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Inside College Basketball

Long-sleeping Auburn is a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed 15-0

Auburn athletic director David Housel recalls a Tigers
basketball game in the early 1970s, during the unremarkable
tenure of coach Bill Lynn, at which Housel noticed a woman sound
asleep in Beard-Eaves Memorial Coliseum. The sight may not have
been so memorable to Housel had the woman not been Lynn's wife,

Martha Lynn stands as a symbol for Auburn basketball, which has
been somniferous for the vast majority of its 93 seasons. The
Tigers have won one SEC regular-season title, and that was 39
years ago. They have earned just five NCAA tournament
invitations, none of them since 1988. When Cliff Ellis became
coach in '94, fewer than 1,000 fans showed up for his first home
game. "I took over a team that had won just 11 games and had
lost two guys to the NBA, so I knew I had a lot of shaking hands
and kissing babies to do," Ellis says, "but I've always loved
the challenge of building a program when it's down."

Ellis, 53, who had coached with middling success at South
Alabama and Clemson, arrived preaching a five-year plan. Sure
enough, this is his fifth season, and the Tigers were 15-0
through Sunday and ranked eighth. Last week Ellis proudly showed
off a recent note from Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins that
read, "Cliff...Auburn #15! What the hell is going on? You the

The Tigers are a blue-collar team that leads the SEC in
rebounding, steals and scoring defense, featuring ball hawks
like junior point guard Doc Robinson and 7-foot junior shot
blocker Mamadou N'diaye. The offense is fueled by forward Chris
Porter, a 6'7", 218-pound transfer from Chipola Junior College
in Marianna, Fla., who may be Auburn's best recruit since
Charles Barkley. Porter, who was producing a team-leading 16.7
points and 8.7 rebounds a game, grew up in Abbeville, Ala.,
idolizing Barkley, and while he isn't quite as round a mound as
Sir Charles was in his college days, his ability to clear space
in the lane for easy baskets is reminiscent of Barkley's.
"Auburn hasn't had a lot of success since Barkley left [in
1984]," Porter says. "Since I was a little kid, I've dreamed of
playing a part in making Auburn a winner again."

As the Tigers have crept up the rankings, they have encountered
skeptics. Before Auburn's Jan. 2 game against Tennessee, Vols
coach Jerry Green said of the Tigers' spotless record, "I think
that has more to do with scheduling than Auburn being good." The
Tigers thumped Tennessee 90-68 for their most lopsided win over
the Vols in 71 years. Four days later Auburn defeated No. 19
Arkansas 83-66 for its first victory over a ranked team this
season. "The Tigers are for real," Razorbacks coach Nolan
Richardson said after the game. "It's a long season, but from a
talent standpoint there's no question that they're a top 10
team." Auburn survived another test last Saturday night by
rallying from a 19-point deficit in the final 10:30 to defeat
LSU 73-70. It was their first win in their last 11 games in
Baton Rouge.

The football-crazed fans in Auburn are gradually being
converted. At the University Barber Shop on College Street,
barber Bubba Bowling insists talk of basketball is outnumbering
discussions of football recruiting and hunting for the first
January he can remember. The standing-room-only crowds for the
games against Tennessee and Arkansas represented the Tigers'
first back-to-back sellouts in 31 years. Joyous Auburn fans
stormed the court after the latter victory, eager to celebrate
after a miserable 3-8 football season during which coach Terry
Bowden resigned.

On the misty morning after the Tigers' win over the Razorbacks,
Auburn senior guard Bryant Smith was walking downtown for
breakfast when he noticed that fans had littered the trees at
Toomer's Corner with toilet paper, a customary football victory
ritual that had scarcely ever been performed during basketball
season. "I said to myself, It's about time," Smith says. "That's
the moment I really started believing that Auburn could be a
basketball school."

Lady Vols (Cough) Rising

Tennessee senior forward Chamique Holdsclaw had made five of her
first six shots when she struggled to the bench five minutes
into last Sunday's showdown at No. 1 Connecticut. "My chest is
burning," she complained. Then Holdsclaw, the reigning national
player of the year, made like George Bush in Japan and vomited a
bellyful of mucus into a towel. Moments later Lady Vols
sophomore guard Semeka Randall came to the sideline and, rising
to the challenge, also hurled--right onto the floor in the
northeast corner of Gampel Pavilion.

It wasn't long before the Lady Vols finally purged themselves
just as completely of their hard-to-stomach 78-68 upset loss to
Purdue on Nov. 15, which had knocked them out of the No. 1
ranking. Before an SRO crowd of 10,027, a few of whom paid $200
a ticket, Holdsclaw and Randall fought off their stomach
ailments and finished with 25 points each in a 92-81 win over
the Huskies. The victory ended UConn's 54-game home court
winning streak--the nation's longest for women or men--and
reestablished 13-1 Tennessee as the favorite to win the national
title, which would be its fourth in as many years. "We needed to
quit saying what we were going to do and get out there and do
it," Randall said. "Against Purdue we were going through the
motions, playing with blank stares on our faces. Today we showed
that we still have heart. We're still a dominant team."

