years and had its best record ever, 25-5. "I really thought Purdue and Minnesota were the top teams in the league," Heathcote says, "but we got the title because we were able to win more away games."
The Spartans' 7-2 conference road record was startling because only one senior played regularly. There is just one senior this year, too, Greg Kelser. He will team with sophomores Johnson and Jay Vincent, and juniors Terry Donnelly and Ron Charles. The Big Green is even greener on the bench, with sophomore Mike Brkovich and freshmen Gerald Busby and Rob Gonzalez.
"Having a suspect bench puts us down a notch or two nationally," says Heathcote, "but as far as our starters are concerned, we have two great players and three good ones. They're going to be even better offensively and defensively than they were last year because of experience."
Kelser and Johnson needn't get a whole lot better. They were one-two in both scoring and rebounding and a dazzling combo on the fast break. The Spartans' break should be even more effective because of improved rebounding. Johnson and Vincent are still the biggest players at 6'8", but the 6'7" Charles is five inches taller than the man he succeeds. Bob Chapman, who has graduated.
However, what Chapman did best is what the Spartans may need most—good outside shooting. Michigan State faced zone defenses in all but four games because of its lack of consistent long-range shooting and the inability of any opponent to stop Johnson man-to-man. As the Spartans' record shows, the zones didn't cause very many losses, although Kentucky's 1-3-1 knocked Michigan State out of the Mideast Regional.
To get more scoring now that Chapman's 12.3 points per game are gone, Heathcote is urging Donnelly to shoot more. Donnelly averaged only six points but he shot 53%. When another perimeter shooter is needed, Heathcote will call on Brkovich.
The best kind of zone defense to play against Michigan State is the stingy kind the Spartans usually play themselves. Opponents averaged only 65.8 points and 45.2% shooting last year, and only twice did they score more than 75 points.
"I tell the players it takes five things for us to win," Heathcote says. "In order, they are teamwork, the fast break, defense, field-goal shooting and offense. I let Earvin take care of the first two, and I handle the rest."
That is one rule Heathcote would never want to change.
The Doctors of Dunk era is now entering its third season at the University of Louisville, but all the Cardinals have to show for the past two years are lots of press clippings and some hideous black warmup jackets. The warmups were designed by the subject of most of the clippings, Darrell Griffith, also known as Dr. Dunkelstein. His prodigious feats of flying and slamming have boosted Louisville's home attendance to 12,788 a game, but not its stock in postseason play. The Cardinals lost to UCLA in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Griffith's freshman year, and last season they were stunned by DePaul in the Midwest semis.
Now a junior, Griffith is a veteran on a young team—nine of the 13 players are freshmen or sophomores—and the time has come for him to develop from a mere dunker into the kind of player who can take charge. Coach Denny Crum believes that his 6'4" star finally feels at home at guard. "He'll be better," says Crum. "He's much improved in shooting, ball handling and running the offense." But, alas, Griffith's defense is still a liability. "It's not of as much interest to him as it ought to be," says Crum.
Griffith will be a guard on a team without a center now that 6'11" Ricky Gallon is gone. To compensate, Crum will use a high-post "transitional" offense in which the players are more or less interchangeable. The forwards will be 6'4" junior Bobby Turner, he of the malevolent scowl and steady play, and 6'8" senior Larry Williams, a skinny southpaw with a soft jumper. The job of replacing Gallon will fall to a pair of 6'8" freshmen, Scooter McCray and Wiley Brown, two of the prize recruits signed by Crum last spring. Both are better players than Gallon was, but neither is a true center. Another freshman, Jerry Eaves, will challenge holdovers Tony Branch, Roger Burkman and Greg Deuser for the starting guard spot opposite Griffith.
"It's hard to judge how well these kids can play," says Crum, "but they have talent. Before the season's over, we ought to be competitive with anybody. I'll be disappointed if we don't win 20."
Winning 20 is something Crum has done every season since he came to Louisville in 1971, and his superb coaching will be a decided asset for his young team, especially in the formative early games against such non-Metro Conference opponents as Tennessee, Michigan, Maryland, Ohio State and Providence. "If anybody thinks he has a tougher schedule, I'll trade," says Crum, pointing out that conference rivals Virginia Tech, Florida State and Cincinnati also figure to be strong. "The schedule won't help our record, but it will help us become a good club."
It is unfortunate that Louisville's proposed 20,000-seat arena is not ready, because the Cardinals should be one of the nation's most entertaining teams. Their depth, quickness and leaping ability figure to be enough to offset their deficiencies in size and experience, and if Griffith finally fulfills his enormous potential, the Doctors could be operating in Salt Lake City come March.
Kansas Coach Ted Owens once visited the new Special Events Center at the University of Texas. "How many does it seat?" he asked Darrell Royal. "Sixteen two," said the Texas athletic director. "What's the floor made of?" Owens wondered. "I don't know," Royal said.
Royal should be forgiven. Until recently, neither he nor anyone else at Texas seemed to know that basketball existed, much less what kind of floor it was played on. Only a couple of thousand people would look on from the bleacher seats in ancient Gregory Gym as the Longhorns ran—usually ineptly—through their paces. There were occasional exceptions, but the dreary proceedings were a reasonably accurate reflection of basketball in the state. Cynics said there were two sports in Texas—football and spring football. And the state's high schools didn't help. As often as not, basketball was coached by a bored football mentor like Coach Popper in The Last Picture Show. The gyms were locked all summer. "That way they don't get but 80 years out of them places," says Texas Coach Abe Lemons.
Well, things changed, beginning in 1976 when Lemons brought his wit and often underrated wisdom from Pan American University. In his first year, Texas finished 13-13. Last season the Special Events Center (a.k.a. Super Drum), with its portable oak floor, was opened, and the Longhorns had a 26-5 record and won the NIT. Four starters return from that championship season; basketball has arrived at Texas.
