PLAYER OF THE YEAR
For his scoring and other reasons, Arizona's Jason Terry is the
Early in his freshman season Arizona point guard Jason Terry
paid a visit to a Tucson tattoo parlor. For half an hour he
flipped through page after page of the usual designs--hearts,
crosses, roses (yawn)--until his eyes fixed on the cartoon
superhero Underdog. Perfect. "I wanted the tattoo to mean
something," says Terry, showing off his Underdogged left
deltoid, "and that's how I feel every time I step on the court."
Before we explain why Terry, now a senior, has become the
biggest superhero in college basketball, know this: He didn't
start last season, and this year he wasn't even a third-team
preseason All-America pick. There's more to his rise to
prominence than his stats, too, although Terry was leading the
Pac-10 in points (22.2 per game) and assists (5.6) through
Sunday while almost single-handedly leading the No. 13 Wildcats
to a 20-6 record.
The primary reason that Terry is SI's choice for player of the
year is: No other player in the country is as crucial to his
team's success. After backing up the departed Mike Bibby and
Miles Simon for the past two years, Terry heads a starting
lineup that includes three freshmen and senior A.J. Bramlett, a
serviceable but hardly dominating center. Five of the Wildcats'
top nine players are freshmen. "If Jason wasn't here, we'd be
10-14," says coach Lute Olson. "Given that he has so many
inexperienced players around him, it's the best job I've ever
had a point guard do in my 26 years in Division I." Keep in mind
that Olson's alumni at the point include Bibby, Steve Kerr,
Khalid Reeves and Damon Stoudamire.
Among the other top candidates, Connecticut's Richard Hamilton
proved not to be indispensable; the Huskies won at Stanford
without him. The same can be said of Duke's Elton Brand and
Trajan Langdon; remove either of them from the lineup, and the
Blue Devils would still be a top 5 team. Terry's closest rival
is probably Utah point guard Andre Miller, who has also carried
a rebuilding team to surprising heights, but Terry has better
numbers than Miller (who averaged 16.0 points and 5.8 assists in
the regular season) and plays in a far tougher conference.
Besides, who would you want to take your last shot? Terry has
given Arizona a tie or the lead in the last 10 seconds three
times this season.
Terry used to be known best for his appearance. With his hangdog
shorts and knee-high, four-ply tube socks, he shows less leg
than an Amish grandmother. (Terry even slept in his get-up,
shoes and all, the night before the last four games of Arizona's
1997 national championship run.) But this year he has
demonstrated a game to match his fashion sense, having unveiled
a lethal long-range jumper to go with his hyperquick penetration
moves. "Anyone who tells you he could have foreseen Jason
scoring this many points would be lying," says Ron Drayton,
Terry's coach at Seattle's Franklin High, where Terry won two
state titles but never averaged more than 17 points a game.
Terry says that as the season has wound down, he has kept track
of Miller's exploits on the tube. And on the wall next to
Terry's bed is a newspaper article with Miller's picture and the
headline utah runs over arizona, a reminder of the Utes' upset
of the Wildcats in last year's West Regional final. "It's been
up there since three days after the game," Terry says.
In lieu of a rematch on the floor, Terry has made do with a Sony
PlayStation, to which he devotes at least 40 hours every week
playing video games, including a college basketball game that
features a pixel version of him starring for Arizona. "They made
me real good on that game," he says. "I've got some moves and a
nice little jump shot." The game, of course, was made before
this season, meaning one thing: Its designers were the only ones
who didn't underestimate the player of the year.
Samford Wins the Trans Am
THE PRINCETON OF THE SOUTH
Samford's second-year coach, Jimmy Tillette, has a passion for
things classical. He named his son Tristan after the hero of
Wagner's opera Tristan and Isolde. During practices and press
conferences he quotes from philosophers such as Schopenhauer and
Kant. He conducts meetings with players in his office while
strains of Beethoven or Chopin play in the background.
Since taking over the Bulldogs in the spring of 1997, Tillette
has also been striving to re-create one of college basketball's
classics: former Princeton coach Pete Carril's offense, a
complex system of cuts and screens designed to create backdoor
layups and open three-pointers. Samford has been a work in
progress the last two years, but its performance in last
Saturday's Trans America Athletic Conference tournament final at
Veterans Memorial Coliseum in Jacksonville was a masterpiece.
The Bulldogs shot 63% from the floor--including 11 of 21 from
three-point range--and had 24 assists on 29 field goals in an
89-61 thrashing of Central Florida. The win gave Samford, a
Baptist school in Birmingham, its first NCAA tournament bid. "It
all fell into place," Tillette said. "At one point in the second
half I had tears in my eyes."
