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CHEMISTRY 101 IF YOU'VE EVER WONDERED WHY THE MOST TALENTED TEAMS DON'T ALWAYS WIN THE NCAAS, HERE'S THE REASON

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If you're leafing through this magazine at the newsstand, what
we're about to say does not relieve you of the obligation to
shell out your hard-earned loot. Nevertheless we would like you
to put us down for a moment, check out some of the other college
basketball previews arrayed before you and take note of their
choices for preseason No. 1.

We and our colleagues at SI PRESENTS, in their College
Basketball '95-96 preview, have picked Kansas. Athlon Sports,
ESPN College Basketball, Sport, The Sporting News and Street &
Smith's pick Kansas too. That the pundits all sound like
homesick Dorothys adrift in Oz wouldn't be particularly
remarkable, except that they're equally emphatic in their belief
that no college team has more talent than ... Kentucky. Which
raises the question: What's up?

Chemistry is what's up. Teams' nuclei. Their bonding and
combustion. Stable elements and volatile ones. The critical
nature of the mix and what Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun calls
"the vapor that just sort of hangs over a team." That most
elemental of sciences explains why the Jayhawks are seen as
headed to East Rutherford, N.J., for the Final Four--and why no
one should go near Rupp Arena this season without safety
goggles. As Dean E. Smith, Ph.D., esteemed Allen-Naismith
professor of hoopochemical science at the University of North
Carolina, Chapel Hill, reminds us, "The '68 UCLA team was one of
the greatest of all time, but it wouldn't have been any better
with Elvin Hayes."

Consider the various elements from which Kentucky coach Rick
Pitino will try to create a championship compound. Walter
McCarty and Antoine Walker would each be justified in styling
himself as the Wildcats' main frontcourtman, yet only one can
really fill that role. With the Wildcats groping for a floor
leader, there's talk of making a point guard of Tony Delk, even
though he was so productive last season at the 2 guard that he
was named All-SEC. And as if that wasn't jumble enough, the Cats
have added Derek Anderson, a hotshot transfer from Ohio State;
freshman guard Wayne Turner, who averaged 36.1 points a game as
a senior in high school; and scholastic Player of the Year Ron
Mercer, whom Pitino--and almost every other coach in
America--pursued in such hell-bent fashion that Mercer could
hardly be blamed for thinking himself the Cats' meow.

A foretaste of what Kentucky may be in for occurred during a
summer tour of Italy, when under-the-surface tension spilled out
into the open in an on-court shouting match between Walker and
forward Jared Prickett. Why, Pitino has such a surfeit of
winning elements that he has set up a sort of Superfund site for
all his chemical waste: a jayvee team.

What Pitino faces this season isn't too different from what his
LSU counterpart, Dale Brown, dealt with in 1989, when he went
into the lab with such rare elements as Shaquille O'Neal, Chris
Jackson and Stanley Roberts. At an SEC media gathering that
fall, Wimp Sanderson, then coach at Alabama, contemplated that
assemblage of talent and said, "Those guys are so good, even
Dale couldn't screw them up."

Well, Dr. Dale did. The Tigers fizzled out in the second round
of the NCAA tournament. Yet in 1986 Brown took a significantly
less-talented team to the Final Four. All of which underscores
how baffling this subject of chemistry can be, and why, to help
tutor us, we went looking for a real, live, hoops-playing chem
major. Vanderbilt senior forward Chad Sheron, a sweet-shooting
premed known as the Swishin' Physician, has graciously agreed to
annotate the three basic lessons of basketball chemistry.

I. HOW ELEMENTS BOND

"An analogy used a lot in sports is that of a catalyst," says
Chad. "Add a catalyst to a reaction, and it increases the rate
of the reaction." A team needs some sort of star, and if that
star is a forward who can pass, otherwise ordinary teams can do
extraordinary things. Witness Indiana State in 1979 with Larry
Bird. Kansas in '88 with Danny Manning--an assemblage of Jayhawks
that constituted probably only the third-most-talented team
coach Larry Brown fielded in his five seasons in Lawrence--is
another example.

Another unselfish forward, Ed O'Bannon, was classically
catalytic as he led UCLA to the title last season. He was
starkly different from the me-firsters who had populated Bruin
rosters in recent years, and he had written a remarkable
personal story by his senior season, coming back from a severe
knee injury suffered during his freshman year. Further, at
halftime of UCLA's embarrassing 1994 NCAA tournament loss to
Tulsa, with the Bruins trailing by 25 points, he delivered a
locker room philippic at odds with his usual demeanor. The title
that UCLA would win the following spring could be traced to that
moment, when O'Bannon let it be known how much he hated to lose.

