LEADER OF THE PACK
The clock was down to 12.4 seconds last Saturday night in
Reynolds Coliseum, and North Carolina was trying to pull its
Houdini act once more, this time at North Carolina State. The
Tar Heels, who in the previous seven days had trailed Wake
Forest by 18 points and Duke by 17 before rallying to win, had
whittled what had been a 55-36 State lead down to 76-75. But the
Wolfpack had the ball on an inbounds play, and coach Les
Robinson wanted his players to do one thing: make sure the ball
ended up in Todd Fuller's hands. As usual, N.C. State's fate
would rest in the hands of its 6'11" senior center.
Sure enough, Fuller got the ball, was fouled immediately and
then calmly swished both free throws to ice the game. That gave
him 24 points for the evening, including 8 of 8 from the line.
Sixteen of his points came in the frenetic second half when his
teammates turned stone-cold. When it was over, State fans mobbed
the Wolfpack players. "What a fabulous feeling that was," Fuller
said afterward. "That win was as much for the fans as it was for
us. They have backed us all along, and they deserved a piece of
There haven't been a lot of bright spots in Raleigh in recent
years, but by dint of hard work Fuller has become one. He has
improved steadily each year he has been at State. He averaged
5.2 points per game as a freshman, 11.8 as a sophomore, 16.3 as
a junior and, through Sunday, was at 21.8 points and 10.4
rebounds as a senior--good for first and second, respectively, in
the ACC. Beyond that, he has improved all other aspects of his
game. For example, in his first three years, he made one
three-point shot. This year he has already made 12, including 2
of 3 against North Carolina.
Earlier in the week, against Wake Forest's preseason
All-America, Tim Duncan, Fuller had 19 points to Duncan's 21 as
the Pack came from 14 points behind to go ahead by one, before
losing a squeaker 66-62. "He's unique because he finds so many
ways to hurt you," Duncan said later. "He's very smart about the
game; he knows when to go inside, when to be outside."
Fuller's intelligence isn't limited to his court savvy. In his
four years as a mathematics major at State he has gotten only
one B in the classroom--in a computer science course called data
abstractions and structures. Every other grade has been an A.
His GPA with one semester left is 3.97.
Very little of Fuller's play this season has been below A level.
He isn't all that fast, but he beats other centers down the
floor consistently. Pro scouts, who always put so much emphasis
on pure athletic ability, now concede that Fuller may be one of
those players who makes up for physical deficiencies with hard
work, an ability to improve and a feel for the game. Some say he
may be a lottery pick in June, and most rate him behind only
Duncan and UMass's Marcus Camby--both juniors--among collegiate
After facing Fuller this season, both North Carolina coach Dean
Smith and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said that they thought he
would be a lottery pick. Smith's respect for Fuller was apparent
last Saturday night: The Tar Heels double- or triple-teamed him
anytime he caught the ball in the low post. He responded by
moving outside--as Duncan might have predicted he would--whence he
hit four jump shots.
The victory pushed State's record to 3-6 in the ACC and 13-8
overall, a considerable improvement over the last three years,
when the Wolfpack finished 8-19, 11-19 and 12-15. Fuller wants
desperately to participate in postseason play before his college
career is over. "We've come a long way to get to where we are
now and become a solid team," he says. "We just have to keep
pushing to get where we want to be before the year's over. We're
Not fast, not spectacularly. Just getting there. Which is the
way Fuller always seems to get the job done.
Things are getting uglier and uglier at St. John's. Just when
the Red Storm seemed finally to be headed in the right
direction, after beating Georgetown 83-72 in an upset win two
Saturdays ago, the Johnnies lost twice at home last week, first
86-83 to a bad Notre Dame team and then more predictably 77-63
to Connecticut last Saturday.
Before last season, when prize recruits Felipe Lopez and Zendon
Hamilton signed to play for coach Brian Mahoney, it looked as if
St. John's absence from the 1994 NCAA tournament would merely be
a one-year aberration. But Lopez suffered through a very
inconsistent freshman season, and the Red Storm, with a 14-14
record, once again was out of the NCAAs. This year, while
Hamilton has emerged as a very solid player--he led the Big East
in rebounding and stood sixth in scoring at week's end--Lopez has
continued to struggle. He was shooting 40.2% from the field
after last Saturday's loss, has a habit of committing turnovers
and was even ripped in print by Lou DeMello, his coach at Rice
High, for having poor work habits.
Lopez's mediocre play, a hamstring injury to senior forward
Charles Minlend that has kept him out all season and the lack of
a decent point guard added up to an 8-10 record for St. John's,
including a 2-8 mark in the Big East, going into Wednesday's
game against Boston College. Especially aggravating to Red Storm
supporters is that their team has been capable of beating
Georgetown and ripping Louisville by 22 but has played poorly
enough to lose to UC Irvine, for the Johnnies' first loss in the
21-year history of their season-opening Joe Lapchick Memorial
Tournament, and to Iona.
NO MORE MAHONEY buttons, which started popping up at last year's
Big East tournament, are again being passed around. Mahoney's
contract runs through the year 2000, but dwindling attendance
for St. John's appearances at Madison Square Garden--the game
against UConn was a sellout only because Huskies fans bought a
majority of the tickets--and an almost certain third straight
year without an NCAA bid could force St. John's to do something
it has never done: fire a coach.
That would be sad for Mahoney, who was Lou Carnesecca's
lieutenant for 16 years before succeeding him in the 1992-93
season. He was Big East Coach of the Year his first season and
is considered one of the game's good guys. Most schools,
however, will take a bad guy over a good guy if the bad guy wins
Trying to get 6'5" junior guard Nate Erdmann untracked, Oklahoma
coach Kelvin Sampson called for a drill called cutthroat, in
which Erdmann was told he had to shoot the ball and couldn't
pass off. In one scrimmage he had 25 points in 20 minutes. "He
got his confidence back in that drill," said Sampson, who
watched as Erdmann made 6 of 9 shots and scored 18 points in the
Sooners' 104-68 rout of Missouri last Saturday.... UConn's
victory over St. John's was the Huskies' 20th straight since
their overtime loss to Iowa in the Great Alaska Shootout in
November. More amazingly, it was the 20th straight game in which
they have not trailed in the second half.... While the
Georgetown Hoyas continue to roll with a No. 8 ranking, another
Georgetown, in Kentucky, is currently ranked No. 1 in the NAIA
Division I poll, largely because of the play of senior Jermaine
Brown, a 6'2" guard who at week's end was averaging 17.9 points
and 7.0 rebounds per game while shooting 60.2% from the field.
Brown was Mr. Basketball in Kentucky as a high school senior in
1991 and played for two years at Tennessee before transferring
to Georgetown.... Embarrassment of the Week: Michigan's 80-59
home loss to Purdue, which included a 44-22 halftime deficit.
"I don't know what happened," said Wolverines starting forward
Maurice Taylor. "I looked up, and it was 9-8. The next time I
opened my eyes, we were down 22. It was real frustrating. We
couldn't figure out what was happening." No kidding.
COLOR PHOTO: BOB DONNAN As good as Fuller has been on the court, he has been better in the classroom. [Todd Fuller dunking basketball]
COLOR PHOTO: JENNIFER POTTHEISER Even lowly Notre Dame kept Hamilton and St. John's under wraps. [Zendon Hamilton attempting to shoot basketball while being surrounded by University of Notre Dame players]