"WE ARE THE WORLD"
(COACH: DALE BROWN)
To begin with, Nikita Wilson, despite his Russian first name, is not a refugee from Minsk. Wilson hails from Leesville, La. and figures that "my mom just liked the name." Zoran Jovanovich, out of Belgrade, Yugoslavia, however, is a former Red Army soldier and occasionally argues in his native tongue with LSU teammate and home boy Neboisha Bukumirovich (who is, by the way, an outstanding violinist). Also on the roster is a player imported from La Romana in the Dominican Republic—Jose Vargas. Finally, there is John Williams, who is from Los Angeles, considered by some to be the most exotic locale of all.
There they are: Team Green Card.
And they can play. Coach Dale Brown, who assembled TGC, does not speak Spanish or any Yugoslav dialect—but he is known for speaking a lot. That will change this season, he says unconvincingly. "I'm going to stop being so overzealous," says Brown. "Take the John Wooden approach. You know, 'Yes, this Walton's pretty good, but he is kind of skinny.' "
Save it, Dale. "I think LSU has the best two teams in the SEC," said Auburn coach Sonny Smith. That was before Brown announced that Tito Horford, the 7'1" freshman from the Dominican Republic, had been "permanently dismissed" from the squad. So now the Tigers only have the best 1[4/5] teams in the league. Williams is one of the best players in the nation. Wilson and shooting guard Don Redden are two of the better players in the SEC. And the team of Vargas and Jovanovich will surely be a dominant force in the pivot.
"And don't forget that if you get by those two, I'm still there," says Nikita, who goes by his childhood nickname, Bun. Wilson is a coach's dream—a versatile, fearless player who "will kill you to win a pickup game," says Williams. For two seasons Wilson has been subjecting his bony 6'8", 200-pound body to the rigors of playing in the paint, but now, with strength at center, he can move to forward and increase last year's 15-point scoring average.
Williams (13.4 points, 6.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists a game last season) is a rarity—a truly unselfish superstar. He should be even more effective this season, having spent the summer in L.A. playing a killer game of full-court one-on-one called Knockout with the likes of Marques Johnson, Darwin Cook and Freeman Williams.
The real key for LSU will be the play of the guards. Neither point guard Derrick Taylor nor Redden had good seasons in '84-85. But from all reports, Taylor is ready to return to the form that earned him SEC freshman of the year honors in '81-82. And Redden says that a summer of playing abroad with an Athletes in Action team has spruced up both his jump shot and his attitude.
The Baton Rouge bombshell hit on Nov. 3 when Horford, the subject of a bizarre recruiting war between LSU and Houston (SI, July 22), was dropped. The reason Brown gave was that Horford had missed a practice and then an intrasquad scrimmage, but the coach also made a cryptic mention of "tampering" by other schools. Brown added that in early practices, the 7'1" Jovanovich had "given Tito everything he could handle."
Mystery has become Brown's hallmark. Somehow it would be appropriate if this season LSU finds a way to erase some of its past postseason failures, like last season's 78-55 loss to Navy in the first round of the NCAAs, and returns to the Final Four. "We can't help but be excited," says Redden. And the Tigers will roar—in three different languages.
Even without his international band of bodyguards, Williams can skate through opponents.