This doesn't mean a team can't array other considerable talents
around its star and still find good chemistry. "In chemical
terms, it's a simple matter of an element that can give up
electrons finding one that needs them," says Chad. "If that
happens, they'll bond." In basketball terms, this phenomenon is
called role-playing. Take Louisville's 1980 national champions,
for example. Those Cards sent six players to the NBA, but they
had superb rebounders (Wiley Brown and Derek Smith), deft
passers (Jerry Eaves and Rodney McCray), even an off-the-bench
defender (Roger Burkman), all willing to give the ball up to the
acknowledged star, Darrell Griffith. Says Eaves, who played the
point for Louisville, "Darrell was our main man, and he could
have shot 50 times a game and no one would have had a problem.
We were all underclassmen who knew this was Darrell's last
chance."

A well-matched set of guards is often a critical component in
creating good chemistry. Kansas coach Roy Williams is
particularly high on his backcourt of Jerod Haase and Jacque
Vaughn. "Jerod is a sort of reckless-abandon type, and Jacque
takes a more intellectual approach," says Williams, "but when
they agree on something, the rest of the team usually follows."

Chad sees this as absolutely logical. "Think of a guy who's
really emotional and vocal as an acid," he says, "and a guy who
just gets the job done as a base. If you have the right mix of
the two, a team will be buffered. Its pH won't get out of whack."

Bonding often occurs in the crucible of adversity. When Boston
College reached the final eight two seasons ago, beating North
Carolina and Indiana along the way, the Eagles did so at the end
of a season in which they had lost back-to-back games in
overtime, made 81-58 disgraces of themselves against Georgetown
in the first round of the Big East tournament and trailed
Washington State by double digits at the half of their first
NCAA game. But even before that, bad times had become familiar.
BC's four senior starters played for a coach, Jim O'Brien, whose
wife had suffered heart failure and died when they were freshmen
and whose athletic director had made no secret of his desire to
show O'Brien the door. "I never wanted to put my issues on them,
because I didn't think it would be fair," O'Brien says. "But
they read the papers. As it turned out, the seniors all
responded the same way."

The NCAA often provides teams with just the adversity they're
looking for. Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV were on the verge of being
booked for sundry violations when the Runnin' Rebels put
together two stellar seasons, winning a national title in 1990
and going to the Final Four in '91. Two of the most chemically
balanced teams of recent years were Kansas and Kentucky during
the seasons they spent on probation. Williams and Pitino, who
had just taken over their respective programs, were able to
titrate a sense of grievance about NCAA sanctions into an
overachieving solution, despite scholarship limits. Part of the
reason: Walk-ons tend to be unusually reactive elements.

Sometimes coaches create tribulation just for cohesion's sake.
An example occurred at Oklahoma last season. No one expected the
Sooners to go 23-9, least of all new coach Kelvin Sampson, who
noticed soon after taking the job that his players didn't seem
to like each other. So, beginning right after Labor Day, he had
them running at 6:30 each morning. "I wanted these kids to
suffer together, to have a common bond," he says. "Three or four
kids didn't make it [and quit the team], but those who did had a
newfound respect for each other." And Professor Sampson soon had
three Coach of the Year citations on his mantel because his
players had bonded so well.

II. IMPURITIES ADVERSELY AFFECT A REACTION

Radioactive elements can contaminate a coach's laboratory. Given
the head-swelling whispers players hear from summer league
coaches, hangers-on from the neighborhood and the star-making
recruiting gurus, it's astonishing that any players put the team
first. Long Beach State coach Seth Greenberg refers to "the
three-headed monster" that can divide a team: girlfriends,
agents and parents. Teammates can develop petty jealousies over
girlfriends. Agents have become more brazen since the
introduction of the option whereby a player can declare for the
NBA draft, then renounce his draft eligibility and return to
college. But it is parents, says UCLA assistant Lorenzo Romar,
who can be the biggest pain. "Some want to live off their son's
future earnings," he says. "Others simply complain their son
isn't getting enough shots."

But many coaches agree that just as DNA is the building block of
life, NBA--and the temptation of players to audition for it--can
cause a team to destruct. Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson has
intimated that an eye on the pros is what turned the defending
national champion Hogs to slop for stretches of last season.
Kansas suffered similarly in the '92-93 season, when guards
Adonis Jordan and Rex Walters were seniors; the Jayhawks muddled
through the middle of the Big Eight schedule, Williams realized,
because his backcourt was playing to the scouts. Williams sat
Jordan and Walters down, got both back with the program, and the
Jayhawks made it to the Final Four.