No player had needed a re-awakening more than Holdsclaw. On Jan.
3, in her homecoming to New York City, where she had led Christ
the King High to a 106-4 record, four state titles and one
national crown, she played her worst game of the season, scoring
eight points in a 68-54 defeat of Rutgers at Madison Square
Garden. "I just kind of sat around in that game," Holdsclaw said
on Sunday between wheezes that made her sound like a mating
walrus. "It wasn't like I couldn't do anything. I didn't even
try." Holdsclaw's meekness had led to a harangue in practice
last week from coach Pat Summitt, who challenged her to play for
40 minutes. "No one can stop you off the dribble," Summitt told
Holdsclaw, "but you have to attack!"

Despite her illness, Holdsclaw had 16 points at halftime on
Sunday. She'd scored on a battery of moves against double- and
triple-teaming, from baseline jumpers to in-the-lane leaners to
bull-rush layups. What's more, her timing in the second half was
impeccable. Her five consecutive points with less than eight
minutes remaining helped Tennessee to a 70-68 lead, and the Vols
outscored UConn 22-13 down the stretch. "We had someone near her
every time she took a shot in the second half," said UConn coach
Geno Auriemma, who looked as if he wanted to throw up too.

As Holdsclaw stepped outside into the cold New England air, she
coughed one last time and considered the shift in the balance of
power. "This is a big win," she said. "We just beat the Number 1
team in the country." She was right, of course, but she also
sounded as if she knew who was No. 1 all along. --Grant Wahl

John Thompson Resigns

John Thompson has long kept a deflated basketball in his office
at Georgetown's McDonough Arena to symbolize just how fleeting
the game can be. "Get an education," Thompson implored his
players when they inquired about the ball, "because once this
thing loses its nine pounds of air, you still have a future."
For the time being, anyway, it's Thompson's turn to contemplate
his life after basketball. Last Friday, flanked by dozens of
current and former players, including Patrick Ewing, Alonzo
Mourning and Dikembe Mutombo, Thompson announced that, after 27
years as the Hoyas coach, he was throwing in the
towel--presumably the ubiquitous white one that he often had
draped over a shoulder as he worked the sideline.

Befitting a man who has always been fiercely private--his media
guide bio lists neither his birth date, his hobbies nor the names
of his children--Thompson's curiously timed resignation was
shrouded in mystery. His initial explanation was only that "I
need to address things in my personal life." But before
speculation ran rampant, Thompson elaborated that his decision
was prompted by marital strife.

In September 1997, Thompson filed for divorce from his wife of
more than 32 years, Gwendolyn. She, in turn, filed a
counterclaim in which she alleged that, since their separation
in September 1996, John failed to share marital property with
her (including proceeds from the sale of their house for
$325,000 in 1997) and that he "refused general requests as well
as specific requests for help," including the payment of her
dental bills. John's attorney, Savalle Sims, said on Monday that
her client has no comment on the allegations.

At the hastily convened press conference to announce his
departure, Thompson stressed repeatedly that he was merely
resigning from his coaching position and not retiring. Taking
his place was Craig Esherick, a former Hoyas player, a graduate
of Georgetown Law School and a 17-year Thompson acolyte, who was
to receive a multiyear contract. Esherick was ambivalent about
succeeding his mentor, but in many ways the timing couldn't be
better for him. The Hoyas were off to an 0-4 start in the Big
East under Thompson, so expectations were hardly lofty for the
rest of the season, and Esherick had a successful debut last
Saturday as Georgetown upended Providence 75-70. Help is also on
the way next year when the Hoyas will welcome their most highly
regarded recruiting class in some time, anchored by 6'10" Wesley
Wilson of Vallejo, Calif. "I'm excited about the challenge,"
says Esherick, "but I realize I'm a complete fool to follow in
[Thompson's] footsteps."

Indeed, Thompson's career was burnished with excellence. In 1984
he became the first African-American coach to win an NCAA title,
and four years later he was the coach of the U.S. Olympic team.
He has won 596 games, and his record for developing elite big
men is matched perhaps only by John Wooden's. Thompson's teams,
typified by asphyxiating defense and a merciless, mirthless
disposition, didn't endure a losing season in the past quarter
century. Thompson's ultimate legacy, however, might be that of
an outspoken advocate for minority athletes, a proponent of
tough love who disdained public scrutiny of his program and
encouraged his players "to take a stand." At its worst that
advice produced the belligerence that came to be known as Hoya
Paranoia. On the other hand it was hardly coincidence that the
two most vocal union reps in the NBA lockout negotiations were
Thompson proteges, Ewing and Mourning.

