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Original Issue

Inside College Basketball

High Flyers
An 8-0 start that includes a victory over Kentucky has Dayton's
fortunes soaring

Sometimes a kiss is not just a kiss. Take the night of Nov. 29,
when unranked Dayton knocked off then No. 13 Kentucky 68-66 at
the Firstar Center in Cincinnati. Flyers athletic director Ted
Kissell, swept up in the hullabaloo loosed by Dayton's first win
against a ranked team in more than nine seasons, rushed the floor
along with hundreds of other Flyers fans. When he finally reached
coach Oliver Purnell, he kissed Purnell on the cheek. "We worked
so hard to make this happen," Kissell says. "It felt great being
the ones running on the floor." Then he adds glumly, "He didn't
kiss me back."

It's not that Purnell wasn't excited. "It was one of those
surreal moments, very satisfying," he says. It's just that given
how far Dayton has to go to regain the national prominence it
enjoyed in the 1960s and '70s, Purnell knows that excessive
celebration can be the kiss of death. "We try to teach our guys
to deal with success and adversity the same way," he says. "If
you're not careful, either one can bring you down."

Purnell has dealt with much more adversity than success in his
six years at Dayton, so the Flyers' 8-0 record through
Sunday--their best start in 34 years--represents a welcome
change. He suffered his first defeat before he had even coached
his first game there. In the fall of 1994, just months after he
was hired, the Great Midwest Conference announced it was
disbanding, and Dayton was the only member of the seven-team
league that wasn't asked to join the new Conference USA. "I
remember saying to my wife, 'What have we gotten ourselves
into?'" Purnell says.

Dayton, which joined the Atlantic 10 the following season,
hasn't made it to the NCAA tournament since 1990. It came close
two seasons ago, with a 21-12 record, but then fell to 11-17 in
a season marked by injuries, player suspensions and other
turmoil. That was capped off last summer by news that a
university trustee had given a $32,000 loan to the father of the
Flyers' top recruit, forward Brooks Hall. (The loan was repaid,
and the NCAA ruled that Hall could sign with Dayton --he's
averaging 12.0 points--but the Flyers still could face sanctions
over the incident.)

However, as 6'2" senior guard Edwin Young says, "It helps when
you're winning." Dayton opened the season by defeating New
Mexico 70-57 in Albuquerque, snapping the Lobos' 41-game home
winning streak against nonconference foes. Three players who are
starting for the third straight year--Young, 6'10" senior center
Mark Ashman and 6'4" junior guard Tony Stanley--give the Flyers
an experienced nucleus, and Purnell is going to great lengths to
foster harmony. Several times he has shown his players highlight
tapes of the reserves cheering from the bench.

"Everybody's putting his ego in his pocket," Young says. "Why
not? We're undefeated. Whatever coach says is the gospel."

Buffalo's Wild Week
Welcome to the Big Time, Coach

Three years ago Reggie Witherspoon was the basketball coach at
Sweet Home High in Buffalo. Three weeks ago he was the coach at
Erie Community College. On Dec. 4 Witherspoon was named the
interim coach at Buffalo and last week began his Division I
coaching career by facing North Carolina and Indiana in his
first two games. How's that for a vertical leap? "I feel like
I've gone inside my TV screen," Witherspoon says. "My previous
reality has been completely taken away."

His new players know how he feels. Their reality was first
altered in October, when Buffalo reported to the Mid-American
Conference that undisclosed infractions had been committed in
the basketball program. (The Buffalo News later reported that
coach Tim Cohane had allegedly conducted an illicit tryout for a
recruit.) That led to an open feud between Cohane and assistant
coach Eric (Rock) Eisenberg over Eisenberg's purported
cooperation with conference investigators. The two sat at
opposite ends of the bench during the first five games, and the
players were driven into opposing camps. On Dec. 1 eight players
reportedly told Buffalo's president and athletic director that
they might boycott the North Carolina game if Cohane wasn't

Cohane resigned two nights later, and the 38-year-old
Witherspoon, who had guided Erie Community to a 24-5 record and
a regional title last year, replaced him. (Eisenberg was
retained, but two other assistants--presumably loyal to
Cohane--were reassigned to positions outside the athletic
department.) The players, relieved that the soap opera was over,
tried to give North Carolina a dose of new reality three nights
later in front of the first sellout crowd in Alumni Arena's
17-year history. The Bulls took a five-point halftime lead and
had a one-point advantage with 16:26 left before the Tar Heels
pulled away to win 91-67. "We didn't have time to worry about
who we were playing," says guard Louis Campbell. "We just
enjoyed playing."

