The vertical leap, that magic measurement that supposedly indicates a player's ability to soar, has become a basketball buzz phrase. As the popularity of the term has grown, so have the numbers attached to it. Currently the 40-inch barrier seems to separate the leapers from the lead-footed. To understand what that means, measure 40 inches up the wall in your living room and try jumping high enough to clear that mark with your heels—without a running start.
Can such a leap really be routine, as a number of observers seem to suggest, for the moderately gifted college player? "I have big trouble with it," says Dwight Stones, former world-record holder in the high jump. "I just don't believe a guy can spring almost four feet into the air without any momentum." When informed that Joey Johnson, a 6'4" Arizona State guard, is credited with a 50-inch vertical leap, Stones responded, "That's insane."
Stones says that if Johnson could vertical leap 50 inches, his hips, the key to a successful high jump, would be 90 inches, or 7'6", into the air. That would be just 5¼ inches under the world record—and from a standing start. With momentum from a running takeoff, Stones says, Johnson would be able to easily break the world record. In fact, Johnson is a talented high jumper, but his personal best is 7'5¾", achieved while he attended the College of Southern Idaho. The Arizona State athletic officials say that Johnson's vertical leap has never been measured by them. Like most other college players with big vertical-jump numbers, Johnson arrived on campus carrying his like a cherished icon.
Stones believes that the only fair test of one's leaping ability is the so-called Sargent jump: The athlete, standing on tiptoe, first makes a mark with a piece of chalk as high as he can reach on a wall; then, bending and springing as high as he can, he makes a second mark. The difference between the height of the marks is the height of the athlete's vertical leap. "My numbers are under 30," says Stones. "I've got trouble believing almost any number over 40. I want to witness somebody do that. I just want to see it."
Another skeptic is Mike Conley, one of the world's best long and triple jumpers, who was an all-state high school basketball player in Chicago. "I'm surprised by the numbers," he says, "but you have to know how they're being measured." There's the rub. Does the player jump from a stationary position? Is he allowed a single step? Or does he keep one foot planted and gain momentum by swinging the other foot into the jump? Conley has seen all three methods employed, with, of course, widely varied results. Until there's a consensus on how such a test should be administered and who should administer it, vertical leap stats are best considered leaps of faith.
The parity party raged on last week, leaving some major conference races topsy-turvy:
•Surprising Villanova sat atop the Big East at 6-1 while preseason heavies Georgetown and Syracuse found themselves fighting for their lives on Sunday in the Carrier Dome. After Georgetown lost 65-58 to St. John's four days earlier to run up its first three-game losing streak in the conference since 1981-82, Hoya coach John Thompson issued an emotional statement of support for his players: "I love these kids when we win, and I'm going to make damn sure I love them when we lose." The Hoyas won 69-68 in Syracuse as guard Charles Smith made a stirring end-to-end drive for a twisting hang-in-the-air layin at the buzzer. It was the third conference loss for the Orangemen.
•That the Big Eight title is up for grabs was best illustrated by Missouri's 119-93 drubbing of Iowa State last week. The Cyclones, who had looked like a team on the rise, fell prey to Tiger forward Derrick Chievous, who had 30 points and 14 rebounds, and to the Missouri crowd. Iowa State forward Jeff Grayer, who scored 23 points but shot only 8 for 22, said that taunting from the fans disturbed him. "It got to me. I took some bad shots trying to do too much," he said. Meanwhile the Big Eight leader was unheralded Kansas State, 2-0 in the conference and 10-4 overall.
•Florida, an early-season bust, bounced back to take the SEC lead at 5-1 and looked much the better team in its 58-56 win at Kentucky. The Gators won despite the loss for at least a month of freshman forward Livingston Chatman, who injured his right knee during the game and had to undergo surgery. After his team's defeat, Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton's criticism of guard Rex Chapman—who is known as King Rex around Lexington—intensified. "Other guys at times have taken marginal shots, but I'm more concerned about Rex than anybody," Sutton said. Chapman responded a bit peevishly. "I'm always singled out, so I guess I have to take the good with the bad," he said. "You've got to risk being a goat to be a hero. Maybe I should stop shooting. I guess I should just make every shot."
•Those seeking some relief from the rampant parity can take comfort in the performance of Purdue, which at week's end led the Big Ten with a 6-0 conference record. The Boilermakers feel they haven't gotten their due from the public. After a 91-85 win over Louisville, Purdue forward Kip Jones, in a bit of twisted logic, said, "If the name of the school was Indiana instead of Purdue, we'd be the state school and everybody would be cheering for us."
A FEARSOME FLAP
Things got downright ugly in Philadelphia last week during a game between La Salle and St. Joseph's. The seeds of conflict had been sowed before the game when the team's two mascots met. "The Explorer told me, 'Don't be coming over to our side,' " said St. Joe's Frank Simone, a 21-year-old food-marketing major who dons a feathery costume to become the Hawk. "I said the only time I had to go over was to do my figure eight. That's a tradition." And not one to be taken lightly since the Hawk is on an athletic scholarship and regularly works out to keep his arms in fine fettle for flapping.
