Keep this to yourself, but the best show in Philadelphia this season isn't coach Rollie Massimino's sideline antics at Villanova or Mark Macon's superb play at Temple. The main attraction is the quiet—veerrrry quiet—assault on the record books by Lionel Simmons of La Salle. Simmons is on course to become only the second college player ever to score 3,000 points and get 1,000 rebounds in a career (Harry Kelly of Texas Southern accomplished the double in 1979-80 through '82-83), yet he doesn't get nearly as much national exposure as, say, the No. 8 man at Louisville or Oklahoma.
After Sunday's 111-91 win over American University, Simmons, a 6'6" junior forward, had 2,080 career points and 959 rebounds, and he ranked second nationally in scoring (28.1 points per game) and sixth in rebounding (11.4). If Simmons returns to La Salle for his senior season instead of entering the NBA draft—and he has promised his coach, Speedy Morris, that he will—he should easily pass Tom Gola, who led the Explorers to the 1954 NCAA title and had 2,461 career points, and Michael Brooks (2,628 points) to become the Explorers' alltime scoring champion.
Simmons, who's not especially big or quick or high-leaping, relies on a deft touch, a feel for the game and, says Morris, an ability to "make shots after going through all kinds of contortions." Simmons says his style is simple: "The game boils down to putting the ball in the basket, no matter how you do it."
Lest anyone think Simmons, who hails from Philadelphia, has put together his numbers against inferior competition—La Salle belongs to the lowly Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference—consider that at the Cotton States Classic in Atlanta he burned South Carolina, then ranked No. 16, for 38 points and 13 rebounds. Against North Carolina last season he scored 37 points, a Dean Dome record for a visiting player. After watching Simmons get 36 points and 13 rebounds on Jan. 7 against Richmond, Spider coach Dick Tarrant said, "That's a big-time player there. He's an ACC or Big East-type player."
Although nobody believes that La Salle, which was 18-4 at week's end, will duplicate what Gola and his team did 35 years ago, the Explorers may be good enough to hang in the NCAA tournament longer than they did last season, when Kansas State eliminated them in the first round. Then hoops fans everywhere may hear about this season's real Philadelphia story. "Sometimes I look at the teams that are on TV all the time, and I wonder how I would have fit in with them," says Simmons. "But I have no regrets whatsoever. I'm accomplishing what I came here for."
HIGH ON THE LOBOS
Now we know why Indiana coach Bobby Knight was so interested in the New Mexico job last spring. Despite a 73-60 loss at Texas-E1 Paso on Saturday, the young Lobos were 13-6 at week's end, led the WAC by a game over the Miners and had an excellent shot of going to the NCAA tournament in their first season under Dave Bliss, a onetime Indiana assistant who left SMU for New Mexico when Knight decided to stay put.
The last time the Lobos made the NCAAs was 1978, when they were coached by Norm Ellenberger, who's now an assistant to Don Haskins at UTEP. Considering that Ellenberger was forced to leave New Mexico a year later in the wake of a grade-fixing scandal, he must have appreciated Haskins' giving him credit for the game plan that helped the Miners avenge a 70-67 Lobo victory on Jan. 28 in Albuquerque.
Ellenberger's plan called for UTEP to concede New Mexico's strength in the paint, where 6'7" Charlie Thomas and 7'2" Luc Longley provide plenty of power on both offense and defense, and concentrate on the perimeter. The strategy was a royal success, especially for 5'10" Miner guard Prince Stewart. After having scored only seven points in the loss in Albuquerque, Stewart made 12 of 13 field goal attempts to finish with 25 points in the rematch.
Still, UTEP shot only 43% from the floor against New Mexico's outstanding man-to-man defense, which at week's end had allowed only one of its 19 opponents—mighty Arizona—to convert 50% of its shots. The Lobos' three best defensive players—6-foot junior Darrell McGee, 6'5" sophomore Rob Robbins and 6'2" freshman Willie Banks, all guards—will be back next season. Indeed, the only seniors on the squad are Thomas and backup center Rob Loeffel. If New Mexico fans were unhappy at not snaring Knight, they now must feel positively Blissful about the future.
At week's end Don MacLean, UCLA's 6'10" forward, had 379 points, which meant that he had passed Rod Foster's total of 368 to become the Bruins' all-time leading freshman scorer. MacLean could become the first rookie to lead UCLA in scoring since Bill Walton did so as a sophomore in 1971-72, before the days of freshman eligibility....
Trivia question: Name the three team managers who, because of injuries, suspensions or player walkouts, have been forced to suit up this season. Answer: Roland Whitley of North Carolina State, Dennis Hopf of Clemson and George Metcalf of San Jose State. All have appeared in at least one game, but Whitley is the only one to score; he has six points in 18 minutes of play....
Two weeks ago was Drug Awareness Week in the Southern Conference, and an antidrug poster distributed at the Western Carolina-Tennessee-Chattanooga game included a photo of Western Carolina's Andre Gault. The only problem was that Gault hadn't been a member of the Catamounts since the end of last season, when he served 30 days in jail for selling marijuana....
With 11 assists against Pitt on Saturday, Sherman Douglas of Syracuse raised his season total to 209 to become only the eighth player in NCAA history to have at least 200 assists three years in a row. He's seventh on the alltime list with 833....
Before N.C. State's 91-71 loss on the road to Virginia, Wolfpack coach Jim Valvano split his pants in the dressing room. "The team surgeon had to stitch me up," said Valvano afterward. "The team was saying its pregame prayer, and I'm standing there in my Jockey shorts and my socks up to my knees. The players looked over at me and started laughing. We may have lost it there."...Great Scott Dept.: Next season, in addition to coach Scott Thompson, Rice's basketball team will include junior center Chip Scott and freshmen Scott Tynes and Brent Scott....
The program at Southern Cal is on the brink of un-Raveling. The Trojans are averaging only 2,605 fans per game, down from 5,805 in 1984-85, two seasons before coach George Raveling arrived from Iowa. Is it any wonder USC is failing to draw? At week's end the Trojans were 0-10 in the Pac-10, headed for their fourth last-place finish in a row.
Since coming out of this Philly neighborhood, Simmons has been a nonstop scorer and rebounder.
Even after UTEP rose up last week, New Mexico still led the WAC.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Air Force's 6-foot guard had 31 points in an 86-79 win over Hawaii and 35 in an 87-69 defeat of San Diego State. Dudley, with an average of 27.4 a game at week's end, was fourth nationally in scoring.