"SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED"
(COACH: DENNY CRUM)
Denny Crum suffered a sub-20-win season in '84-85, his first such indignity in 13 years as Louisville's head coach. Did we say suffered? The man won 19 games and lost 18. Cardinal football coach Howard Schnellenberger would swallow his pipe—sideways—to win half his games. But then, he hasn't spoiled the locals as Crum has.
What is this? No Final Four? Runner-up in the NIT? Fourth place in the Metro Conference? Gross!
Early last season it became apparent that Louisville was off on a long winter's journey into spring. In December, freshman guard Kevin Walls, one of three Camden (N.J.) High transplants, had surgery on his right knee and sat out the season. In the second game, future NBA first-round draft pick Milt Wagner, another Camden backcourt man, fractured his right foot. Poof! Emasculated Louisville was without its ball handling and a good measure of its outside scoring.
Now comes payback time. Though Walls's situation is still iffy, Milt the Rebuilt is back for his senior season with a vengeance. How much did Crum miss him? Just ask the coach if Wagner might have turned the tables in a couple of those 18 losses and he snaps, "A couple? How about 10 or 12? We're talking about 30 percent of the offense."
Even without Wagner, Crum still thumped Bob Knight's Hoosiers and beat Kentucky in his last opportunity to out-coach Joe B. Hall. When the Cards lost, Crum kept his dignity, flinging neither furniture nor garments. "I couldn't get too upset as long as I knew we were out there trying," he says. "We made the best of a bad situation."
The operative phrase here is "the best." Six of the seven top recruits who visited Louisville during the season later signed on. Did Crum ever fleece the high school class of '85! Three of the country's bluest chips now wear Cardinal red and black. "It goes in cycles," says Crum. "We'd been coming in second in recruiting. It hurts when you spend so much time on the hunt, then have nothing to show for it. This year we came in first."
Pervis Ellison of Savannah is the most visible of those superfrosh. At 6'9" he's the tallest, and his braces glint when he smiles. Ellison will play the middle in place of Barry Sumpter, who saved himself the embarrassment of being beaten out by an 18-year-old when he lost his eligibility for academic reasons. After a week of practice Crum announced, "Pervis has already won the center position. It took him one day to do that. Actually he won it last April when he signed, but I didn't tell him."
Freshmen Tony Kimbro, a schoolboy All-America from Louisville's Seneca High, and Kenny Payne, from Laurel, Miss., will push sophomore Herb Crook and junior Mark McSwain for time at power forward. Working against Payne in a preseason drill, Crook made clever, if overzealous, use of his elbows. Afterward, when Payne was asked if he thought Crook felt threatened by him, Payne answered, "I sure hope so!"
If Walls is healthy he will bring the ball up, freeing Wagner for long-range bombing. He has been working in a $500, titanium-framed de-rotation brace. "We'll have to wait and see about him," says Crum.
The remaining member of the Camden trio is senior small—6'7"—forward Billy Thompson, who in Wagner's and Walls's absence last season handled the ball and led the team in scoring, rebounding and assists. He did everything, in fact, but hawk programs and pop the popcorn, so he's glad that at least Wagner is back. "You need a general out there. Milt's our general," says Thompson.
A general truth comes from Doug Semenick, the Cardinals' strength and conditioning coordinator: "This team will be as good as it is healthy."
SUSAN AIMEE WEINIK
A wounded bird last season, Wagner's now back in full flight.