To be sure, the local high schools still are not helping much, but Lemons has recruited enough out-of-state talent to more than make do. His are not ordinary players, but the kind of misfits who would appeal only to an eccentric like Lemons. At one forward is 6'4", 215-pound Ron Baxter, a double for the young Roy Campanella. "You think he's heavy and slow," says Lemons, "so all he does is play best in pressure situations." Baxter, from Los Angeles, was a 19-point scorer and ranked among the top 10 in every Southwest Conference statistic except assists. At the other forward is 6'7" Tyrone Branyan from Placentia, Calif. As his name does not suggest, he is heavy, slow and white. "I looked at him in junior college and saw he couldn't run or jump," Lemons says. "Then they told me he was the Most Valuable Player and leading scorer on the team that won the state title. I said, 'I believe we'll take him.' " Branyan stumbled to a 15.4-point average in league play.
At one guard is 160-pound Jim Krivacs, who looks as if he will self-destruct in five seconds. "Radar shooter," says Lemons. Krivacs, from Indianapolis, led the Longhorns with a 21.9 average. The other guard, 6'3" John Moore, from Altoona, Pa., is an adept point man who actually looks like a basketball player.
The Longhorns' success at replacing Center Gary Goodner, who graduated, could determine if they can match or exceed last season's record. Goodner's spot will probably be taken by Ovie Dotson, who is only a semicenter at 6'5". That's not the only unique thing about Dotson. Unlike Texas' other starters, he is homegrown, having played high school ball in San Antonio. His lack of height could make the Longhorns short on defense.
Shaky defense would hurt most teams, but don't evaluate Texas by normal standards. "People have too many checklists," says Lemons, who cares only about shooting when he scouts potential recruits. Check this: the Longhorns were last in their conference in rebounding and tied for first in the standings. It could happen only in Texas basketball.
Every day of preseason practice was a revelation to Dale D. Brown, the motor-mouthed coach of Louisiana State. "There were times when I walked out of the gym after workouts," says Brown, "and almost said out loud, is this really me? Is this really LSU?' " The source of his wonderment was the sight of so many big, talented players. The Tigers have had great performers in the past—Bob Pettit and Pete Maravich, to name a couple—but never have they had as much ability and depth as they do now. Says Brown, "If the players will totally dedicate themselves to all the old tired statements about unselfishness, if we can all work to not irritate each other, and if I do my job, then we can be as good as anybody in the country." Pause. "My friends tell me I shouldn't say things like that, that I should act like Bear Bryant and low key it. But I can't help it. That's what I really feel in my heart."
Last season, when Brown was not spouting off, he coached a pretty decent basketball team. The Tigers were 18-9 and third in the SEC. While winning nine of its last 11, LSU became one of only two teams to beat eventual NCAA-champion Kentucky. Other than Guard Kenny Higgs, all the top players are back, including all-conference Forward Durand Macklin, a 6'7" leaper who ranked among the SEC leaders in both scoring (19 points a game) and rebounding (10.6). Macklin and DeWayne Scales will start again at forward, with 6'9" Lionel Green at center. The guards will be Ethan Martin, a walk-on, and deadeye Jordy Hultberg.
That lineup would be good enough to end Kentucky's reign in the SEC, but there is more. Back after a season of scholastic ineligibility is 6'9" Greg Cook, who averaged 11.5 points and 9.2 rebounds as a freshman starter two seasons ago. He will share a forward spot with Scales. Willie Sims of New York is a 6'3" swingman, and Al Green, a transfer from North Carolina State, lends three-man depth at guard. Oh, yes, there are also a couple of 7-footers, Rick Mattick and Andy Campbell, to spell Lionel Green.
"I'm expecting great things," says Brown. "For the next three years, we should be a threat to win the NCAAs, because 12 of our 15 players are underclassmen. I won't be content until we're picked No. 1 and finish No. 1. That's the philosophy they had at Iwo Jima, or they wouldn't have gotten off the beaches."
Of course, talent alone does not mean the Tigers will scale basketball's equivalent of Mount Suribachi. Brown's main challenge will be to find enough playing time, shots and glory to keep everyone happy. To help ward off such problems, he will use a shuffle offense designed to "get the ball into everybody's hands." He also plans to exploit his depth by fast-breaking at every opportunity and playing full-court, man-to-man defense.
Under Brown's spell, LSU basketball fans are coming out of the woodwork, or wherever they have been hiding since Maravich left eight years ago. By the end of October, almost 5,000 season tickets had been sold, a school record. Obviously, Louisianans are expecting the Tigers to be hotter than a pistol.
8 NO. CAROLINA ST.
Norm Sloan thinks he knows the secret of how to defeat Duke. Even though this may sound like a betrayal of a confidence, it's not. Information of this sort is bound to get out, especially because the schools involved are only 25 miles apart and the Wolfpack, coached by Sloan, has been picked to finish right behind the Blue Devils in the ACC. Well, perhaps not right behind, since Duke is favored to win the NCAAs. But Sloan is not indulging entirely in whimsy when he talks of beating the Blue Devils.
"Duke may be No. 1 right now, but nobody used a pressing defense against the Blue Devils last year and they aren't that quick," says Sloan, whose team is. "Another thing, they love to play zone. That's going to be tough to sustain because of all the slowdowns they'll see this year. Makes sense. If you hold the ball, they have to come out and play you man-to-man. That takes Gminski away from the basket and makes them a different team. By slowing up, we beat them 74-50 in Raleigh last year. We also held the ball over in Durham and were close at halftime."
Though Duke went on to win that game 76-64, the Wolfpack does pose a significant threat to the Blue Devils' plans for a national title. Nine of State's first 10 players return from a 21-10 team that not only beat Duke, but also made it to the NIT finals.
