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PASSING FANCY The arching jumper, the ripping rebound, the menacing slam are all wonders to behold, but purists say the prettiest basketball picture of all is the perfect pass


EVERYBODY LOVES A GOOD PASS. TO A COACH, there's no prettier sight
than that of the orange ball being worked smartly around the court in
search of an opening. Iowa's Tom Davis preaches that you beat a zone
with bouncing passes around the horn and into each corner, stretching
the defense at its edges and then whipping an entry pass into that
softened midsection. When Princeton head coach Pete Carril is
evaluating a prospective player, the first thing he asks about the
kid is ''Can he see?'' (Translation: ''Can he pass?'') And even
Soviet Olympic coach Aleksandr Gomelsky reminded us that the old
ice-hockey axiom ''No one is faster than the puck'' applies to the
basketball as well. (And, by the way, the word for pass in Russian is
As any playground denizen knows, there is, among serious players,
a keen appreciation for the well-passed ball. Players in pickup games
won't be heard to say ''Nice slam,'' or ''Deadly trey,'' but they can
commonly be heard, after a deft pass, to say ''Nice look,'' or ''Good
find.'' No play in the game generates more peer admiration than a
no-look pass that finds its target in dead stride.
Spectators, drunk with dunks, will snap back to consciousness at
the sight of a whirling wraparound to the open man. And the good news
is they're seeing more of that. An important side effect of the
three-point shot rule -- in effect for two seasons now -- is a
spreading out of offenses and a distending of defenses, a
circumstance just right for the rebirth of the passing game. Is it
any accident that two of the best big forwards in the college game,
Danny Ferry of Duke and Michael Smith of BYU, are most often praised
for their passing? Or that Stacey King's Oklahoma teammates like to
talk about their center's great hands and pass-catching prowess? Or
that NC State fans, who watched guard Chris Corchiani ring up 235
assists as a freshman last season, are happily keeping count?
And with the parade of king-sized talent stepping into the game
this year, the most compelling whisper to be heard from scouts and
recruiters is ''Wait till you see this Owens kid pass.'' It hasn't
gone unnoticed, either, that Billy Owens will be teaming at Syracuse
with senior playmaking whiz Sherman Douglas. The passing will be
very fancy in the Carrier Dome.
With the college game moving more and more to full-court pressure
and end- to-end breaks, and with the three-pointer continuing to open
up room for the offense, it's clear that this renaissance of the
well-thrown ball is no passing fad.