In Al McGuire's system at Marquette, during the Warriors' heyday
in the 1970s, players from Maurice Lucas to Bo Ellis to Butch
Lee fell in line as underclassmen until it was their turn to
shine as seniors. Then most of the shots--on the floor and in the
media guide--came their way. But during the '90s, blue-chip
recruits have become more and more determined to reach the NBA
within two years. Thus they expect to take over their teams by
the end of their freshman seasons, and that only exacerbates
tensions with upperclass teammates.

Consider how St. John's, the school on Utopia Parkway in Queens,
N.Y., became the most woefully misaddressed team in college
basketball last season. Freshman star Felipe Lopez arrived with
such ballyhoo that he had appeared on the cover of SI and was
profiled in The New Yorker before he had ever played a college
game. There was only one problem: James Scott, a senior who had
come in a year earlier billed as the best juco player since
Larry Johnson, believed it was his turn to shine. Just before
the Holiday Festival, at a players-only meeting, Scott accused
Lopez of shooting too much; the Red Storm went on to lose to
Penn in that showcase tournament, and Lopez spent most of a
sorry St. John's season ceding shots to Scott. Thereafter in
tight games Lopez looked reluctant to take the final shot. Red
Storm coach Brian Mahoney has told his players that this season
they will go only as far as their first, second and third
option--Lopez--takes them.

Now, with Chicago high schooler Kevin Garnett's decision to go
straight to the pros, the itchy-freshman phenomenon figures to
get worse. "In years past a kid wanted the opportunity to play
as a freshman, contribute as a sophomore and start as a junior,"
says Greenberg. "The hardest thing in coaching now is to get
kids to play to their strengths and not just for the holy grail
of an NBA contract."

The Swishin' Physician offers a little biochemistry for our
guidance: "A player with an eye on the pros is like a mutagen--a
cell that has stopped acting like its peer cells and just grows
for its own sake. Just as mutagens cause cancer in the human
body, they can have a cancerous effect on a team."

III. USE ENERGY WISELY

On any team, energy is constantly being expended and exchanged;
a coach's challenge is to channel it positively. Which leads us
to consider friction.

Friction is just heat, right, Chad? "Correct. And heat is
energy. Every reaction has something called its activation
energy. That's the amount of energy required to get it going. If
you don't reach that level, nothing happens."

Even as Duke was winning its second straight NCAA title, in
1992, Christian Laettner mocked Bobby Hurley, sneered at Grant
Hill and hazed Cherokee Parks. They each responded on the court
by doing something to repudiate Laettner's harsh judgment of
them. "When Laettner yelled at somebody, people said, 'Oh, they
have friction,'" says Blue Devil coach Mike Krzyzewski.
"Baloney. We had communication. Friction is when no one says
anything."

But the heat a team generates can be destructive if it takes the
form of me-firstism. "Nowadays, even after a win, you have kids
saying, 'I should have had the ball more,'" says Stanford coach
Mike Montgomery. Adds Pete Gillen, Montgomery's counterpart at
Providence, "Kids today don't respect anybody. They don't
respect legends who played before them. And they don't respect
their own teammates." A coach can contain selfishness by acting
preemptively, usually during the recruiting process. But not all
do. "At Syracuse," goes the standard Orange recruiting spiel,
"we let you be you." That pitch appeals to individualists--at a
cost, year in and year out it seems, to Syracuse's team chemistry.

Sometimes friction develops along class lines. Last season
Georgetown introduced a freshman element, point guard Allen
Iverson, and the Hoyas suffered--not because of dissension, but
because Iverson's style so overwhelmed the rest of the Hoyas
that center Othella Harrington, as prized a recruit two years
earlier as Iverson was in his own class, became almost irrelevant.

The Michigan teams of a few years ago had good chemistry because
of the sheer numbers of their Fab Five freshmen; a couple of
upperclassmen accepted bit roles, and one player transferred
out. But there's no better example of what class factionalism
can do to a team than the 1993-94 North Carolina Tar Heels.
Their problems stood out all the more against the backdrop of
the Heels' NCAA title of a year earlier, during which eight
different players logged at least 500 minutes without giving off
so much as a whiff of noxious attitude. Then along came the
highly touted freshman class of Jeff McInnis, Jerry Stackhouse
and Rasheed Wallace in '93, and North Carolina was being hailed
as perhaps the best team of all time. But by February two
seniors in particular, Brian Reese and Kevin Salvadori, had been
eclipsed by Stackhouse and Wallace. "It was like two different
teams out there at times," Stackhouse says. "It was sometimes
like [the freshmen] were playing two opponents--whatever team we
were playing and our first team."