But the Explorer, whose identity La Salle officials declined to divulge, takes his role seriously, too. When the Hawk neared the La Salle end of the court during a timeout with 17:08 remaining in the game, he was set upon by the Explorer and the La Salle male cheerleaders. Feathers flew, the Hawk's headpiece was pulled off, and the Hawk, flapping all the while, was lifted off the court. In flew the entire St. Joe's team to rescue the beleaguered bird. When the confrontation was over, the La Salle cheerleaders were ejected and feathers were swept off the floor.
After the game the Hawk apologized to St. Joseph coach Jimmy Boyle for the disturbance. But Boyle would have none of it. "Great job," he said, shaking Simone's hand. Oh, yes, the Hawks beat the Explorers 73-63.
It's common practice for top Division I teams to fatten up on a diet of patsies before taking on their more difficult conference schedules. But what do the patsies get out of it? A little exposure and a lot of money. "When I came here two years ago, this place was in total shambles," says Georgia State coach Bob Reinhart, whose Crimson Panthers (Crimson Panthers?) have lost on the road this season to Oklahoma, Wyoming and Georgia Tech by an average of 26 points. "One thing important to student-athletes is who you play. If I tell them we play Agnes Scott and Vassar, they aren't too impressed. Now we've played Oklahoma, Wyoming and Georgia Tech. When I tell them that, they know they'll play in front of big crowds, and most of those schools play on TV. I know that it doesn't help our immediate record, but from a recruiting standpoint, it's very beneficial. I call them our whore games."
Reinhart says that he received guarantees of $9,000 from Wyoming, $11,000 from Oklahoma and $8,000 from Georgia Tech. "In the budget, the first thing we put down is '$30,000—guarantee games,' " he says.
Georgia State, of course, isn't alone in this strategy. Here are the contenders for suicide schedules of the year:
•Austin Peay, with an average losing margin of 19 points in road defeats at Illinois, Michigan, Wichita State, Toledo, Providence and Oklahoma. "My team hasn't come together and jelled the way I hoped it would," says coach Lake Kelly, who acknowledges that guarantees of between $15,000 and $20,000 per game helped ease the pain.
•Grambling, 2-11 in its nonconference games, all of them on the road. Says Southwest Missouri coach Charlie Spoonhour of the Bears, "They've been on the road longer than Custer." And with similar results, including massacres at Wichita State (93-80), Auburn (98-59), Michigan (78-61), Minnesota (106-82) and Iowa State (99-81).
•Penn, whose 2-9 record at week's end included losses to this decidedly un-Ivy group of opponents: UCLA, Georgia Tech, Indiana, UC Santa Barbara, Temple, Villanova and Notre Dame. Average losing margin: 33 points.
While Georgia State's crushing schedule left it with a 5-10 record, its season has nonetheless been lifted by the inspirational efforts of Willie Brown, the Crimson Panthers' 6'7" center. At the end of last week Brown was averaging 10.1 points and 7.1 rebounds per game, good numbers made better by the fact that he's deaf. "Willie's not gifted with great speed or quickness, but he's got an incredible work ethic," says Reinhart, whose assistant, Carter Wilson, is adept in sign language.
Brown, a junior art and physical education major and an accomplished painter, has earned the admiration of his teammates. Says Reinhart, "They see Willie not as a deaf basketball player but as our starting center."
The most dominant team in college basketball may be St. John Fisher of Rochester, N.Y., a Division III women's outfit that has outscored its opponents by an average of 44 points a game. The Cardinals were 16-0 and ranked No. 1 at week's end....
Talk about tough luck. New Mexico State's eight losses have been by a combined 26 points....
Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs is getting annoyed by the slow-down tactics employed by Sooner opponents. "Those darned conference games," he says. "It's like going to a waltz. It sure ain't like going to a disco." ...North Carolina's Jeff Lebo has attempted more three-point field goals than two-pointers, and he's converting them at a higher percentage. He's 36 for 73 (49.3%) from treyland and 20 for 56 (35.7%) on twos....
Talk around the Big East has it that Syracuse junior forward Derrick Coleman is considering a jump to the pros next season....
Another rumor making the rounds: Indiana freshmen Jay Edwards and Lyndon Jones are upset with the tactics of coach Bob Knight and are considering transferring....
Arkansas likes its home cooking. The Razorbacks are 24-2 in their home state over the past two seasons, 7-16 outside....
Wyoming dropped to 2-4 in the WAC after a 54-49 loss to Colorado State. "We are absolutely at rock bottom," said coach Benny Dees. "It's nobody's responsibility but mine. It's time to really have a gut check with our basketball team and coaching staff and see if we can pick up the pieces and maybe make some changes." ...Gonzaga's game this week against San Diego should be a real dog. As part of a fund-raising arrangement between the Blue Mountain Dog Food company and the Gonzaga Kennel Club—the nickname for the student cheering section—every fan who donates a can of pet food will get into the game for half price. The food will be donated to animal shelters in the Spokane area....
Dayton coach Don Donoher had a tough trip to St. Louis on his 56th birthday. First his team was routed 79-61 by St. Louis U. Then he lost his wallet, and, finally, he missed his flight back to Dayton. The pilot waited as long as he could but finally had to depart, announcing over the P.A. system as he went, "The assistant coach is now the head coach." P.S. The wallet was recovered. Happy Birthday.
Brown proudly wears the Crimson Panther blue.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Evansville's 6'6" senior forward had 32 points and six rebounds in a win over Northern Iowa, and 34 points, including 17 of his team's last 37, in a come-from-behind 86-84 victory over Xavier.