The evening was quite a whirlwind for Witherspoon, but three
days later he was still inside his TV screen, sitting on the
visitors' bench in Bloomington moments before last Friday
night's tip-off, with Bob Knight walking toward him. "My
assistants were joking that he would tell me to go back to the
locker room," Witherspoon says. He got to shake Knight's hand
again after the game, which Indiana won 106-55. "You're in a
tough situation," Knight told him. "I hope it works out for you."

Last Saturday night the Bulls lost to North Texas 102-91,
leaving Witherspoon oh-for-Division-I. It's worth noting,
however, that North Carolina and Indiana both lost the night
after they beat Buffalo (to Cincinnati and Indiana State,
respectively). Coincidence, perhaps, but at least it's a start.

Texas-Pan American
Long Shot Scores Big

Brian Merriweather, a 6'3" junior guard at Texas-Pan American,
knows from long shots. He came into this season as the nation's
leading returning scorer after averaging 23.7 points a year ago,
and he has picked up right where he left off, averaging 22.6
points through Sunday while hoisting 65.1% of his field goal
attempts from three-point range. "It's weird because I don't
really look to shoot three-pointers," says Merriweather, who is
converting 41.4% of his attempts from behind the arc. "I just
shoot from where I'm open."

That Merriweather got to play in Division I at all might have
been the biggest long shot. Coming out of North High in
Evansville, Ind., in 1996, he didn't qualify academically, so he
enrolled at Cumberland College, an NAIA school in Williamsburg,
Ky. At the end of his freshman year he sent videos to a
half-dozen coaches, hoping to transfer to an NCAA school. One of
those tapes got to George Morgan, who was then an assistant at
Western Kentucky. When Morgan moved on to Texas-Pan American
shortly thereafter, he called Merriweather and offered him a

Merriweather scored three points in his first game, but he
followed that by hitting double figures 26 straight times. After
he lit up DePaul for 27 points in December 1998, Blue Demons
coach Pat Kennedy said, "Merriweather's got to be on some
all-something team. He's got the quickest release I've seen in a
long time."

Merriweather's star quality has been the lone bright spot for
the Broncs of late. On Aug. 23 Texas-Pan American fired coach
Delray Brooks for allegedly depositing the $25,000 check the
Broncs got for a game against Southwest Missouri State into his
personal account (a charge Brooks denies). Under new coach Bob
Hoffman, the Broncs, who have not made the NCAA tournament in
their 31 years in Division I, are off to a 1-4 start and have
extended the nation's longest road losing streak to 62 games.
Merriweather says winning the scoring title isn't his top
priority, but at this point he doesn't have much else to shoot
for. "Sometimes it feels like I'm playing for nothing," he says.
"Until we start winning some games, I don't think I'll feel
complete as a player."

COLOR PHOTO: DAVID COYLE Nate Green beat Kentucky's Jules Camara to the basket in Dayton's biggest victory since 1990.


Folks at Clemson have to be wondering about the school's
investment in coach Larry Shyatt. When the Tigers signed Shyatt
to a five-year, $2 million contract in the spring of 1998, they
had to agree to fork over an additional $286,000 to buy out the
last four years of his five-year contract with Wyoming. Last
year Clemson finished 5-11 in the ACC despite starting four
seniors, and its 3-4 start this season includes home losses to
Wofford and South Carolina State....

Iowa created a lot of hoopla when it began the season by beating
Connecticut, but the Hawkeyes' record fell to 5-4 after last
Saturday's loss to Iowa State, while the Cyclones improved to

Even though it has played a ludicrously easy schedule so far,
LSU, which was 6-0 through Sunday, is a team to keep an eye on.
"I can't think of a team with a better one-two punch than Jabari
Smith and Stromile Swift," says Alabama coach Mark Gottfried.
The 6'9" Swift was averaging 20.7 points, and the 6'11" Smith
was averaging 16.3.