Sloan's players lack big reputations. They led the ACC in virtually nothing—except, perhaps, teamwork. Yet the Wolfpack does not want for firepower; each of the top six players had at least one 20-point game in 1977-78. Leading scorer Hawkeye Whitney has slimmed down from 242 pounds to 218 and should be even better than last year. Clyde (The Glide) Austin is as smooth as his nickname implies. Kendal (Tiny) Pinder, Art Jones and Tony Warren are three swing-type players who can run, jump and score. Even though he is only 6'7", Pinder is capable of playing center should either of State's bigger and slower pivotmen, Craig Watts and Glenn Sudhop, inhibit the Wolfpack's accelerated style. This is not to say that State is undisciplined. Indeed, Sloan is loaded with one-on-one players, but he has won them over to an all-for-one philosophy. Only Guard Kenny Matthews is likely to turn it loose from 22 feet.
To get the drop on the Blue Devils, Sloan is flying his team to Anchorage, Alaska this week for an early-season tournament. Then in the Big Four tournament on Dec. 1, State meets Duke in a game that will mean nothing in the ACC standings and everything in determining Sloan's eventual strategy. "We'll play them power against power this first time," he says. "No slowdowns. We want to see who really has the most talent."
Thus, the game to watch, in terms of finding out how good Sloan thinks Duke is, will be State's nationally televised confrontation with the Blue Devils in January. Every coach in the country will tune in to see how Sloan plays it—fast or slow. One thing more, the game will not occur on Jan. 20, as was previously announced. It has been rescheduled for Jan. 21 so it can serve as a lead-in to the Super Bowl. It might be the best game of the day.
"Realistically speaking," says Iona College Forward Dave Brown, "we're going to go all the way." All the way to where, Dave? The ECAC playoffs? The NCAA East Regional? "ALLLLL the way!" says Brown, who is a psychology major and, obviously, a devout believer in the power of positive thinking. But just because you have never heard of Brown—or, perhaps, even his school—don't think that he is all the way out of his head. He and the rest of the Gaels have reason for optimism, though Brown's claim that Iona will win the NCAA title is a bit much.
With eight players returning from a team that had a 17-10 record—the most wins for the Gaels since 1958—and three good recruits, the obscure Christian Brothers institution located in New Rochelle, N.Y. should out-duel Syracuse for supremacy in the East. The most impressive of the holdovers is 6'9" Center Jeff Ruland, likely the nation's top freshman last season. Ruland, a 240-pound bruiser who is almost impossible to stop inside, led first-year players in scoring (22.3 points a game), rebounding (12.8 a game) and field-goal percentage (.594). But despite Ruland's statistics, his backup, 6'10" Kevin Vesey, another sophomore, may have more natural talent. Vesey, who was recruited to play the pivot (Ruland was slotted for a forward spot) blocked a team-high 42 shots last season while playing only 10 minutes a game. His flair for the dramatic had the fans at John A. Mulcahy Campus Center chanting "Ve-sey! Ve-sey!" almost before he removed his warmup jacket, but frequently that was the high point of his performance. "When Kevin finally figures out why he is running around in short pants, he's going to be a hell of a player," says Coach Jim Valvano. If Vesey sees the light, Brown's vision of a national title might not be all that outlandish.
More probably, Brown will have to content himself with fulfilling a personal goal, which is to replace Richie Guerin as Iona's second-leading career scorer. Teaming at forward with Brown will be senior Lester George, while a pair of transfer students—Mike Palma, a deadly shooter who made the ACC all-freshman team at Wake Forest two seasons ago, and massive Alex Middleton, a 6'6", 215-pound junior college All-America from Deer Park, N.Y.—give Valvano unusual depth.
Iona suffered six of its 10 defeats in 1977-78 by a total of 14 points, and its most glaring weakness, the lack of a steady play-making guard, was evident in most of them. Tony Iati, a 5'9" freshman from York, Pa. who is a careful ball handler and crisp passer, could free Glenn Vickers, the Gaels' second-leading scorer, with a 17.4 average, to concentrate on firing his jumper and filling a lane on fast breaks. If Iati matures rapidly, Kevin Hamilton, a member of the starting lineup in 1977-78, would then bring his hot shot off the bench.
With a schedule that includes a trip to Nevada-Las Vegas, rematches with Detroit and Holy Cross, and a probable confrontation with Syracuse in the final of the Carrier Classic, the Gaels would seem susceptible to burning themselves out before playoff time, but Iona's arduous road schedule of a year ago, when it played at both Kentucky and North Carolina State, should begin paying dividends this season. The Gaels ought not be worn down or intimidated by the big-name competition this time around. And Valvano will be watching to make sure that they aren't. "I don't want our kids to peak too early," he says, obviously agreeing with Brown that Iona can expect to be playing some pretty important games come March.
10 GEORGIA TECH
Georgia Tech lacks many of the trappings considered de rigueur for a successful basketball program. It has no plush, color-coordinated carpeting in the coach's office; no huge, modern arena with which to awe recruits; no funds to spruce up its Spartan dressing rooms; no basketball tradition to speak of; and, as some folks to the immediate north might suggest, no business moving from the Metro Conference into the rugged ACC.
Tech cannot win its new league this year—not because of a lack of talent but because it will not be a full-fledged member of the ACC until 1979-80. Meanwhile, it should enjoy itself for one season as an independent. The Engineers have three nifty players, a wily, good-ole-boy coach, a lightweight schedule and very little chance of missing this year's NCAA tournament.
Tech's main men are Sammy Drummer, a bullish 6'5" forward who led the Metro in scoring with 21.1 points a game last year; Quatico Moreno ("Call me Tico") Brown, a 6'5" guard who twice last season had three-minute spurts in which he scored 10 points; and Lenny Horton, a 6'7" forward who shot 61.1% and who should improve upon his 10.9 scoring average of a year ago. Point Guard Billy Smith is deft at parceling out field-goal opportunities to this threesome, but Tech's centers are undistinguished. All of which makes the Engineers sound a lot like Arkansas, which won 32 games last year while depending largely on three players.