Tillette, 48, began toying with the idea of installing Carril's
system while serving as a Bulldogs assistant for six years under
John Brady, who's now the coach at LSU. When Princeton and
Samford played at the Iowa State Holiday Classic in December
1995, Tillette went out to dinner with Carril and his then
assistant Bill Carmody and picked their brains. Tillette has
twice visited Tigers practices since Carmody took over for
Carril in the spring of '96. However, the Bulldogs were the
youngest team in Division I last year, with five freshmen and
five sophomores, and they had trouble grasping the offense's
complexities. Samford went 9-7 in the TAAC (14-13 overall) and
lost 94-70 to Central Florida in the first round of the
conference tournament. "We were babies," Tillette says, "but I
wanted to start teaching this offense then, because I knew the
kids would be back."
The Bulldogs have certainly played like grown-ups this season.
Carril's offense requires the big men to pass from the high post
and shoot from outside, and Samford's front line has done plenty
of both. Reed Rawlings, a 6'7" junior forward, is the Bulldogs'
leading scorer (16.6 points a game) and was the league's player
of the year, and last Saturday 6'9" sophomore forward Marc
Salyers had 22 points, shot 3 for 4 from beyond the arc, pulled
down eight rebounds and delivered eight assists--often to
teammates who had made very Princeton-like backdoor cuts. The
Bulldogs reeled off 13 straight conference wins en route to a
15-1 league record and their first regular-season conference
championship. They led the nation in three-pointers made per
game (9.5) and were sixth in field goal shooting (50.1%). "When
we play well, it's like synchronized swimming," Salyers says.
"Everyone knows where everyone else is."
On Saturday, Tillette canceled the Bulldogs' early-morning
shootaround and instead held a brief walk-through on a tennis
court outside the team's hotel. "Last year at this time we were
still having 21/2-hour practices," Rawlings said after the game.
Indeed, if there's one thing the Bulldogs demonstrated, it's
that they are no longer babies. "I looked up at the scoreboard
with about four minutes left," Rawlings said. "Central Florida
killed us in this tournament last year, and there we were doing
the same thing to them. That's when it hit me how far we've come."
Big South Final
WINTHROP'S IN THE DANCE
Last April 2, 10 minutes before he was introduced as Winthrop's
coach, Gregg Marshall met his new players for the first time and
issued a challenge: "Those of you who don't believe we can get
to the NCAA tournament next spring, don't follow me into this
The Eagles glanced at one another incredulously. "Playing for
Winthrop had always seemed like you were stuck in this deep hole
that you couldn't climb out of," forward Heson Groves says, "so
you can't blame us for thinking he was a little crazy."
Marshall, who spent the last two years as an assistant at
Marshall University and eight seasons before that as an
assistant to John Kresse at the College of Charleston, was
taking over a team that had just finished 7-20, hadn't had a
winning season since 1989-90 and after 14 years in the Big South
had never finished in the top half of the league standings.
However, among the new additions to Marshall's team was Tyson
Waterman, a talented 6-foot junior point guard who had
transferred out of Winthrop in 1997 after being suspended for
academic reasons. After a year away from basketball while
attending Winston-Salem State, Waterman phoned Marshall last
spring and begged to come back. The coach's wife, Lynn, tutored
Waterman over the summer to help him regain his eligibility, and
when he returned to the Eagles last fall, Waterman changed his
number from 14 to 41 to symbolize his reversal in attitude.
Marshall also discovered Eric Fisher, a former Mauldin (S.C.)
High teammate of Kevin Garnett's, in a campus pickup game and
invited him to try out for the Eagles. Junior forward Jacques
Vandescure, from Brussels by way of Eastern Wyoming junior
college, was recruited after Marshall saw a videotape of him
playing. And Eyo (Bubbles) Effiong, a 6'9" center from Lagos,
Nigeria, signed on when Winthrop assistant coach Jeff Meyer, who
had first seen him in 1995, tracked him down by E-mail in Beirut.
Winthrop, which until 1974 was a teacher's college for women
only, is located in Rock Hill, S.C. In the Big South preseason
polls it was picked to finish last, but it ended up 19-7 and won
the regular-season title with a 9-1 conference record. Before
the final of the Big South tournament in Asheville, N.C.,
Marshall's speech to his team harked back to April 2 and
underscored the precious chance to fulfill that unlikely
prophecy. Waterman scored 25 points, including 13 of 14 from the
free throw line; Groves got 19 rebounds; and Winthrop erased a
nine-point second-half deficit to defeat Radford 86-74 and earn
its first NCAA bid on Marshall's 36th birthday. "It's the best
birthday present I've ever gotten," Marshall said after cutting
down the net. "These guys are giving this young coach a
storybook ending to a fairy-tale season."
Could that fairy tale be Cinderella? --Tim Crothers
College of Charleston
THE SEEDS OF DISCONTENT
After a 77-67 victory over Appalachian State in the Southern
Conference tournament final on Sunday raised the College of
Charleston's record to 28-2, Cougars coach John Kresse said he
felt his 16th-ranked team had been playing not for an NCAA bid
but rather to maximize its seeding in the tournament.
