They refinished the basketball floor in Henry Levitt Arena this summer. In the foul lanes, workmen pushing drum sanders cut through several layers of black paint, right down to the bare wood. Then they put three coats of polyurethane on the court and painted the foul lines and borders a bright yellow. "It's pretty bright out there," Junior Guard Aubrey Sherrod said after a recent practice as a spectator fumbled for his sunglasses.
The Black Hole of Calcutta look is out. After two years on NCAA probation for recruiting violations, the Shockers are eligible for postseason play again—and looking for their place in the sun.
Last season's team was probably the Shockers' best ever. Behind senior Forward Antoine Carr, Wichita State made hash of Missouri Valley Conference opposition, winning 17 of 18 league games and finishing at 25-3 overall. Even so, the Shockers lagged in the polls, and Carr made only third-team All-America. That's what happens when you're invisible at postseason tournament time, and when your team's a pariah to the nation's coaches and sportswriters.
The Shocker basketball program seems to have come through unscathed. Levitt Arena's 10,666 seats are just about sold out for the season; Wichita fans apparently figure that the loss of Carr—and he's the only significant performer from 1982-83 to have departed—will be more than offset by the return of Sherrod and sticky-fingered junior Forward Xavier McDaniel (right), who last year led the nation in rebounding with 14.4 a game. "There's an air of excitement," says Athletic Director Lew Perkins. "We're not the bad guys of the world anymore."
It was to symbolically make this point that the basketball floor was refinished. Pirate-black belonged to the Dark Ages; what was needed was something sunnier, something reflecting Perkins' belief that "we've paid our dues." Now the Shockers can be excited about the likelihood of an NCAA bid. "It's extremely important, a tremendous load off our kids," says Coach Gene Smithson. "Postseason play is the pinnacle of college basketball. When we made it to the final eight [in 1981], this community was electrified!"
As for those who would like to have seen his probation-plagued team electrocuted, Smithson says, "No, there's no bitterness. You can't look back." But you can look down, and the Shockers will get the message every time they see the home floor this season: Things look considerably brighter at Wichita State.