Certainly nobody likes to play Georgia Tech. The Engineers commit few turnovers, make their free throws and seldom get into foul trouble, which is a good thing because there were times last season when Tech played only seven men. The team is not exactly deep this year, but Coach Dwane Morrison isn't worried. He merely boosts the thermostat in the gym to 90°, because he is convinced it keeps his players from getting hurt.
"And because my children out there dearly love the heat," Morrison says with the conviction of a born-again evangelist. "People say we're a throwback team, that the coach has a crew cut, that one of his assistants is part Indian and the other an ex-hog farmer. They're right. And my team is ugly a lot of the time. But I'm here to tell you that for about 45 seconds last season this team was as beautiful as a newborn baby."
Apparently Morrison was able to spread those 45 seconds around, because Georgia Tech won 15 times and was never out of a game. Its 12 losses came by a total of 44 points. Says Brown, "I'd say we lacked height, were unlucky and got some bad calls from the referees once it got around that we were trying to switch to another conference."
Whether Tico's complaints about the officiating are valid or not, it is true that resentment over Georgia Tech's withdrawal from the Metro caused three of that conference's schools—Louisville, St. Louis and Tulane—to drop the Engineers from their 1978-79 schedules. Needing a bunch of new teams on short notice to replace those home-and-home opponents, Morrison came up with what seems likely to be seven sure victories: Newberry, Western Carolina, Morris Harvey, Campbell, East Carolina, Tennessee Tech and Biscayne.
Throw in another 45 seconds of beauty with all those pushovers, and Tech should win 20 in its sleep.
After two rich recruiting harvests, the Trojans are so deep that their fans are speaking of a Pac-1O championship. That is cheeky talk indeed for a school that has not won a league title in 17 years and coexists in the same city with UCLA. But even Coach Bob Boyd is among the optimists, because he thinks his team "has the potential to be as good as any team we've had here"—meaning it could be as successful as the 1970-71 squad that finished 24-2, losing only to the national champion Bruins.
It is probably a year too early for such dreams to come true. USC's schedule is rough—Houston, Kansas, Duke, Utah and two tough tournaments before the New Year—and its players are young. But what players! Center Cliff Robinson might be the finest talent to come out of Oakland since Bill Russell—at least when he isn't sulking. Last season, as a 17-year-old freshman, he led the Pac-8 in scoring with 18.4 points per game. Robinson toured the Soviet Union with a U.S. team last summer, and the trip seems to have strengthened his game and improved his attitude.
Robinson is only one of four young stars in USC's frontcourt. Sophomore Forward Purvis Miller, 6'7", started all but six games last season, gets good grades—a 3.0 average—plays good defense and is easily the steadiest performer in Southern Cal's lineup. "Purvis takes care of business, period," says Boyd. In the opposite corner, the business will probably be shared by the most heralded pair of freshmen in America, Leonel Marquetti and Maurice Williams. Both are graduates of Verbum Dei High in Watts, the same powerhouse that produced UCLA's duo of David Greenwood and Roy Hamilton. Although Williams is the better shooter, Marquetti has been getting more ink because of his incredible leaping.
Along with Marquetti and Williams, USC brought in 5'10" Dean Jones, a deft ball handler who was California's Junior College Player of the Year. Chances are he will start in the backcourt along with senior Steve Smith. It is a good indication of how strong Southern Cal figures to be that Jones' presence is likely to relegate second-team All-Pac-8 Don Carfino to a substitute's role. Another tip-off on USC's potential is that the Trojans, who finished the 1977-78 season with a 14-13 record, lost Smith to a knee injury after their eighth game. He scored 25 points in each of Southern Cal's victories over Duke and New Mexico. Smith is now in top shape, and that means the Trojans should play at top form.
And they should play harder, too. "I plan to raise the intensity of the team," says Boyd. True to his word, in preseason practices Boyd drove his players "past the point they're used to going." His aim is clearly to push his players to a point that USC has rarely attained—the conference title.
When Center Phil Hubbard injured his left knee in practice last October, a pall settled over the Michigan team. As a freshman and sophomore, Hubbard had averaged 17 points and 12 rebounds a game while the Wolverines went 25-7 and 26-4. In the summers of 1976 and '77 he had played on U.S. teams that won Olympic and World University Game gold medals. "After he went down, I just wasn't right for a couple of weeks," says Coach Johnny Orr.
Even without Hubbard, Michigan had a 16-11 record and finished fourth in the Big Ten. "It was a great job, considering we didn't have a center," Orr says.
Now the Wolverines have one. Following surgery and a year of rehabilitation, Hubbard has returned, and the despair of a year ago has given way to giddy optimism. "I sincerely believe we have better speed, better shooting, better rebounding and better depth than anytime since I've been here," says Orr, who has a 177-88 record at Michigan. And Hubbard's comeback does more than improve the defense and inside offense. According to Orr, "The players are more relaxed now, and they're playing better just because he's out there. He's that kind of inspiration to us."
In fact, he's so much an inspiration that Guard Tom Staton, one of three starters back from last year, says, "On a bad night we'll be great. On a good night we'll be unstoppable."
Hubbard sounds no less confident. Last year he was so depressed that he couldn't bear to watch practice. Now he says, "I figure, if I can play not too much can go wrong." But, Phil, what about Michigan State and Indiana? What about your non-conference games against Alabama, Louisville, Dayton and Notre Dame? His answer: "Everybody is good until you beat them."
That may be overdoing it a bit, but the Wolverines do have good reason to feel optimistic. They welcome back not only Hubbard, but also 6'5" All-Big Ten Forward Mike McGee, who finished second in conference scoring with a 21.8-point average. The other starters are Staton, a defensive specialist; Forward Allan Hardy, who averaged 12 points and six rebounds a game; and Guard Mark Lozier, a former sixth man. Orr is so sure he has enough talent among his regulars and on the bench that he isn't hurrying along his three prize freshmen, all of whom ranked among the country's top 100 high school prospects last year.
