Everyone Wants the Net

For the first time in years the battle for the national title is wide open, but Michigan is favored to cut the cords after the final buzzer
November 29, 1976

At the start ofanother season of college hoop-ee, you can count on the following things. Withthe dunk back, along about the first week some dude will soar so high he willstick in the scoreboard like a quivering dart. Shortly thereafter, Indiana willhave to hire a designated seamstress to mend the jerseys Bobby Knight tears offhis players. An NCAA investigator disguised as a keno runner will climb out ofa Las Vegas air-conditioning duct. Bernard King's car will be arrested forcontributing to the delinquency of a basketball player. And the Legal AidSociety, the ACLU or Baretta will file, issue and append 1,634 injunctions,restraining orders and subclauses. This is a game of the courts as well as bythe courts and on the courts.

The main thing isthat the dunk has been rehabilitated after doing a nine-year term for being anillegal weapon. Be showtime. Also, Richard Washington of UCLA and AdrianDantley of Notre Dame are gone, having taken one of the last trains fromHardship Junction. Be missed. And while Gerald Ford is on his way out, his almamater certainly won't need a presidential pardon. Michigan be ready. Finally,the NCAA has done it again. It held last year's tournament in Philadelphia forthe Bicentennial and it installed this year's at the Omni in Atlanta for JiminyPeanut.

Although Indianais the defending champion, the Hoosiers lost four starters to the pro ranks,and it would have been five had not Kent Benson shrugged the money-changers offhis broad back. Now someone will have to devise a way to get the opposition offthe big redhead's shoulders as the pigeons of years past come home toroost.

Michigan isfavored to win the national title after a year in which it was all-runner-up—inthe NCAA, in the Big Ten, even in a holiday tournament in Las Vegas. But theWolverines return with a cast that includes Rickey Green, who threw his nameinto the hardship hat, then pulled it out; Phil Hubbard, an Olympian; andrugged Steve Grote, who could use his nose as a diamond cutter.

Unlike yearspast, however, there is no overwhelming favorite. Any of 10 teams could win thetitle. In fact your name is Jeanne Dixon if you can pick the winners of morethan three conference races, plus the number of teams that will be in the MetroSix—uh, Seven—next year.

The SoutheasternConference race seems particularly close. Auburn, Mississippi State and Georgiaeach have four starters returning, but they all figure to trail Tennessee andAlabama, who in turn should follow Kentucky.

AlthoughMarquette will be making its 11th straight trip to postseason play, Nevada, LasVegas is the class of the independents and a threat to be the firstnon-conference school to win the title since Texas Western did it in 1966, eventhough senior Jackie Robinson recently hurt his ankle and is out for the year.Vegas will benefit from the new dunk rule as much as anyone: every one of theRebels can throw it down. Of course, with the NCAA currently investigating theuniversity, the Deposition Five may have to win its national title in the pollsinstead of in the Omni.

Arkansas isfavored in the Southwest Conference for the first time in 30 years; the YankeeConference is no more; the Missouri Valley Conference loses its first name; andNew Mexico will have a team. Last year the Lobos demanded that Coach NormEllenberger resign. When he didn't, they did, and Ellenberger recruited almostan entire new squad.

Philadelphia isknown as the City of Brotherly Love, and Villanova agrees. It has threebrothers on its team, Reggie, Keith and Larry Herron. One player who neverseems to be anywhere long is Sam (the Migrant) Drummer, who was reported at orin the vicinity of Indiana, Gardner-Webb and Austin Peay before his freshmanyear. Now Drummer has transferred from Austin Peay to Georgia's DeKalb (South)Community College, where he is still studying road maps and figuring how to getto Georgia Tech.

For teams missingin action, consider Long Beach State, Seattle and Mississippi State. Ignored inmost polls, each of the clubs could be a surprise. Seattle has 7' frosh JawannOldham, while Mississippi State might have the best new big man in the countryin Ricky Brown.

Buffalo's SamPellom will defend his rebounding title, but Indiana State junior DeCarsta(Byrd) Webster could nose him out, having once hit his nose on the rim during agame. Also back to defend titles will be Arkansas' Sidney Moncrief (field goalpercentage), Loyola's Tad Dufelmeier (free-throw percentage) and Texas CoachAbe Lemons (joke percentage). Lemons moves from Pan American and hopes torebuild a broken program; Eldon Miller, who coached Western Michigan so welllast season, is trying to do the same thing with a new chalkboard at OhioState. For another coach, the switch is a bit different. Ray Scott, who coachedthe Detroit Pistons last year, is now at Eastern Michigan, where he also is astudent. Can a coach be put on probation for poor grades?

This season couldbe remembered for something besides victories. The recent merger of the NBA andABA may have dealt a mortal blow to the hardship draft. True, Washington andDantley were among the seven players that left college early via the NBA draft,but that figure is only half of the 1975 total. Also, Green of Michigan,Marques Johnson of UCLA and King of Tennessee all reneged on their desires forW-2 forms and withdrew their names from the draft. "The merger is the bestthing that has happened," said Tennessee Coach Ray Mears.

