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To see how far Georgia Tech basketball has come, take a look at senior John Salley. When he came to Atlanta from Brooklyn in 1982, Salley was a 6'9", 185-pound forward, and Tech was excited about reaching double figures in wins. Now Salley is a 7-foot, 230-pound center-forward who may well be the No. 1 pick in next year's NBA draft.

But listen to what coach Bobby Cremins has to say about Salley. "On a scale of one to 10, John, after last season, was a seven-and-a-half or eight. Now all of a sudden people are saying that he's a 10. He's skipped a stage. It may affect his confidence somewhat because he's going to have a bad game or two. He's not the greatest player in the country right now."

Cremins worries. He loved sneaking up on the rest of the basketball world the past four years, but Cremins knows he can't sneak up on anyone when he's in front of everyone.

Yo, Bobby, relax. Says All-America guard Mark Price, "People are going to come after us anyway, so why not be number one?"

Georgia Tech has everything any coach could want in its top seven players. It has a big lineup, a small lineup, a power lineup and much of Atlanta lined up to watch. Start with the core group of Salley, Price, junior guard Bruce Dalrymple and sophomore forward Duane Ferrell. You want big? Move Salley to forward in tandem with 7-foot sophomore Antoine Ford. Speed? Send third guard Craig Neal, back after a bum wrist forced him to miss all but the first four games of last season, to the scorer's table to give Ford a blow, and depend on the 6'4" Dalrymple to get his usual five or six rebounds per game. Power? Replace Neal and Ferrell with Ford and 6'8", 220-pound freshman Tom Hammonds, who should start answering to the nickname Rambo any day now.

Nonetheless, Cremins says it's not that easy. "There is a lot of potential," he says. "But it will take time to come out. We'll get beat because of the inexperience of Ford and Hammonds, unless they develop right away."

Ford proved he has the talent in Tech's NCAA East Regional final loss to Georgetown last spring, scoring six straight points in one stretch late in the first half to push the Yellow Jackets back into a game that the Hoyas were threatening to blow open. But Ford, who grew up in Harlem, lacks experience and an aggressive nature. "He's a private-school kid," says Salley of Ford, who graduated from New York City's All Hallows High. Wait a minute. Cremins went there, and he's the definition of streetwise. "Yeah," Cremins says, "but I came from the South Bronx."

Hammonds, who's from the Florida panhandle town of Crestview, isn't streetwise, either. He's just an 18-year-old kid with an NBA body. In the team picture, reserve forward Willie Reese sports a bandage on his right cheek, where a Hammonds elbow stopped off on its way to a dunk during a pickup game.

"Most freshmen would get worried and say, 'Gosh, I shouldn't have done that,' " Salley says. "Tom just kind of looked over and said, 'Sorry,' and then walked away. I think he got that strong from lifting tractors."

"Tom Hammonds loves motors, machines," Cremins says. "He was talking about going to the Omni next week. I said, 'Who are the Hawks playing?' He says, 'Not the Hawks. We got a big tractor pull.' I didn't have an idea what he was talking about."

Hammonds is big, but he can glide. He has already grown into his body, which puts him ahead of most freshmen, and he can take the ball to the hoop, as his 76% shooting from the field last season demonstrated. He'll have to contribute. To promote cohesiveness, Cremins likes to carry only 12 players. Last season, transfers and injuries made Tech into a literal Rambling Wreck with only eight players at tournament time. "It could go against you," Cremins says. "But I've been gambling all my life."

Right now, the odds are heavily in his favor.





There's no limit for the Yellow Jackets, who landed a big one in 6'8" Hammonds.