With Hubbard and McGee, Michigan is in the unusual situation of having two experienced stars who have never played together. "It shouldn't be a problem," McGee says. "I'm not selfish, and Phil isn't either." Lest one of them hog the ball, Orr will keep McGee at forward instead of putting him at his more natural position, guard. "Mike could be a dominating player at guard," Orr says, "but we can't do that to our other players. We win with our balance, by putting four or five players in double figures."
Orr has also decided that center is Hubbard's best position, though he used to think Phil's size (6'7") made him better suited to forward. Now Orr likes the way Hubbard uses his quickness and outside shooting against bigger men, while more than holding his own under the boards. But no matter where Hubbard plays, any position is better than the imposition of not playing at all.
13 SAN FRANCISCO
The scene in the University of San Francisco's cozy gym has changed a lot. Coach Bob Gaillard is off promoting sneakers. Leading scorer Winford Boynes and mighty slam-dunker James Hardy joined the NBA rather than play their senior seasons. And Chubby Cox, the top man in assists, completed his eligibility. Losing a coach and three outstanding players would ruin most teams, but the Dons will not only survive, they very likely will also be champs of the tough West Coast Athletic Conference again.
The main reason for such optimism is 7'1" Center Bill Cartwright, who last season scored 20.6 points a game, took down an average of 10.9 rebounds and was MVP in a league full of imposing centers, including 6'10" Edgar Jones of Nevada-Reno, 7-foot Jawann Oldham of Seattle, 6'11" Ray Ellis of Pepperdine and 6'10" Mark McNamara of Santa Clara. And Cartwright should be even more effective this year. Last summer he undertook a demanding conditioning program, which, according to new Coach Dan Belluomini, has redistributed his 255 pounds to good effect.
At times Belluomini will use both Cartwright and an extraordinarily mobile 7-foot freshman. Wallace Bryant, at the same time. Bryant and Cartwright could be a devastating double-post combination, recalling the duo of 7'2" Artis Gilmore and 7-foot Pembrook Burrows III that led Jacksonville to the NCAA final round eight years ago. Another new face is that of Bill Reid, a 6'5" point guard who started for New Mexico two years ago before transferring to USF and sitting out a season. Reid does not have great shooting range, but he is intensely competitive and versatile enough to play a wing, too.
Returning with Cartwright is Forward Doug Jemison, who hails from Jerry Lucas' hometown of Middletown, Ohio, where, if these two citizens are fair examples, the local specialty is breeding tough rebounders. To back up the Cartwright-Jemison nucleus, Belluomini brought in two high school stars. Guy Williams, 6'8", has the ball-handling skills to play guard if need be, and 6'5" Ken McAlister was a prep All-America in football and basketball.
But even with all this talent around him, it is Cartwright who will be in the spotlight. The ball will be his when the competition is the toughest; last season he hit 23 points against North Carolina and 27 in the Dons' loss to Cal State-Fullerton in the NCAAs.
Belluomini is a native San Franciscan who played at USF in the mid-'60s. After coaching high school and junior college teams, he worked as a Gaillard assistant for six seasons. He is following in quite a tradition, because under such distinguished coaches as Pete Newell, Phil Woolpert, Pete Peletta and Gaillard, USF has won two NCAA, one NIT and 12 league titles. That's not bad for a school once known as the St. Ignatius College Gray Fog.
Had Boynes and Hardy stayed around, Belluomini's first team would have been a contender for USF's third NCAA title. Without them, he will probably have to settle for the WCAC crown and an early-round loss in the NCAAs.
Kansas basketball tradition is a familiar story. Adolph Rupp, Dean Smith and Wilt Chamberlain played there. James Naismith and Phog Allen coached there. The Jayhawks have won more games than any college team except Kentucky. But there is a less appreciated tradition behind the tradition—the ritual of unrealistic-expectations. Kansas is never supposed to lose, yet the Jayhawks have had three seasons of .500 or below in the past 10. Another rash of unreasonable forecasts is burdening this year's team, which has lost six veterans, including three starters, from the 1977-78 club that went 24-5. Nonetheless, one poll has Kansas second in the nation.
That is expecting too much. For the Jayhawks to finish that high. 255-pound Center Paul (Big Mo) Mokeski will have to rampage like the Incredible Hulk. He has come close on occasion. In last season's NCAA regionals, the 7'1" Mokeski outperformed UCLA All-America David Greenwood, 18 points to 14 and 12 rebounds to 10. Unfortunately, Mokeski fouled out of that game and seven others and averaged just 23.3 minutes a start. At times this season his floormates will be four guards. Under these conditions, leading Kansas to the No. 2 spot would be a tall order, even for Mokeski. "Two things are important; that Paul get himself in terrific shape and stay out of foul trouble," says Coach Ted Owens. Mokeski wants to do more. "I'm going to have to rebound better and take over the scoring," he says. His frontcourt partners, Johnny Crawford, who averaged only 1.6 points a game last season before being declared scholastically ineligible, and Booty Neal, a 2.6 scorer, will do their best to lighten Mokeski's load. But their best is certainly going to have to improve.
Kansas is stronger at guard. Darnell Valentine, a sophomore, led the Big Eight in steals and assists as a freshman while scoring a team-high 13.5 points per game. Wilmore (Little Mo) Fowler completes a formidable starting backcourt. Owens calls Fowler a "potential 55% shooter"; now that Little Mo has learned to pull up before taking his jumpers, he could hit his potential.
But matching last year's record may depend mostly on freshmen. Fortunately Kansas has three of the nation's best in Tony Guy, a 51% shooter in high school; Forward David Magley, Indiana's Mr. Basketball last season; and 6'10" Mark Snow, who broke Bill Walton's shot-blocking record at Helix High in La Mesa, Calif. Only Guy is likely to help immediately. On occasion, Owens may even decide to use Valentine, Fowler, Guy and senior Brad Sanders at once, giving the Jayhawks a four-guard lineup.
