It may well be a race for second place, but in the Western
Athletic Conference the competition this season is as intense as
an Olympic marathon. Four schools are stalking Utah (page 83)
and are well positioned to surge ahead should the preseason
Leading the way is Wyoming, a young and dangerous team with four
returning starters whose experience could go a long way toward
improving on last year's 9-9 conference mark. Explosive point
guard LaDrell Whitehead, the WAC Freshman of the Year, led the
Cowboys in both scoring (14.9 ppg) and assists (3.5). "I was
telling my teammates that they're going to have to D it up
because other teams know about me now," says the 5'8" Whitehead.
The pressure will also be on BYU, although coach Roger Reid sees
this as a rebuilding year. "We have much inexperience and many
question marks," Reid says. The Cougars not only lost two
seniors from last year's 22-10 team, but they also saw two key
players depart to serve missions. "We need to improve on the
little things," says senior center Kenneth Roberts, "getting
after loose balls and playing tough defense."
UTEP knows all about the little things--just ask 5'10", 165-pound
senior Carl Davis. The pressure is on Davis, the starting point
guard, to lead the Miners. "It comes with the territory," he
says. "It's up to me to keep my composure."
Fresno State could barely contain itself when word spread that
the coach with the alltime best winning percentage was returning
to the college ranks. Right out of the box, Jerry Tarkanian
signed his alma mater's first-ever top-10 recruit, Terrance
Roberson. "Everybody saw what Tark did for UNLV," says
Roberson, a 6'7", 210-pound forward. "I think he still has the
touch." Tarkanian says he's not so sure. "I don't know how I'll
feel about coaching," he says. "I kinda enjoyed being out of
coaching. I was having a good time."
One coach who wasn't living it up was Dave Bliss of New Mexico.
After winning the conference regular-season title in '93-94, the
Lobos, 15-15 last season, had what Bliss termed "a Murphy year:
Whatever could go wrong seemed to, at the worst possible time."
Says senior guard Charles Smith, "It was tough coming off the
championship. We weren't prepared. We're focused now, though."
Sorry, Charlie. With just two seniors and a combined nine years
of major-college experience among the seven players back, the
Lobos are in for more of the same.
With four starters coming back, San Diego State coach Fred
Trenkle figures to have some fun--even though his top recruit,
Schomario Richard, is ineligible this season. Richard, who
scored 27.6 points per game at Nogales High in La Puente,
Calif., will be replaced by another newcomer, Raymond (Circus)
King, who averaged 14 points and 11 assists per game last year
at El Cerrito (Calif.) High.
Colorado State, 7-11 in the WAC, could make things interesting;
the Rams have all five starters returning. Hawaii won just three
games on the mainland a year ago and will be trying to hold its
ground, while Air Force would be happy to improve on its four
conference wins, its most since 1989.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Roberts urges tough D--and backs it up. [Kenneth Roberts]
1 Utah (12)
5 Fresno State
6 New Mexico
7 San Diego State
8 Colorado State
10 Air Force