ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH
Asked about the difference between this year's Colorado team and
last year's, Faye Billups, the mother of Buffaloes sophomore
point guard Chauncey Billups, looks around the 11,198-seat Coors
Events Center in Boulder and points to her ears. "Earplugs," she
says, laughing. "I need to purchase earplugs. It gets so loud in
here now, and we're just not used to it."
Neither is anyone who's familiar with Colorado men's basketball
used to the suddenly limited ticket availability, the tight
parking around the arena or--most unusual--the Buffaloes'
incessant winning. After last Saturday's 70-45 victory over then
No. 8 Iowa State, which was without leading scorer Dedric
Willoughby (strained right hamstring) and, for most of the game,
coach Tim Floyd, who was ejected in the first half after arguing
a call, Colorado was 5-0 in the Big 12, 14-3 overall and ranked
18th in the nation, its first appearance in the Top 25 since
1969. "This is what I envisioned when I decided to come here,"
says Chauncey, Faye's oldest son and the biggest reason for the
Buffaloes' brilliance. "Having it loud, having it jam-packed, I
knew that could all happen at Colorado."
Anyone else who claims to have foreseen this emergence should
not be trusted. A year ago the Buffaloes were in the midst of
their 10th losing season in 12 years and drew roughly 4,000 fans
to most home games. And two years ago, when the 6'3" Billups, a
three-time Colorado high school player of the year and the
state's most esteemed schoolboy player ever, ignored the advice
of his buddies in Denver's Park Hill neighborhood and signed
with the Buffaloes so he could be close to his family, his
friends--and observers across the nation--said he was nuts.
Billups hasn't turned the Buffaloes around single-handedly. His
strong supporting cast includes senior forwards Fred Edmonds, a
childhood pal and high school teammate of Billups's, and Martice
Moore, a 6'7" transfer from Georgia Tech who was the 1993 ACC
Rookie of the Year. And the no-nonsense style of coach Ricardo
Patton, who was promoted from assistant when easygoing but
ineffective Joe Harrington resigned a year ago, has made the
team jell. "Under coach Patton we've had to grow up fast and
become disciplined," says Billups. "My game has matured, and my
shot selection has gotten much better." Thanks to Billups, who
was averaging 18.4 points and 6.0 assists a game through last
weekend, a team that had a horrendous 4-90 conference road
record between 1983-84 and 1995-96 is now fearsome when visiting
Big 12 opponents. Led by Billups's 28 points, Colorado won 87-78
at Missouri on Jan. 7. Four nights later Billups poured in
29--two of them coming on a game-winning buzzer-beater--as the
Buffaloes snapped then No. 20 Texas Tech's 35-game home winning
Billups has been a star on every team he has played with and has
seen his name in the papers on nearly a daily basis since ninth
grade. But he felt the backhand of fame last January when he got
arrested for swiping five video-rental coupons from the campus
bookstore. Knowing the story would make the evening news,
Billups immediately called his parents to apologize. He later
wrote an open letter of apology to the university chancellor and
the student body, promising to "never make a mistake like that
again." His punishment included 16 hours of community service
and a year's probation. Despite his promise Billups got in
trouble again in October, this time for charging to the
university $32 in long-distance calls. He was suspended from the
team for the first three games of the season. "Those were
mistakes, and I regret them," he says of these episodes. "But I
think they were blessings in disguise. Now I am fully aware that
every time I do anything, good or bad, somebody's watching."
And if the Buffaloes continue to succeed, it won't be just a
whole state watching, but a whole nation.
BIG MAN ON CAMPUS
Remember "Big Country" Bryant Reeves, the former Oklahoma State
center now with the NBA Grizzlies? Allow us to introduce "Big
Continent" Brad Millard of St. Mary's, so dubbed by post-player
guru Pete Newell because, says Newell, "he's much bigger than
Big Country." In fact, next to the 7'3", 335-pound Millard, the
7-foot, 275-pound Big Country is, well, small town.
"Brad is the biggest individual I've ever known," says Gaels
coach Ernie Kent, one of the few Division I coaches who
seriously recruited Millard when he played at Seattle's Blanchet
High. "A basketball looks like a softball in his hand. But he
has a good touch and is good getting up and down the court. How
people missed on him, I'll never know."
Last season, as a freshman, Millard averaged 2.0 points and 3.2
rebounds for St. Mary's; this season, after a summer that
included intensive weight training and a visit to Newell's Big
Man camp in Honolulu, Millard was averaging 11.5 points and a
team-high 7.0 rebounds through last weekend. His 61 blocks had
already set a school single-season record. "He's still a year
away from game-in, game-out domination, but he already changes
the game so much," says Kent. "NBA scouts say he'll be in the
league if he keeps improving."
Though Big Continent has a 30-year-old brother who's 6'6", his
father, Gary, is only 6'3", and his mom, Diane, is just 5'9". "I
entered high school at 6'3" and left at 7'1"," says Millard, who
adds that he eats less than most guys on the team.
"He has grown since he got here," says Kent. "Of course, it may
be because last year he walked around campus with his chin on
his chest, like he was trying to hide, and this year he walks
with his chin up."
"I've gained confidence," says Millard. "I'm a big guy, and I'm
not afraid to accept that now. You could say I've grown to like
RIDIN' THE GREEN WAVE
Tulane can be thankful that 6'7" senior forward Rayshard Allen
feels a strong affiliation with the Green Wave's class of '97.
He announced in September that he would take a redshirt year to
clear up academic difficulties and deal with the arrival of a
new son. Two months later, though, Allen decided he wanted to
play his final season with his senior teammates--who included
his best friend, fellow forward Jerald Honeycutt, and guards
Chris Cameron and Correy Childs--even though it would mean
giving up the opportunity to be Tulane's star next season. Upon
meeting first-semester academic requirements, Allen rejoined the
Green Wave on Dec. 21. Tulane has been nearly unstoppable since.
Without Allen the Green Wave had gone 5-4; at week's end it had
won seven straight and lost just one since the return of Allen,
who's now Tulane's No. 13 career scorer (1,302 points) and its
most accurate field goal shooter (58.5%) ever. He gives the team
a powerful inside presence that has freed the versatile, 6'9"
Honeycutt to step outside and polish his NBA lottery credentials
with performances like last Thursday's, in which he scored a
career-high 38 points in Tulane's 87-85 upset of then No. 14
"Rayshard gives us an added frontline player," says Honeycutt,
whose offensive production was curtailed by double-teaming
during Allen's absence. "It allows me to play small forward, and
we can get a high-low passing game going."
If the Green Wave's class of '97 can keep its winning streak
going, it could make a mark at the NCAAs in March.
COLOR PHOTO: TIM DEFRISCO After Marlon Hughes (12) and the Buffaloes knocked off No. 8 Iowa State, Colorado was ranked for the first time in 27 years. [Marlon Hughes in game]
COLOR PHOTO: ROD SEARCEY At 7' 3" and 335 pounds, Millard dwarfs his rivals and may make a big impression in the NBA.[Brad Millard in game]