With its fast-break offense and pressure defense, Kansas will be as entertaining as ever, but success may turn more on how well the Jayhawks rebound off the defensive board. They will be tested early and often, with road games at Kentucky, Southern California, San Diego State and Michigan State. "A 20-6 record is the least we need for an at-large bid to the NCAAs," Owens said at a preseason team meeting. More likely, the Jayhawks will get an automatic bid by repeating as Big Eight champions. That is not too much to expect.
Last season Dayton suffered most of its 10 losses because it did not have enough muscle. And since the Flyers' leading rebounder was a senior, Coach Don Donoher did not have a hard time figuring out that what he needed was size. His recruiting succeeded so well that now Dayton has its biggest—and one of its youngest—teams ever. The Flyers have five players who stand between 6'8" and 6'10", and only one is an upperclassman. "Basketball's still a game of quickness," says Donoher, "but it's difficult to recruit the burners. The alternative is to play bigger. A lot of teams have had success with power and muscle, so I decided to get with it. We're made big, too, by the fact that Paxson plays guard."
Senior Jim Paxson, 6'6" and one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball, is the main reason Dayton is expecting one of its best teams since the early 1950s, when Paxson's dad was a star forward. Jim Sr. began taking his son to games and to basketball camps when the younger Paxson was barely big enough to hold a ball. Ever since, Jim Jr. has concentrated on hoops so much that now he is one of the smartest and best players in the country.
In a typical game last season, against Louisville, Paxson scored 18 points, had six steals and made his defenders look foolish with the ease with which he got open. "Jim really knows how to maneuver," says Donoher. Paxson never seems to get tired, either. He averaged almost 37 minutes a game, which was nearly as impressive a statistic as his 17.4 scoring average and 52.1% shooting. He also led Dayton in assists and steals and usually guarded the opponent's best man.
This season Paxson will be the steadying influence on the young Flyers. His mate at guard, Jack Zimmerman, a junior, is experienced enough, but 6'9" Richard Montague, the regular at center, is a sophomore. And 6'10" freshman Mike Kanieski and soph David Abel may both be in the lineup, if they win a three-way battle with Tim Pohlman for the two starting forward spots. The runt of the freshmen is 6'2" Dan Bockhorn, son of former Flyer star Arlen Bockhorn. The rest of the class includes a 6'5" guard, Sean McNally, and George Morrison (6'10", 225 pounds) and Mike Gorney (6'9", 225).
Of course, bigger does not necessarily mean better, and the Flyers are faced with their usual tough schedule, which includes Notre Dame, Louisville and Michigan. Nevertheless, Dayton fans cannot wait to see what Donoher will do with all his good, big talent, however raw it may be. Their high expectations are understandable because they know—if few folks elsewhere do—that Donoher has been as good as any coach the past 15 years. Although working at a private Catholic school where the enrollment (6,000) and budget are modest, Donoher has won 65% of his games.
Donoher is excited, too, but in a low-key way. "We all think we'll be national contenders," he says, "but you never know. Last year, for the first time since '74, we were able to go on the road and be in contention against the best teams. We lost some, of course, but this year maybe we'll do better. If we work hard, we ought to win our share." And the Flyers' share ought to be 20 victories or more.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1978-79 should turn out to be no less explosive than its 1854 predecessor. Consider the matchups: the renowned Jayhawk fast break against the celebrated Cornhusker defense; big Kansas Center Paul Mokeski against agile Nebraskan Pivotman Carl McPipe; Jayhawk playmaking Guard Darnell Valentine against Cornhusker smoothie Brian Banks. On paper, the teams are close. What makes Kansas the favorite in the Big Eight is Nebraska's tendency to fold. Last year the Cornhuskers won their first 10 and were 19-3 at one point, but faded to finish at 22-8. Ranked in the Top 20 on three occasions, they lost their next game each time. "It was difficult to maintain high intensity," says Terry Novak, the captain of that team. "Maybe we got worn out by the practices." Adds Forward Curt Hedberg, a graduate student in architecture who is still eligible for the varsity under a new NCAA regulation, "Every year I've been here we've peaked and burned out. The coaches have let up a little in preseason practices this year, which is a good sign."
For Nebraska to challenge Kansas, the 6'8" McPipe cannot afford to burn out—or foul out. He was in foul trouble in 19 of 30 games last season. "I have to be smoother," he says, "and keep my hands to myself." If he can stop being so aggressive, McPipe should be the best center in the Big Eight. His statistics last season—15.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game—were impressive enough. Back then he was spelled by 6'7" Andre Smith, one of the country's best substitutes. An excellent shot inside of 15 feet, Smith came off the bench to score 21 points against Colorado and 18 against Kansas State. Having improved his rebounding, he will start this season in Novak's vacated forward spot. Hedberg, swingman Bob Moore and freshman Jerry Shoecraft, who starred on the Indiana championship high school team, will give Nebraska an excellent forecourt—if McPipe is not forced to the bench too often.
Then there is Banks, a ball hawk, playmaker and shooter extraordinaire. Banks came out of the infirmary to engineer a 62-58 upset over Kansas, and he does less dramatic things well, too. "He can draw a charge better than anyone I know," says Novak. In fact, Coach Joe Cipriano kept Banks busy doing so many things that he tended to tire. "I know that Brian didn't get enough rest in the past," Cipriano says. "Now we have Jack Moore, and he should give it to him." Jack is no relative of Bob, but he was a teammate of Shoecraft in Indiana. Though only 5'10", he was the MVP in the Hoosier high school tournament. Both Banks and Moore should stay fresh, thanks to a skilled third guard, Mike Naderer.