Thompson's bluster, however, was leavened by his unstinting
loyalty to his players, many of whom he regarded as sons. One of
college basketball's most enduring images is that of Thompson
tenderly hugging Fred Brown after Brown's mental miscue
effectively cost the Hoyas the 1982 NCAA championship. It's a
bit ironic that rancorous legal proceedings involving his family
necessitated Thompson's resignation. "Coach always talked about
'the [Georgetown] family,' and we always knew he was there for
us," says Jaren Jackson, an NBA free agent who played for
Thompson in the late '80s. "Maybe now it's our turn to support
him a little bit"--at least until his basketball is again filled
with air. --L. Jon Wertheim


DePaul's Alumni Hall is located on Ray Meyer Drive, across the
street from where the $12 million Ray Meyer Fitness and
Recreation Center is being constructed. At a banquet held on the
court in Alumni Hall last Saturday night, DePaul inducted each
member of the Blue Demons' 1979 Final Four team into its Hall of
Fame in honor of the 20th anniversary of those Blue Demons. It
should have been a propitious occasion to fete the man known
simply as Coach Ray, who during his 42 years as the DePaul coach
embodied Blue Demons basketball. Ray, however, chose not to
attend, indicating he still harbors ill will toward the athletic
department over the way the school treated his son, Joey, who
was fired as coach in April 1997, after having had a 3-23 record
in his 13th season.

"I wouldn't feel comfortable there," Ray, 85, said two days
before the banquet. "I don't say the university wasn't justified
in firing Joey, but I'm not happy with what went on behind the
scenes. I don't think Joey had the backing of the university
during his last few years."

It's no secret that Joey and athletic director Bill Bradshaw did
not see eye to eye toward the end of Joey's time as coach.
Bradshaw, who came to DePaul in 1986, insists now that Meyer had
"full and complete backing [from the university] in every way."
However, Bradshaw did little to quell rampant speculation during
Meyer's last few seasons that his job was in jeopardy as the
losses mounted and the program was placed on one year's
probation for NCAA violations.

Meyer also had to contend with a university policy mandating
that athletes maintain a 2.0 cumulative academic average
throughout the season. The 1995-96 team started out
7-3--including a big win at Indiana--before two of its best
players, Juan Gay and Charles Gelatt, were ruled academically
ineligible for the rest of the season. The Blue Demons lost
their next 13 games. Meyer's successor, Pat Kennedy, doesn't
have to worry about being similarly snakebit because the
cumulative-average policy was dropped in the fall of '97.
Bradshaw says the decision to do so had been in the works for
several years.

To his credit Kennedy has proved he can do what Joey could not:
recruit Chicago. DePaul's freshman class, one of the best in the
nation, includes three Windy City natives in guard Quentin
Richardson and forwards Bobby Simmons and Lance Williams.
Another formidable group has already signed letters of intent
for next year. Yet Kennedy, whose team was 8-6 through Sunday,
says his recruiting efforts have been sabotaged by people
faithful to the Meyers. "I was unprepared for that coming in,"
he says.

Ray plans to be in attendance when the recreation center bearing
his name opens within the next year or so. "I'd do anything for
that building. That's for the students," he says. While he
doesn't rule out a reconciliation with DePaul's athletic
department, it doesn't appear that will happen soon. "I would
never say never," he says, "but it's not the proper time for me.
Let's just say, I haven't gotten over everything yet." --Seth

For the latest scores, polls and recruiting news, check out

COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO Tigers Daymeon Fishback and Adrian Chilliest stormed the boards in the defeat of Arkansas.

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN Disarming D by Teresa Geter and Michelle Snow helped hand UConn its first home loss since 1996.


Last week's report ended with a note of skepticism about the
lofty standing of the Big Ten in our rankings, and, sure enough,
the conference of the big shoulders underwent great upheaval
this week. Indiana, which was a third seed, lost to Michigan and
Ohio State, and dropped out of the rankings. Michigan State
slipped a peg to a No. 3 seed, thanks to its road defeat at the
hands of Wisconsin, and Purdue nearly vanished from the poll
when it also fell to the Badgers. There was good news for the
Big Ten, however: Ohio State was the biggest winner of the week,
vaulting to a share of the league lead and a No. 4 seed in our
poll with its victory over the Hoosiers.

Another big winner was Auburn, which leaped from a four seed to
a two on the strength of its demolition of Arkansas. Arizona
improved as well, moving up to a No. 2 by knocking off USC,
Washington State and Washington, while UCLA fell a notch, to a
No. 3 seed, with a lackluster week that included a loss at
Oregon State.

The most surprising development was the lone vote cast for
Toledo (9-2) as a No. 4 seed. Don't laugh. The Rockets were
ranked 11th in the RPI last week, were rated ninth in strength
of schedule and had a 5-0 record at week's end against top 100
teams in the RPI. They're worth keeping an eye on.

1. Connecticut (13-0)
2. Auburn (15-0)
3. North Carolina (14-3)
4. Ohio State (13-3)

1. Cincinnati (15-0)
2. Kentucky (14-3)
3. UCLA (11-3)
4. Purdue (13-3)

1. Duke (15-1)
2. Arizona (11-1)
3. Iowa (12-1)
4. Kansas (11-3)

1. Stanford (13-2)
2. Maryland (15-2)
3. Michigan State (12-4)
4. St. John's (13-3)