Even though the sanctified 64 have been selected for the NCAA
tournament, it's worth taking a timeout to review an eventful
regular season. It was a year in which one player (Kentucky's
Jeff Sheppard) missed two games because of a sledding accident
and another (UTEP's Kevin Beal) played in a WAC tournament game
because no one, including the school president and athletic
director, told his coach that he was ineligible. As a result,
the Miners had to forfeit their 77-69 victory over Hawaii in the
tournament's first round. It was a year that was marked by an
anti- Semitic incident (a message left on a locker room grease
board at New Mexico State for Long Beach State coach Seth
Greenberg) and was nearly marred by tragedy (five Michigan
players and a recruit, driving home at 5 a.m. after partying,
escaped serious injury after their vehicle rolled over).
It was also a season in which the following distinguished
themselves, for better or worse:
Coach of the Year: Purdue's Gene Keady. Not only did he lead the
starless Boilermakers to the Big Ten title for the third
straight year, but he did so while coping with twin hardships.
His daughter, Lisa, fell in her home and went into a coma for
three weeks, and during that time his father died. Keady handled
his tribulations with admirable grace.
Unknown Coach of the Year: Bart Bellairs, Virginia Military. Two
years ago he took over a program that had produced only one
winning season since 1978. This year the Keydets were 18-10,
finished second in the North Division of the Southern Conference
and lost a close semifinal game in the league tournament to
eventual champion Western Carolina.
Freshman of the Year: Shareef Abdur-Rahim of California, in a
photo finish with Stephon Marbury of Georgia Tech. Abdur-Rahim
averaged 21.6 points and 8.7 rebounds and was the difference
between Cal's being a sub-.500 team and its making the NCAA
tournament. After a rough start Marbury led the Yellow Jackets
to the ACC regular-season title.
Comeback Award: Duke senior guard Chris Collins. After scoring
109 points last season (3.9 a game) on 29.8% shooting, including
23.3% from three-point range, Collins came back to average 16.5
points on 46.9% and 43.8% shooting. He was the Blue Devils' MVP
during a late-season run of success that got them back into the
NCAAs after last year's collapse kept them out.
Most-Improved Player: Alabama fifth-year senior Roy Rogers. He
hadn't averaged in double figures at any time in his career
until this season, when he scored 13.4 points, grabbed 9.1
rebounds and blocked 4.8 shots a game--and became a potential
first-round pick in the NBA draft.
Player of the Year: With all due respect to Connecticut's Ray
Allen, Massachusetts's Marcus Camby and Wake Forest's Tim
Duncan, the top player in the country was Georgetown sophomore
guard Allen Iverson. Take him away and Georgetown might have
struggled in its annual grudge match against Morgan State. With
Iverson the Hoyas are a Final Four threat--and perhaps the most
exciting team in the nation. He has almost single-handedly
revived the slumbering Georgetown program and shown remarkable
maturity after his troubled high school years.
Overachievers: Iowa State (23-8), which was picked to finish
eighth in the Big Eight, wound up second in the regular season
and then upset Kansas in the conference tournament; Boston
College (18-10), which was picked near the bottom of the 13-team
Big East but finished with the fifth-best record in a very tough
conference; and Clemson (18-10), which had four freshmen and one
sophomore on the floor most of the time but beat all of the
eight other ACC teams to make the NCAAs for the first time since
Underachievers: Virginia (12-15), which was picked to finish
third in the ACC, came in seventh and had its second losing
season in 19 years; Nebraska (16-13), which started 3-1 in the
Big Eight, then collapsed and finished a dissension-racked 4-10
in league play; and USC (11-19), which was a respectable 11-10
before athletic director Mike Garrett suddenly--and
unpardonably--fired coach Charlie Parker. The Trojans didn't win
Classiest Move of the Year: Utah coach Rick Majerus's flying to
El Paso to be with UTEP coach Don Haskins when Haskins underwent
triple-bypass surgery. Majerus, who had a septuple- bypass
operation in 1989, said, "I've been there. I know about the
doubts. I know about the apprehensions. I didn't care when the
surgery was going to be, I was going to be here."
Dumbest Move of the Year: Maryland's senior guard Duane
Simpkins, who accumulated approximately $8,000 in campus parking
fines and then tried to remain eligible by making a down payment
of $2,000 with a check from his former AAU coach. When Maryland
told him that under NCAA rules, it could not accept that check,
Simpkins deposited a new check and then wrote his own, thereby
still breaking the rules by accepting the loan. He was suspended
for three key February games.
Shot of the Season: Arizona guard Miles Simon's 65-foot heave to
beat Cincinnati at the buzzer on Feb. 11. The runner-up: Tulane
forward Jerald Honeycutt's falling-down, no-look 25-footer from
the corner to defeat Florida State 78-77 on Dec. 5.
The Feel-Good Award: After taking over at New Orleans following
the death of coach Tommy Joe Eagles two summers ago, Tic Price,
Eagles's friend and assistant at Auburn in 1993-94, went 20-11
in his first season but wasn't even invited to the NIT. This
year the Privateers took the suspense out of the process by
winning the Sun Belt tournament to automatically qualify for the
Quotes Worth Repeating: Louisiana State coach Dale Brown, whose
team struggled through a 12-17 season, reflecting on the
pressures of coaching: "[James] Naismith invented the thing, and
they fired him, so everyone's vulnerable."
Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins, explaining the improved play
of center Eddie Elisma: "Eddie fell in love. He plays much
better when he's in love."
COLOR PHOTO: BOB DONNAN No player staged a better comeback than Collins, who also helped Duke climb off the floor. [Chris Collins]
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Without Iverson (right) to drive them, the Hoyas might have been also-rans. [Allen Iverson]