Kresse believes these Cougars are comparable to his 1996-97
team, which also entered the NCAA tournament at 28-2 and ranked
16th in the polls, yet received a No. 12 seed. "That was
preposterous and unfair," said Kresse, who guided Charleston to
a first-round upset against Maryland in the '97 tournament. "I
hope the NCAA is kinder to us this year. If Princeton [with a
26-1 record and No. 8 poll ranking] could be a five seed last
year, then why can't we be a five?"
The fear in Charleston is that because the Cougars have an RPI
of 37, the selection committee will split the difference on the
seeding and make Charleston between a No. 7 and No. 10 seed,
which probably would oblige it to defeat a No. 2 seed to reach
the Sweet 16 for the first time. A No. 5, 6, 11 or 12 seed would
keep the Cougars clear of No. 1 and No. 2 seeds in the first two
Kresse says that Charleston, which has the best winning
percentage in the nation over the last six seasons, no longer
considers itself an underdog and doesn't wish to be seeded like
one. In the Cougars' locker room after Sunday's win, Kresse
borrowed from legendary St. John's coach Joe Lapchick and
scribbled on the blackboard, Today gentlemen, we walk with kings.
That's great, but Kresse doesn't want to play any kings until he
has to. --T.C.
A SOLDIER LEADS THE PATRIOTS
One player who's not likely to panic under the pressure of the
NCAAs is George Evans, the star sophomore center for George
Mason, which clinched its first NCAA bid in 10 years with a
63-58 win over Old Dominion in the Colonial Athletic Association
tournament final on Sunday. Evans is a 28-year-old gulf war
veteran. In 1991 he and three U.S. soldiers were on patrol in
Saudi Arabia when they were surprised from behind by eight Iraqi
soldiers. But before the Americans could react, the Iraqis
dropped their weapons, surrendered and begged for food.
This season, two years after finishing his seven-year tour, the
6'7" Evans was the league player of the year, averaging 17.8
points to earn the devotion of Patriots fans. As they celebrated
their victory on Sunday, many in the crowd honored their war
hero by wearing fatigues. --G.W.
For the latest scores and recruiting news, plus Seth Davis's
College Hoops Mailbag, check out www.cnnsi.com.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Terry likes to see himself as an underdog, but this season he has been the top cat nationally.
COLOR PHOTO: MICHAEL T. MYERS Vandescure hit the glass as Winthrop outboarded rival Radford 43-31.
COLOR PHOTO: JIM GUND Salyers put the finishing touch on Samford's win in the Trans Am final.
The Envelopes, Please
Here are SI's picks for the top awards for men and women in the
Andre Miller, Utah
Jason Terry, Arizona
Evan Eschmeyer, Northwestern
Elton Brand, Duke
Wally Szczerbiak, Miami (Ohio)
Becky Hammon, Colorado State
Stephanie White-McCarty, Purdue
Dominique Canty, Alabama
Tamika Catchings, Tennessee
Chamique Holdsclaw, Tennessee
PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR
MEN: Steve Francis, Maryland
WOMEN: Tamika Williams, Connecticut
COACHES OF THE YEAR
MEN: Cliff Ellis, Auburn
WOMEN: Carolyn Peck, Purdue
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
Alas, just when things were starting to get really interesting,
we're forced to conclude our poll and turn matters over to the
real NCAA Selection Committee this Sunday. We assume that just
like us, the real committee members will be torn over certain
matters that only the conference tournaments can resolve. Our
pollsters were split over where to send Connecticut and Auburn,
and it's likely that the Tigers will have to advance as far in
the SEC tournament as UConn does in the Big East to retain the
top seed in the South. (Neither can relax, however, because
there was also some sentiment for Maryland's taking a No. 1 seed
if it can miraculously win the ACC tournament, and some voters
still see Stanford as a threat to get the top rating in the West.)
Utah continued its late charge up the rankings with its
impressive 77-47 pasting of New Mexico, and while some members
of our committee pointed out the Utes' dearth of quality wins,
it still seems possible for Utah to grab a No. 2 seed with an
impressive showing in the WAC tournament. If you're wondering
whether it makes much difference if a team is a two or three
seed, keep in mind that every national champion in the 1990s has
been a first or second seed except one (fourth-seeded Arizona in
'97). All of which goes to show the real beauty of college
basketball, namely that so many of the games still have meaning
as conference play goes down to the wire.
1. Duke (29-1)
2. Miami (21-5)
3. Ohio State (22-7)
4. Kentucky (22-8)
1. Auburn (26-2)
2. Maryland (25-4)
3. St. John's (23-7)
4. Arizona (20-6)
1. Michigan State (26-4)
2. Cincinnati (25-4)
3. UCLA (21-7)
4. Indiana (22-9)
1. Connecticut (25-2)
2. Stanford (24-5)
3. Utah (24-4)
4. North Carolina (23-7)