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OPENING TIPS Ratings and datings, weights and slates, knees and media freeze LATE-NIGHT LUNACY


MIDNIGHT MADNESS HAS BECOME a mania. The practice of holding the
first workout of the season at the earliest moment permissible under
NCAA rules -- just after midnight on Oct. 15 -- has taken hold all
over the country because it's seen as a way to drive up fan
enthusiasm (i.e., ticket sales). And as with most good ideas, there's
some dispute over who came up with this one first.
Kentucky has been generally credited with holding the first
midnight session, in 1982. Not so, says Lefty Driesell, now coach at
James Madison. He says it all began when he was at Maryland and held
a midnight training run for his Terps way back in '70. The burning
question is still unresolved, but there's no doubt the gimmick has
caught on.
The wee-hours workouts were especially popular this fall with new
head coaches looking to make a splash. Kansas's Roy Williams, aware
that his predecessor had billed the Jayhawks' opening session as Late
Night with Larry & Brown, called his version Later . . . with Roy
Williams. Tom Abatemarco, Drake's new coach, made his entrance in a
golf cart and tossed T-shirts to the crowd. At Texas, first-year man
Tom Penders induced coach Jody Conradt and her immensely more
successful Lady Longhorns into joining the men's team in a midnight
date. New Mexico took things a step further and actually charged
admission -- $2 per nonstudent -- to its Lobo Howl. But at Colorado
(7-21 last season), the athletic department offered free pizza slices
to the first 500 spectators -- and only 348 showed up.
Arizona has taken this strict adherence to the NCAA calendar to
its logical limit. The fall period for contacting recruits began on
Sept. 17, and Wildcats assistant coach Kevin O'Neill knew that UCLA
and Stanford had scheduled visits to the home of Mitchell Butler, a
Los Angeles high school star, for that first day. So O'Neill headed
for Butler's house late on Sept. 16. As the clock struck midnight, he
knocked on the door, was welcomed in, showed the Arizona highlight
tape, chatted for 45 minutes and left. ''It was neat,'' says Butler.