Nebraska's man-to-man defense, eighth best in the country last season, is coached by Hank Iba's son Moe. "Everybody in the conference is scared of our defense," says Cipriano, "and they have a right to be. Of course, we have to outfinesse them because we're so small. We lost the best defensive player in the conference in Novak, but I think we'll improve on offense." The Cornhuskers had better, because their deliberate attack has frequently been a weakness. Although Cipriano expects to rely on his usual give-and-go offense that works for shots after two or three passes, in his wilder moments he envisions speedy Bob Moore scoring at the end of an occasional fast break.
"We did wear down last season," says Cipriano. "We had to play with such intensity. This year we won't because our players will get more rest." Which means that fans in Kansas and Nebraska will not get a moment's relaxation.
Not long ago, Syracuse Center Roosevelt Bouie spent a long peaceful day fishing on Lake Oneida in upstate New York. Bouie is 6'11" and weighs 235 pounds, so it takes a good-sized fish to impress him. He caught five muskie that day, all of them, by his estimation, whoppers. Bouie considered the fishing as time well spent, because he viewed it as a precedent setter for the season ahead, during which he intends to help the Orange hook some big fish.
Syracuse was 22-5 last season before losing in the opening round of the NCAA playoffs, but Bouie was criticized for averaging only about 10 points a game, fourth best on the team. This year he is anxious to change things. "I always knew I could score," he says, "but last year it wasn't always necessary for me to shoot. This year I want to be part of the show."
Indeed, Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim is mystified by the heat his center took. With Marty Byrnes, an eventual first-round NBA draft choice, Dale Shackleford and Louis Orr on hand, Boeheim never expected Bouie to contribute much offensively.
Now Syracuse must count on Bouie's scoring, and Boeheim was encouraged by his junior center's 22-point average during the Orangemen's seven-game tour of Italy last summer. And more scoring does not mean less rebounding and defense. "My 'D' is very important to me," says Bouie, who blocked 84 shots last season.
Shackleford, a 6'6" ex-swingman, will be a regular at forward this year, and Orr, a 6'8" toothpick—at 185 pounds, he's 25 pounds heavier than last season—will man the other frontcourt spot. Shackleford, Syracuse's best all-round player, will direct the offense most of the time. Despite a poor outside shot, he hit enough shots in 1977-78 to average 14.1 points per game. If the versatile Orr doesn't splinter, he should add about 18 a game.
Syracuse saw 17 zone defenses in 26 regular-season games last year, and though Boeheim says this squad will shoot better overall, he is somewhat troubled by his backcourt. Sophomore Eddie Moss will probably be the starting point guard, and junior Hal Cohen will fill the other spot. Cohen averaged only 6.6 points a game last season, but he is expected to be the zone buster. "The kid's already in the Hall of Fame," says Boeheim. Indeed, Cohen once hit 598 consecutive free throws during a high school practice session, and the ball he used is now on display.
Syracuse will be deep, with Marty Headd and Rick Harmon helping out in the backcourt and 6'11" Dan Schayes able to play anywhere in the front line. But the best things Syracuse may have going for it are its schedule—which is weak—and a decided home-court edge. The Orangemen play 16 games in Manley Field House, where they have lost only five games in this decade.
Last season's Indiana team, the youngest in Hoosier history, was the Big Ten's best down the stretch, winning 10 of its last 11 games for a 20-victory season and a berth in the NCAA tournament. Only guards Jim Wisman and Wayne Radford are gone from that squad. Stepping in to help out—although not primarily in the backcourt—are 6'8" Ted Kitchel, 6'9" Landon Turner and 6'5" Randy Wittman, all quality freshmen. So, predictably, about the only person in Bloomington who is not enthusiastic about Indiana's prospects this season is Coach Bobby Knight. "We're a year or two away," he says. Well, the Hoosiers may have trouble replacing the likes of Wisman and Radford, who scored 20.5 points a game between them. But rather than having far to go, Indiana figures to go fairly far, because of a strong nucleus of returning players in the forecourt and because of all those good freshmen.
Some observers feel that Knight did a better coaching job last season than he did two years ago with his unbeaten national champions. Besides being young, the team that closed so fast was also small, with a 6'9" center, a skinny 6'5" forward and no other starter taller than 6'3". Nevertheless, the Hoosiers played their motion offense and pressure man-to-man defense well enough to beat everybody in the Big Ten at least once.
Still, the coach insists, "We've got to do three things better to be a good team. First, we have to improve considerably on our rebounding. Second, we have to become a team that it's more difficult to move the ball against. And third, we have to be pretty tough handling the ball. And the fact that we lost Wisman, our best ball handler, is an indication that that's a real void for us."
At least 10 or 11 players will see duty for Indiana until a combination is found that does those things well. Scoring should be no problem, especially when 6'5" Mike Woodson, who swings between guard and forward on offense, has the ball. Woodson can put it in the hoop but it is felt that he should rebound more and play better defense. To improve the rebounding, Woodson may play more frequently at guard, leaving Kitchel, Turner, Steve (The Grizzly) Risley and 6'9" Ray Tolbert, a sophomore who was the Hoosiers' top rebounder last year, to battle under the boards.
To upgrade its ball handling, Indiana will use Woodson, Butch Carter, Wittman and, most notably, 6'2" sophomore Tommy Baker, who seems most able to replace Wisman as floor leader.
Last year Knight eschewed postgame press conferences in favor of handouts distributed by his sports information office. Nor does he show signs this year of adopting a reasonable stance toward the press, as a radio announcer recently found out. The visitor made the mistake of asking the coach about some Indiana players who quit two years ago.
"You know," said Knight, "if I were a broadcaster, I would hope that I would be intelligent enough to ask questions that pertain to the present. But I guess you're not that intelligent."
So the announcer asked about the present. Would Knight talk about the upcoming Big Ten race?
"No." said Knight, concluding the interview.
