When James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Va. fancified its name from Madison College and became a Division I basketball team six years ago, the world outside the Shenandoah Valley didn't much care. Did James Madison play George Mason? Or join him in debate? The Virginia legislature, which had originally chartered the college as the State Normal and Industrial School for Women at Harrisonburg, couldn't have cared less as long as the Commonwealth's classrooms were kept amply stocked with schoolmarms.
But look what's happening now. As Georgetown and Ohio State (losers) and Notre Dame and North Carolina (bare winners) discovered in the NCAA tournament the past two seasons, the Dukes are hazards. Coach Lou Campanelli confounded those teams largely with players that no other Division I school wanted. One of them, outside-shooting Forward Linton Townes, is with the Portland Trail Blazers. But the rest of the top eight are back. The leading returning scorer and rebounder is Center Dan Ruland, whose face-the-basket style—he's a 6'8", 240-pound bull with a china-shop touch—is certain to give Virginia and Harrisonburg's own Ralph Sampson, problems when UVa visits Madison's brand-new, 7,600-seat Convocation Center on Dec. 1. Seniors David Dupont and Charles Fisher have started together in the backcourt since midway through their freshman season, and sophomore Forward Darrell Jackson returns after winning a starting spot 13 games into his first year. A pair of 6'7" juniors, Keith Bradley and Woody Boler, are competing for Townes' old position. To Campanelli, who even coifs and clothes himself a bit like Bobby Knight, defense matters most. "People ask me at clinics how I get them to play so hard on defense," he says. "Well, we have kids who all have something to prove."
The guards make the defense go. Fisher plays the point like a bumper car. Last season he missed only three games despite suffering a chipped ankle bone, a cracked shoulder blade, a cerebral concussion, five impacted teeth, a cut hand and a broken wrist that forced him to wear a soft cast on his non-shooting hand. Dupont led the team in steals last season. Junior Derek (Bam Bam) Steele is a 5'7" backup who's listed at 5'9" at his mother's request. "Derek's too small to play major-college basketball," says Campanelli. "But he doesn't know it." Ditto the Dukes.