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It didn't take Billy Thompson long to discover that life in the country—or, at least, in Louisville—isn't quite as mellow as it might have seemed from his vantage point in Camden, N.J. The 6'8" Thompson, regarded last winter as the No. 1 high school prospect in the country, came to town last summer and, in a matter of days, suffered a cut over his eye (scrimmage), a gash on his right thigh (fishing trip with Coach Denny Crum) and a banged-up knee that required five stitches (motorbike rendezvous with a cow on Crum's farm). And if all that weren't indignity enough, he won't even be in the starting lineup—at least for a while. So much for Southern hospitality, right? "I'm glad I'm at Louisville," says Thompson. "We have the players and the coaches to make it to the Final Four."

He's correct, even if starters Derek Smith, Wiley Brown and Jerry Eaves are gone from the 1980 national champions and '82 semifinalists. There are enough rebounders (Rodney McCray and Charles Jones), shooters (Milt Wagner and Lancaster Gordon) and all-around players (Scooter McCray and Thompson) to guarantee Crum's 12th straight 20-win season and, perhaps, a fifth trip to the finals.

The Cardinals will again try to turn the opposition into, well, basket cases with all-out, game-long pressure created by a full-court zone press and a blitzing break. Crum has a lot of talent, but not much experience. Nine of his 13 players are freshmen or sophomores, and that worries him.

The freshmen have adapted well to Louisville's fun-loving atmosphere. Around the gym they already laugh about the time Jeff Hall, who is white, asked Robbie Valentine, who is black, about his hair cream. "Jeff ain't used to being around black folks," says Valentine. Says Hall, "I don't know what it was, but it stopped the door from squeaking, too."

The team's weakness is point guard. Both Wagner and Gordon are shooters, so they will get help from 6'9" Scooter and 6'7" Rodney, who handle the ball with a skill that belies their size. After the loss to Georgetown in last season's NCAA semifinals, fans were quick to pass out T shirts that said, ALBUQUERQUE IN '83—RODNEY, SCOOTER, YOU AND ME. And Billy Thompson, too, of course—if he can survive a winter of Southern hospitality.


Thompson has Louisville thinking big.