Xavier senior point guard Gary Lumpkin stood in a hall at The
Crown in Cincinnati last Saturday night, his head bowed, his
voice barely audible as he acknowledged his painful role in the
No. 23 Musketeers' 71-57 loss to 14th-ranked Purdue: 1 for 7
from the floor, 0 for 5 from beyond the three-point arc, six
points, 11 turnovers. "I take 90 percent of the blame for the
loss," whispered Lumpkin. "I know I'm a good player. I just
can't understand this."
Last season Lumpkin guided Xavier to a 22-8 record and the
Atlantic 10 title. This season, through Sunday, his turnovers
were up (3.1 per game, from 2.3 in '97-98), his assists down
(4.0, from 4.5), and he had converted only 19.0% of his threes
for the 5-3 Musketeers. Though Lumpkin is sharing a backcourt
for a ninth year with Lenny Brown, a schoolmate since junior
high in New Castle, Del., the starting job he has held since his
sixth game as a freshman may be in jeopardy. "You'd think the
one thing this team would have would be consistency in the
backcourt, but that's not the case," says Musketeers coach Skip
Prosser. "The thing is, he's working hard, and technically he's
doing what he's supposed to be doing. It's baffling."
Though Lumpkin is the biggest X-factor at the moment for Xavier,
a preseason Top 25 pick, he isn't the only one. The Musketeers'
vaunted press has been impenetrable one moment and porous the
next. Their eight newcomers, including highly touted freshmen
Lloyd Price and Kevin Frey, have struggled to help senior
forward James Posey fill the shoes of NBA second-round draft
pick Torraye Braggs and last year's leading scorer, forward
Darnell Williams, who was lost for the season when he tore his
right ACL during the summer.
Xavier has also shown a curious lack of emotion. That
shortcoming was so evident in the Musketeers' 94-76 loss to
Pittsburgh in Puerto Rico last month that Prosser called a
two-hour team meeting in his hotel room immediately afterward.
"We watched a tape of the Pitt game and saw every time we
dropped our heads or didn't hustle to the bench," says Posey.
"Then we talked and got a lot of stuff off our chests. It
cleared the air."
Before leaving the island, Xavier beat Colorado 74-61 but then
lost again, to San Francisco, 82-69. As a result, a Dec. 2 game
against previously undefeated Miami of Ohio had a certain
do-or-die feel to it. When the Musketeers won 64-56, at
Cincinnati Gardens, students swarmed the court. "This team
really needed that," said Brown last Friday. "We were a Top 25
team, but we weren't walking around with confidence."
Well, Xavier isn't a Top 25 team anymore, having been dropped by
the polls this week. But that tumble might be exactly what the
Musketeers needs. "Two years ago we were trying to break into
the Top 25, and every game we had something to prove," says
Brown. "When it's about staying in the polls, we don't always
attack the same way. Sometimes we walk out on the court like,
We're Xavier, we're supposed to win. But right now, we're not
Valparaiso's Shooting Star
A Czech Makes His Mark
Last Saturday at Valparaiso, 6'7" freshman guard Lubos Barton
brought back fond memories for the Crusaders, nailing a
three-pointer with 2.0 seconds left to defeat Missouri-Kansas
City 66-63. Not only did his bomb conjure up images of the
buzzer-beating 23-footer that lifted 13th-seeded Valpo past
Mississippi in the first round of the NCAA tournament last
March, but it also extended the comparisons between Barton and
the launcher of that epic shot, Bryce Drew.
Barton, after all, has already proved to be a quicker draw than
Drew, at least in practice. Using one ball and one rebounder and
moving constantly along the three-point arc, Drew once made 100
treys in seven minutes and one second. Within two months of
arriving at Valparaiso from Ceska Lipa, the Czech Republic,
Barton had shattered that record by sinking 100 in 6:40. "I
didn't think we'd ever see someone do it in under seven
minutes," says coach Homer Drew, who designed the drill
specifically for son Bryce, a guard who graduated last spring
and was taken in the first round of the NBA draft by the Houston
Rockets. "Good shooters can do it in 10 or 11 minutes; really
good shooters in about eight minutes." What does that make
Barton? "A coach's dream," says Homer.
Barton isn't just a quick three. He scored 27 points in his
collegiate debut, a 67-61 upset of South Carolina, and through
Sunday he was averaging 15.1 points and 5.9 rebounds while
hitting 43.6% from beyond the arc for the 7-1 Crusaders. "What
makes Lubos special is that he does so many things well," says
Bryce, who has been working out at Valpo during the NBA lockout.
"He shoots well, defends well, has great court vision, and he
has arms that go on and on. And his teammates love him because
he passes the ball."
The son of an elementary school headmaster, Barton values
family, which is one reason he spurned Cal, Clemson and Virginia
and signed with the Crusaders. (He was soon joined by his older
brother, Jerry, who is now a team manager.) Aside from offering
a good education and a safe, small-town setting in northern
Indiana, Lubos says, Valparaiso is close to Chicago's large
Czech population and O'Hare airport. "From here I can get on a
plane home quickly," he says.
For now Barton is doing his part to help take the Crusaders, who
have nine newcomers, back to the NCAAs. And if any last-second
heroics should be required in the tournament? "I'm not promising
anything," says Barton, "but I'll try to be ready for it."
COLOR PHOTO: ALLEN KEE Though Xavier upended Jason Grunkemeyer and Miami, Lumpkin has often felt the weight of failure. [Jason Grunkemeyer falling backwards over Gary Lumpkin in game]