Mears made thatstatement several months ago, relieved that he would have King back tochallenge for the SEC championship. Since then, King has run afoul of the lawfor everything but slurping his soup, the offenses being mostly a series ofminor transgressions that always seem to involve his automobile. After the mostrecent violation, Mears suspended King for at least the first three games and,subsequently, checked into a hospital suffering from what was described asnervous exhaustion. Did King's flirtation with the pros mess up his head?Maybe. Maybe not. Marques Johnson admits his own experience—Denver offered hima huge contract, but withdrew it just before the merger—left him disillusioned."I was ready to be a pro," he says. "Then I got the bomb fromDenver. It was a downer at first. It was hard to get myself to accept the factI'd be going through the college scene again. Now I'm just trying to make itclick. This year probably will determine my fate for the rest of mylife."

The ABA startedsigning underclassmen in 1969. Spencer Haywood, a junior at the University ofDetroit and an Olympic hero, was the first to go. A year later Ralph Simpsonsigned out of Michigan State. The NBA began its ill-named hardship draft in1971, selecting Phil Chenier (California), Nate Williams (Utah State), TomPayne (Kentucky) and Cyril Baptiste (Creighton). The last two are no longer inthe league.

"I never feltit was to the advantage of the kids," says Louisville Coach Denny Crum. Hisfreshman hotshot, Darrell Griffith, reportedly was offered a million dollarcontract to jump straight from high school to the pros, the route chosen byBill Willoughby (Atlanta) and Darryl Dawkins (Philadelphia) the previous year."It's a question now of whether they'll ever develop sitting on the bench.Agents create more problems than they're worth, so we've never had them aroundhere. They were trying to talk Darrell Griffith into turning pro last summer.Now that the big dollar is gone for the agents, they're going to have to findsomeone else to prey on."

The agents areparticularly nettlesome to the coaches. The Big Eight has barred them fromcampuses. Coach George Raveling of Washington State caught one last year in amotel room with two of his seniors on the day of a game, showing them probasketball films. His center, Steve Puidokas, a senior this year, is a primetarget. "He must have heard from every agent from here to Tibet," saysRaveling. "He got one letter addressed 'Dear Player.' The guy didn't evenbother to use the kid's name."

Marquette haslost three players to the pros via hardship—Jim Chones, Larry McNeill andMaurice Lucas. "My biggest hangup about it is there's no return," saysCoach Al McGuire. "If a kid gives up the rest of his education and he getscut, he becomes a Kamikaze pilot. His life could be ruined."

And players doget cut. Jacky Dorsey, a freshman at Georgia last year, was dropped by the NewOrleans Jazz. Skip Wise left Clemson in 1975 following his freshman year andsigned with Baltimore of the ABA. The team never played a regular-season game,and Wise was cut most recently by Golden State. Fly Williams, Coniel Norman,Raymond Lewis—be gone. Of the 60 to 70 players who signed as underclassmen inthe last six years, perhaps a dozen are playing pro buckets regularly.

The hardshipdraft has even influenced college coaches' recruiting. Frank Arnold of BrighamYoung says that if he learns that a recruit is thinking about leaving schoolearly, he drops him. Long Beach Coach Dwight Jones lost Clifton and RoscoePondexter to the pros: Roscoe was cut and Clifton is making only a ripple withthe Chicago Bulls. "I take a look at the great prospect now," Jonessays, "but I'm not going to overextend myself in time and effort and energyif I fear he might bug out and sign a pro contract after a year or so. I'd muchrather have a guy with a little less talent that I know I'm going to keep fouryears."

"Anytime aplayer plans to go hardship, he doesn't blend in with the rest of theprogram," says Lake Kelley, the coach at Austin Peay. After the 1973-74season, Fly Williams quit school and signed with the Spirits of St. Louis."A player's mind is elsewhere," says Kelley. "He's not a teamplayer. He has to score as many points as possible to attract thescouts."

For every JuliusErving and George McGinnis who leaves school early and finds wealth and,presumably, happiness, there is a handful of others who experience misery. Acase in point is David Brent. A seven-footer with pro potential, Brent quitJacksonville in 1972 after his sophomore year and signed what he says hethought was a guaranteed multiyear, million-dollar contract. He never did makeit and wound up with a little bit of money and a new Mark IV automobile. Whilehe still thought he was in the chips, he returned to his high school in St.Louis and offered to give some of the teachers a ride in the car. His oldcoach, John Algee, refused. "I told him," recalls Algee, "that if Irode in something like that, I'd probably want one myself."

PHOTOHubbard did the honors after the Wolverines won the 1976 Midwest Regional. PHOTOTo beat Indiana you have to beat Benson. PHOTOUCLA's hopes are as high as Johnson.

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