"I SECOND THAT EMOTION"
(COACH: SONNY SMITH)
Chuck (The Rifleman) Person, a 6'8", 215-pound walking blueprint of an NBA small forward, knows every Auburn play from every position on the floor. In fact, says coach Sonny Smith, Person knows them "a durned sight better than I do." And that's not all. Says Person, "I could get up and show you how, say, Kentucky runs its offense." Person's offensive hero is not a contemporary magician like Earvin Johnson, Julius Erving or Larry Bird, but Jerry West, an oldtimer with textbook form. Person, after all, is a man of science.
Smith, on the other hand, is a man of passion, spontaneity and wit. Most of the time he refers to Person, probably the favorite of all the players he has coached, as "Persons." The other day at practice, Smith said to his players, "Sometimes the worst thing you boys can do is listen to me." He says that Chris Morris (a starting Tiger forward) "is so skinny he can stand on a clothesline in a rainstorm." And wasn't it a scream last February when Smith, fed up with Auburn's poor play and with what he thought was a lack of fan and administration support, announced that he would resign, then coached the Tigers to the SEC tournament championship and two NCAA tournament wins? And then he got his job back.
Whether or not Auburn knew it, Chuck would have been a missing Person had Smith's resignation stuck. "I didn't want to play for any other college coach," says Person. "It was Sonny or the NBA for me."
All five starters are back from last year's team, which is fine with Smith "as long as you're talking about the end of the year team and not the one that finished seventh in the conference." Let's hope so. Now the Tigers are not only a year older but a lot more talented with the addition of freshman Michael Jones.
"Adrian Dantley," says Person, after taking a full minute to decide who the 6'7" Jones reminds him of. Smith says that Jones will play 20 or more minutes a game. When a coach is that high on a freshman, take notice.
Everyone is high on Person, who, with Kentucky's Kenny Walker, gives the SEC the two best forwards in the nation. Who's better? The reasonable Person ponders the question for a moment. "If you get Kenny the ball in the paint, it's two points, maybe, or three. On the other hand, I can score down there, too, and my outside shot is better. I'd say that I can do what he can do, but he can't quite do what I can do."
Frank Ford would get more than a few votes as the best off guard in the conference, too. Without a pure outside touch, Ford shot 55% from the floor last season while averaging 11.5 points per game. Many of his baskets came on offensive rebounds and aggressive but controlled strength moves to the basket. The 6'4", 210-pounder is called Baby Bull for the way he wards off defenders with his strong left arm. "I call it my ol' soupbone," says Ford. His close friend Gerald White will be at the point.
This will be Person's fourth year as a starter. "We're the kind of team that makes people say, 'Man, are these guys still here?' " he says. Less recognizable is sophomore center Jeff Moore, who may lose some minutes if Smith uses a Person-Morris-Jones rotation up front or if Moore is edged out by sophomore Darren Guest.
This is a team with a mission. "We want to show that last year was no fluke," says Ford. Says Smith, "All we heard about last year was how some guy named Emotional High was winning games for us. Well, he may have helped out a little, but by the end of the year this was a pretty good team."
It remains to be seen if Auburn can keep Smith happy. Everyone is saying the right things now, but there's no guarantee that when Emotional High dies, he'll get the fan support he craves. "We don't play dull," says Smith. "We entertain you. I predict that things will be at a fever pitch around here."
The Rifleman is a talented if not very modest Person.