One recent afternoon a visitor to Tulsa University's Mabee Gym
stumbled on a scene straight out of summer camp: The basketball
team was running two-man "wheelbarrow" races. Hightops dangled
in the air as the pairs plodded downcourt. What was next,
potato-sack races? Laughter filled the gym. "I learned a lot
about our team today," said coach Steve Robinson after the, umm,
workout. "We're really one unit, with everyone encouraging each
That couldn't be said of last year's 22-8 Golden Hurricane team;
some players were selfish on the court, and after practice most
went their separate ways. "This year there's more unity on and
off the court," says senior swingman Shea Seals, the team's top
scorer last season with an average of 17.1 points a game. "It
takes more than talent to win. You have to want to win together."
Though Tulsa has lost five lettermen who played significant
roles in the team's last two NCAA tournament appearances (1995
and '96), the Golden Hurricane has plenty of talent returning.
Four players with extensive starting experience are back. But
Tulsa, which will be playing in a tougher conference this year
(it has left the Missouri Valley Conference to join the WAC), is
young: Only Seals and 6'11" senior center Rafael Maldonado have
more than one year of Division I experience. And Maldonado, who
struggled last season with an ankle injury, did not begin
playing organized basketball until he was a high school junior.
Still, the players feel they can go further than the '95-96
team, which lost in overtime to Louisville in the first round of
Tulsa will probably run a three-guard offense with Seals, 6-foot
junior Rod Thompson (6.7 ppg) and freshman Adrian Crawford, who
averaged 19 points per game as a senior at Barberton High School
The Golden Hurricane is solid defensively--last year it ranked
eighth in the nation in field-goal-percentage defense, thanks in
large part to the play of 6'8" forward Michael Ruffin, who
averaged 7.7 rebounds and had a team-leading 46 blocked shots.
Ruffin's best game came in the tournament loss to Louisville,
when he scored 21 points and grabbed 16 rebounds. This year he
hopes to average a double double, an attainable goal if he just
keeps his valuable hands away from the jaws of his hungry pets.
Ruffin, a.k.a. the Zoo Man, has a South American alligator, as
yet unnamed, which will grow to about a foot and a half. His
python, Scruffy, will grow to about five feet; Muppet, his
African spurthigh tortoise, will reach 200 to 300 pounds. "Coach
Robinson tells me that I have to use one of those poles used to
change lightbulbs to feed them, and not my hands," says Ruffin.
In his office, Robinson keeps a picture of a pack of howling
wolves (they do not belong to Ruffin, we might add). "A pack of
wolves is stronger than one," says Robinson. "That's our theme
for this year. We have to play together like a pack of wolves."
A pack of wolves who like to wheelbarrow-race? Hey, whatever
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Ruffin is Tulsa's rebounding beast. [Michael Ruffin in game]
THE DATA BOX
Coach: Steve Robinson
Career record: 22-8 (one season)
Record at Tulsa: 22-8 (one season)
1995-96 record: 22-8 (final ranking: none)
MVC record: 12-6 (third)
PG *Rod Thompson, 6'0", Jr.
Tulsa's top free throw shooter, at 84.4%
SG Adrian Crawford, 6'5", Fr.
Son of assistant coach Coleman Crawford
SF *Shea Seals, 6'5", Sr.
To be Tulsa's first All-America since '85
PF *Michael Ruffin, 6'8", Soph.
Named to MVC all-newcomer team
C Rafael Maldonado, 6'11", Sr.
Has had at least 10 boards only three times
Nov. 20 at UCLA
Tulsa ousted Bruins from '94 NCAA tournament
Dec. 4 at Houston
Hurricane is 16-14 against rebuilding Cougars
Jan. 13 vs. Rice
First game in the WAC for the Golden Hurricane
Jan. 16 vs. New Mexico
All-WAC defender Charles Smith will shadow Seals
Jan. 27 at Utah
First meeting since Eisenhower administration