19 MISSISSIPPI ST.
Jim Hatfield was brave enough, or crazy enough, to take the coaching job at Southwestern Louisiana in 1974. This was right after the NCAA had dropped a bomb on Southwestern's program, reducing it to rubble with a megaton of penalties for recruiting violations. But Hatfield beat the bushes to flush out the kind of prospects needed to make Southwestern respectable again. His records for his three seasons were 7-19, 19-8 and 21-8, a comeback of such startling proportions that Mississippi State came after Hatfield as soon as it found out that Ron Greene, the Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year in 1977-78, was leaving for Murray Stale, his alma mater.
For Hatfield, the Mississippi State job is a homecoming of sorts. He has lived in every SEC state except Georgia, and confesses, "I'm addicted to SEC basketball." That should have been reason enough to take the Bulldog job, but there were other attractions. "I was impressed by the facilities and the commitment at Mississippi State," says Hatfield, "and I knew I never again wanted to go through a rebuilding program like I did at Southwestern."
The team he inherited is just about ready-made. The Bulldogs were 18-9 last season and came within a dribble or two of upsetting eventual NCAA champion Kentucky in Lexington. Their runner-up finish in the SEC was their best since the last of Babe McCarthy's teams won the title in 1963, one of four times Mississippi State either won or tied for the championship during McCarthy's colorful regime. "We've got some tradition and we're trying to build on it," Hatfield says. "They tasted a little success here last year, and we have the chance to be very good this year. The kids know it, and they've worked hard and made lots of sacrifices."
They have had to, because Hatfield is the third coach at State in three years. With so much to teach in so short a time, he has asked a lot in preseason practice. The Bulldogs got up early three days a week to work on their offense from 6:15 to 7:15, practiced defense in the afternoons and had skull sessions after dinner.
Under Hatfield, Mississippi State will fast-break more often than it did under Greene and will attempt to exploit more fully the myriad talents of 6'10" Rickey Brown, the best center in the league. Brown, a junior, injured his left eye in practice last fall and averaged only 13.4 points and 6.9 rebounds. Those stats were only so-so for the school's most talented player since Bailey Howell. "Rickey's strong around the hoop and he has a soft touch outside," Hatfield says, "but I've got to admit he has been inconsistent. Still, things seem to be looking up. For stretches of 15 minutes or so, he has shown as much intensity and played as hard and as well as any big man I've ever seen." Because Brown's eye no longer bothers him, how far he—and his team—can go will be determined by his enthusiasm or lack of it. Certainly he will have plenty of opportunities to show his stuff. "If we don't get the quick basket on the break, we're going to be inside-oriented, you can bet on that," says Hatfield.
Helping Brown inside will be Wiley Peck, who excels in rebounding (8.4 per game), shooting (57.3%) and defense, and John Adams, a transfer who was Tennessee Tech's No. 2 scorer a couple of years ago. The guards will be Ray White, who led the team in scoring, with a 14.5 average, "and in assists, and Greg Grim, who came off the bench to hit seven straight bombs over Kentucky's tough 1-3-1 zone last year in Starkville.
The Bulldogs will play pressure man-to-man defense most of the time, which is a dangerous tactic considering the potential foul trouble and Mississippi State's thin bench, where there isn't a single accomplished performer. But that's a minor concern to a man who has been through as much as Hatfield has. "It's a pleasure to be here," he says. "Believe me." And it is likely to get more pleasurable as the season wears on.
20 RHODE ISLAND
Sylvester (Sly) Williams, a 6'7" forward of extraordinary ability, spent his first two years at Rhode Island behaving as if he had understudied Marvin Barnes, late of nearby Providence. Often tardy for practice or a no-show, Sly seemed, as the players put it, to have an attitude on. Sometimes his play was lackluster, and he even skipped a couple of the Rams' less important games. This year, however, Sly has often come early to practice, and sometimes he has stayed late. According to Coach Jack Kraft, Williams' attitude has "completely changed for the better." Kraft also says that Sly has taken a "conscious interest" in his responsibilities.
Back in the days when Sly was presumably unconscious and uninterested, he did not do too badly for himself. As a sophomore last season, he averaged 19.4 points and 8.8 rebounds a game and led the Rams in six offensive and two defensive categories. With 27 points and nine rebounds, he single-handedly almost knocked off Duke in an early round of the NCAAs. In losing 63-62 to the Blue Devils, the Rams came within two points of having an open road to the final four of the national tournament. Unhappily, without Sly, Rhode Island's chances of being a success this year are nil. He must stay interested and, on some nights, play unconsciously for Rhode Island to surpass last season's 24-7 record.
The Rams' most obvious weakness is the absence of a tested point guard to replace Jiggy Williamson, who before graduating ran their 1-3-1 offense. The candidates are Nick Johnson, a 6-footer who averaged 3.1 points last year; 5'10" Vic Bertuglio, a 2.7 scorer; and Kevin Whiting, a 6'2" freshman who averaged more than 30 points a game as a high school senior. Kraft has even toyed with the idea of using Sly at the point, which would give him a lineup in which everyone would be 6'4" or taller, but it would probably take a spectacular failure by the three smaller men to prompt Kraft to sacrifice Williams' baseline scoring.
Irv Chatman, 6'8", is solid at center, especially on defense. However, he was only second, to Williams, among the Rams in rebounding last season, and he must improve his board work if the team is to run consistently, as Kraft hopes it will. John Nelson will probably start at small forward, and because he is a gifted outside shooter—he hit 54% of his shots last year—he may be moved to guard in a pinch. That would open a frontcourt spot for Jimmy Wright, who is better than his 33% shooting from the field indicates, or freshman Roland Houston, an all-stater whom Kraft, formerly of Villanova, hustled out of Philadelphia.
The man who could join with Sly to clinch a spot in the rankings for Rhode Island by season's end is 6'5" Forward Gilson DeJesus of S‚Äö√†√∂¬¨¬£o Paulo and the Brazilian national team. The crafty Kraft mumbles on about how it might take all year for DeJesus to adjust to American-style ball. Some of the Rams, who played against him during a South American tournament last summer, are sure DeJesus can be their savior sooner than that.