Smith insists that by tournament time those Tar Heels had found
their chemistry, and it was merely their fate to run up against
a hot BC team. But Sampson, then the coach at Washington State,
and his Cougars were playing at the same first-round site as the
Heels that spring, and Sampson remembers the atmosphere at one
Carolina practice. "Coach Smith is a hero of mine," he says,
"but that team was divided. There was no enthusiasm, no emotion,
nobody pulling for each other."

If good chemistry can be distilled to one thing, it would be
pulling for each other--in scientific terms, electromagnetic
attraction. When Wiley Brown lost his prosthetic thumb on the
day of the 1980 title game against UCLA, everyone on the
Louisville team felt down a digit. "The chemistry on that team
is something that will never go away," says Eaves. "The next
year wasn't the same. We were looking for a leader, and we were
thinking about our individual stats and the NBA. The chemistry
wasn't what it was during that championship season."

Ah, that championship season. Who will someday refer that way to
the year to come? Which team will find gold among the PCBs and
other pollutants of the Meadowlands? As an answer of sorts we
offer a staple of every freshman chem lab: the iodine clock. You
take an iodized salt and stir it into a beaker with a little bit
of starch, water and a few reactants. Then you take a front-row
seat. A little time must pass, but if you've dissolved just the
right proportions of each component, suddenly, miraculously,
this perfectly clear solution turns a deep, rich blue.

We say that it's Jayhawk blue.

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEOFF SPEAR DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREW DAMON [Several basketball images contained in chemistry equipment]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN GRIESHOP [See caption above--Rawlings basketball]

COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [See caption above--coach arguing with referee]

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [See caption above--cheerleader]

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [See caption above--members of student band]

COLOR PHOTO: RICK STEWART [See caption above--hands on basketball]

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER [See caption above--basketball player]

COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND [See caption above--basketball players]

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [See caption above--fans in stands]

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO [See caption above--basketball hoop]

COLOR PHOTO: DAMIAN STROHMEYER [See caption above--basketball players]COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEOFF SPEAR DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREW DAMON A Take-Charge Star + Savvy Senior Leaders = A Championship Formula Seniors Ed O'Bannon (31), Tyus Edney (11) and George Zidek kept the Bruins focused on winning, and the result was a national title. [Several basketball images contained in chemistry equipment]

THREE COLOR PHOTOS: RICHARD MACKSON (3) [See caption above--Tyus Edney; Ed O'Bannon; George Zidek]

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER[See caption above--Jim Harrick and UCLA players with NCAA trophy]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEOFF SPEAR DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREW DAMON A Fiery Catalyst + Some Controlled Friction = A Net Victory Laettner (top right) could be a royal pain to his Duke teammates, but he got them to play better, and they won two national championships. [Several basketball images contained in chemistry equipment]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: BOB DONNAN (2) [See caption above--Christian Laettner talking with other Duke players; Grant Hill]

COLOR PHOTO: RICHARD MACKSON [See caption above--Mike Krzyzewski]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEOFF SPEAR DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREW DAMON A Divided Team + A Wannabe Star = A Frozen-out Freshman St. John's formula was fouled up by a struggle between a senior who felt he was top gun, Scott (32), and ballyhooed freshman Lopez. [Several basketball images contained in chemistry equipment]

COLOR PHOTO: NATHANIEL BUTLER [See caption above--St. John's players]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: MANNY MILLAN (2) [See caption above--James Scott; Felipe Lopez]

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPHS BY GEOFF SPEAR DIGITAL ILLUSTRATION BY ANDREW DAMON A Well-Oiled Machine + Additional Horsepower = A Big Fizzle North Carolina thought it had a juggernaut when it added Wallace (30), McInnis (5) and Stackhouse to its '93 title team, but the experiment backfired. [Several basketball images contained in chemistry equipment]

COLOR PHOTO: RICH CLARKSON [See caption above--University of North Carolina players holding NCAA trophy]

TWO COLOR PHOTOS: TIM O'DELL (2) [See caption above--Rasheed Wallace; Jeff McInnis]

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [See caption above--Jerry Stackhouse]