Meet the Mayor
Iowa state never really had a ball boy until the job was created in 1985 for a local tyke named Fred Hoiberg who was always hanging around the Cyclones' gym. The kid didn't get much notice until the day in 1986 when Iowa State guard Jeff Hornacek came streaking downcourt during an exhibition game and stepped on Hoiberg's foot after making a layup. Hornacek sprained his ankle and missed the rest of the game. Says Hoiberg, "Injuring the best player in school history isn't exactly how I want to be remembered."
Not to worry. A decade later Hoiberg, Iowa State's 6' 4" senior forward, is so popular in his hometown of Ames that teammates call him the Mayor; indeed, he received several write-in votes in the city's '93 mayoral election. Hoiberg and fellow seniors Julius Michalik and Loren Meyer have led the Cyclones to a 15-2 record and the No. 11 spot in this week's AP poll, the team's highest ranking in seven seasons. "Fred's more popular than anybody on campus, and probably anybody in central Iowa," says Cyclone coach Tim Floyd, who replaced Johnny Orr this season. "Let's just say, when you're a new coach and one of your players is called the Mayor, you make sure that guy plays a lot."
Hizzoner's approval rating soared even higher when he scored 32 points as Iowa State upset then No. 3 Kansas on Jan. 14. In that victory Hoiberg scored 17 straight Cyclone points down the stretch. "He's one of the best players I have ever coached against," said Kansas coach Roy Williams afterward. "That says it all."
Hoiberg, who is averaging 19.5 points a game, is a superstitious fellow who wore the same shirt before every game while leading his Ames High team to a state title as a senior. At Iowa State he continued to wear the shirt until his sophomore year when his dog, Bailey, tore it to shreds. In lieu of that talisman, Hoiberg now ritualistically completes the trivia quiz in the program before each home game.
Hoiberg admits that coming out of high school he was briefly tempted to attend either Stanford or Arizona. Instead, he decided to stay in Ames, where his father, Eric, a sociology professor at Iowa State, and his mother, Karen, a school teacher, could attend his games. "People here have always been so good to me, I knew they'd give me support, not pressure," says Hoiberg. "When I was being recruited, they sent me petitions signed by thousands, all asking me to stay."
Could a similar petition drive one day help the Mayor become the mayor? "With his stature," says Floyd, "I'm sure that someday he could actually be the mayor of Ames." The current mayor, Larry Curtis, doesn't find the prospect too threatening. Curtis, who is also an adjunct assistant professor at Iowa State, once taught Hoiberg in a business-law class and has faced him a few times on the golf course. "I've told him that I'd be happy to share the title with him," Curtis says, "but I think he has a future in basketball."
When Tim Grgurich was a UNLV assistant under Jerry Tarkanian in 1986, the Rebels took a summer trip to Tahiti. "Our guys were all there running around in bathing suits and having fun," Tarkanian remembers. "I saw Tim and said, 'Hey, Tim, isn't this really nice here?' He said, 'Yeah, but I'd rather be home, running a clinic.' I don't know if Grg can get away from the game."
Grgurich had no choice when on Jan. 6, just 10 weeks after taking over at UNLV for deposed coach Rollie Massimino, he was hospitalized with symptoms of exhaustion. Grgurich, a workaholic who often spent entire nights in his office, joined Duke's Mike Krzyzewski (page 32) on the coaches' disabled list.
Since Grgurich left, the Rebels have actually been playing better. They were 2-5 with him on the bench and have gone 3-2 under interim coach Howie Landa. The day after Grgurich was sidelined, UNLV beat UC Irvine 84-80, and senior guard Reggie Manuel, who scored 27 points, said, "His absence motivated everybody. We dedicated the game to coach Grg."
Last Saturday the Rebels played their best game of the season, upsetting Utah State 69-63 in Logan, but the bad news is that nobody is certain when Grgurich might return. "I'm scared because the doctor told me I was at the end of the rope," Grgurich says. "I should have remembered that I always thought we were invincible here at UNLV. Then all of a sudden we weren't invincible. I'm not. Nobody is."
Welcome to the ACC
Shortly after Boston College forward Danya Abrams helped bounce North Carolina from the second round of last season's NCAA tournament by knocking Tar Heel point guard Derrick Phelps out of the game with a hard foul, Carolina coach Dean Smith vehemently complained, "There's no place in the game for that. I probably shouldn't say this, but I warned the players before the game about number 24 [Abrams]. That's a horrible play. When somebody gets killed like that, throw him out of the game."
Some saw Smith's comments as sour grapes from a losing coach; others agreed that the play epitomized all that is wrong with the Big East conference's rough-house style. Whoever was right, the issue was raised again after North Carolina's victory at Clemson on Jan. 14. First-year Clemson coach Rick Barnes, who coached in the Big East for six seasons at Providence, has brought an unkinder, ungentler mentality to the Tigers, and against Carolina, Clemson was charged with 32 fouls to the Tar Heels' nine; Smith's team shot 51 free throws to the Tigers' seven. While complaining to the officials about those foul differentials—the largest in Clemson history—Barnes was ejected with 28 seconds left. Afterward, Tiger forward Rayfield Ragland, who guarded the Heels' Jerry Stackhouse, said, "Coach Barnes told me, if I fouled him, to be sure I fouled him hard."
"I think it's a terrible thing, to say basketball should be a physical game," Smith said later, echoing his lament of last spring. "It's not good for basketball, and I'm concerned when we have airborne players and somebody's physical, because that's how somebody gets hurt."
"I really don't care how the other coaches in the league see our style of play," said Barnes. "I'd like for somebody to tell me what they mean by physical. I'll tell you this, the people in the Big East play hard."
A Star Is Born
Like all legends, the story of Cindy Blodgett, a freshman guard at Maine, begins just inside the orbit of credibility. Cindy's father, Thayer, recalls the day he dragged his daughter, then eight, along to her brother's basketball tryouts. Cindy was so fascinated with the game that when the family returned to their house in Clinton, Maine (pop. 1,485), she began to shoot at the basket in the driveway. Cindy shot and shot for four days until she finally made a bucket.
Two years later, after countless practice sessions in the driveway, she was recruited to join the Clinton Junior High girls' team, even though she was only a third-grader. At Lawrence High, Cindy carried her team to four straight state titles, while scoring more points than any other player in the history of Maine, male or female. Then, when the rest of the country beckoned, she chose to stay home and attend the state university.
So legendary is Blodgett that one Maine town has a Cindy Blodgett League for girls. Two books have already been written about her, and she is known in her state as the Larry Bird of women's hoops. She shoots like Bird. She even sounds like Bird. "I don't really understand the fuss," she says. "I think I'm pretty plain."
The other similarity she shares with Bird is a coterie of early doubters. Many folks wondered whether this woman, steeped in work ethic but not in natural talent, could be a star in college. Then on Jan. 5, Maine defeated then No. 10—ranked Alabama 75-73. Blodgett scored 30 points. It was the Black Bears' first victor)' ever over a ranked opponent. "When we recruited Cindy, we told her she had an opportunity to bring this program to a new plateau," says Maine coach Joanne Palombo-McCallie, whose Bears were 11-4 at week's end. "It's a little like Bird restoring the Celtic dynasty."
"We've only taken one baby step," Blodgett says. "Our goal now is to get into the NCAA tournament and win some games. Then this state would really be in an uproar."
As befits his nickname, favorite son Hoiberg has his hometown Cyclones doing well in the polls.
Prep legend Blodgett aims to put Maine on the road to the NCAAs.