The Metro is like the little girl with the little curl in the middle of her forehead. When it has been good—Louisville won an NCAA title in 1986, Southern Mississippi bagged an NIT crown in '87—it has been very, very good. But when it has been bad, horrid doesn't tell the half of it. Consider what has gone down since March 1985: Point-shaving and abolition of the sport at Tulane. NCAA probation at Memphis State, South Carolina and Virginia Tech. Five Bylaw 5-1-(j) cases in one class at Cincinnati. And not one NCAA bid in '87, while the league's neighbors, the SEC and the mighty Ohio Valley, had eight between them. No wonder commissioner Steve Hatchell ran off to seek refuge in a loud blazer as head of the Orange Bowl committee.
The league is counting on Hatchell's replacement, Ralph McFillen, to restore stability. The Metro is brimming with such recruiters-turned-head-coaches as Pat Kennedy (Florida State), Tony Yates (Cincinnati), George Felton (South Carolina), Larry Finch (Memphis State) and M.K. Turk (Southern Miss). It will be McFillen's charge to keep them kosher, a task for which he seems qualified after 12 years as an NCAA administrator. At the moment, however, the Metro is to basketball what the SWC is to football.
Memphis State is once again eligible for postseason play, so expect Sylvester Gray and Marvin (Tank) Alexander—235 and 240 pounds, respectively—in the tournament paddock. "We play a transition game," Finch says. "We don't want to be too thick." Six-foot Elliot Perry and returning 5-1-(j) victim Cheyenne Gibson, a great three-point shooter, are streamliners, as is fifth starter Dwight Boyd. All five are Memphians.
Louisville's failure to go to the NCAAs cost coach Denny Crum nearly $10,000 in bonus salary, and it cost his players considerable pride. "If you walked into our gym this summer, you saw us playing every day," says forward Pervis Ellison. "There are some things I want to prove. Some things I need to prove." Tony Kimbro evidently wanted to prove he could go to school without going to class, so Crum will sit him down until Dec. 19. That makes 7'1" ballet student Felton Spencer a possible starter alongside Never Nervous Pervis and (Superb) Herb Crook, the only consistent Card last season. The questions remain in the backcourt, where Keith Williams and freshman LaBradford Smith are being counted on for the leadership and three-point shooting that were so absent last season.
Such Mississippi backwaters as McComb, Richton and Collins have sent a bunch of sleek, promising players to Southern Miss. Roger Boyd of Ellisville, a 6'10" Bylaw 5-1-(j) sitout last season, joins the cast that will play in Hattiesburg's 8,095-seat Green Coliseum. Most of Turk's stars, like Randolph Keys (see box), live reasonably near the campus, but coach Turk did spirit away "Ville-killer John White, a 6'7" swingman, from under the Cards' nose.
South Carolina's Felton was the most visible head coach on the summer-camp circuit. The year before, he landed, among others, Barry Manning and Brent Price, whose brother Mark had been recruited by Felton for Bobby Cremins at Georgia Tech. Back are Terry Dozier and nine-a-game rebounder Darryl Martin, the Metro's best.
Levertis Robinson and Louis Banks, both 6'6", starred on the Cincinnati intramural team that laid waste to assorted frat brothers while sitting out last season. They'll join senior guard Roger McClendon, an ace shooter who could pitch a key into a lock from across a room.
Florida State landed two outstanding freshmen in Aubry Boyd and David White. Boyd is a guard from Macon (Ga.) Southwest, which has produced NBA stars Norm Nixon and Jeff Malone. From a standstill, White can take his 6'6" and 230 pounds some 41 inches into the air. Look for the 'Noles to make a vertical jump comparable to White's, if not this season, next.
Virginia Tech wasn't going to the NCAAs anyway, so the two-year ban on tourney play levied at the beginning of November won't rearrange thinking in Blacksburg. (That mess forced out coach Charlie Moir, whose assistant, Frankie Allen, replaces him.)
The Metro may be soiled, but it's stubborn, too. The league went begging for a bid last March largely because its membership had voted to permit NCAA-ineligible Memphis State to take part in the conference tournament, and the Tigers went and won it. Last season's embarrassment didn't keep the league from voting to let South Carolina participate this time around. In a pending vote on Virginia Tech, the Hokies are expected to get the O.K. as well. Says Turk, "I guess we didn't learn a lot from last season."
Turk also says, "We hope to be able to wag our tail proudly." For that to happen, this old dog will have to learn some new tricks.
Ellison will go to any height to see that Louisville receives an NCAA invitation.