Cheyney State College, located in a valley of oblivion somewhere west of Philadelphia, won the NCAA Collegiate Division II basketball championship last weekend with storybook flair. "Nobody ever pays any attention to us," says Coach John Chaney. "Our school is not in any community and we don't have many fans. All we have is each other." Indeed, interest in the sport is so lacking around Cheyney that the team plays most of its games on the road, and when the school held a banquet for the press several weeks ago, nobody showed up.
But in the face of rampant disregard, Cheyney won its way into the final round of four in Springfield, Mo., and whipped the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay in the finals, 47-40. Green Bay, which finished the year at 30-2, was No. 1-ranked all season, its only other loss (by six points) being to the same DePaul team that made it to the round of eight in NCAA Division I. Cheyney's magnificent win was orchestrated by an emotional Chaney (the school's and the coach's names are pronounced the same), a former Harlem Globetrotter who takes his basketball seriously.
All season, Cheyney's two leading scorers were its guards—Milton Colston (15.0-point average) and Jeff Hutcherson (14.8). Colston specializes in pull-up jumpers from 12 to 15 feet, while Hutcherson favors shots measured in yards. Three weeks ago, in the first of the playoff games leading to Springfield, Hutcherson injured his left thigh and it has been hampering him ever since. In last Friday's 79-63 semifinal win over Florida Technological University, Colston sprained an ankle, which swelled badly. "We'll all just have to suck it up," said Chaney on Saturday morning as he surveyed the wreckage and fretted about Colston. "We also will pray louder, because we want to make sure the Lord hears us for tonight."
On the way to the game, Assistant Coach Anthony Pinnie noted the deep silence on the bus and whispered, "It's either abject fear or they're communicating with the forces." Chaney's locker-room oratory was confined to telling the team it would have to play with "poise and patience." He didn't add to the alliteration by mentioning "in pain." Well then, did it turn out that Colston and Hutcherson healed during the bus ride and were terrific? No.
March 27, 1978
Hutcherson hobbled around for seven minutes of playing time and scored two points. Colston was on the court for the whole 40 minutes. He got three points. But his courage inspired his teammates. The chief beneficiary was Kenneth Hynson, a guard with a 4.9 scoring average during the regular season who normally spends a lot of time sitting down during games because of a tendency to shoot bricks. But in the most crucial game of all, he got 14 points, including four hoops toward the end of the first half.
With the score 20-20 at halftime, Chaney lectured his squad at a voice level somewhere between a holler and a scream. "Sure, you're playing with poise but you're playing with so much patience, you're not shooting. The shots will start dropping if somebody will shoot."
In the second half the Cheyney shooting star was Center Andrew Fields, who had open-heart surgery as a youngster. In less than two minutes he hit three baskets to help the Wolves take a 32-22 lead.
Which turned out to be a good thing, because Green Bay erupted after its lethargic—or deliberate—first-half performance. (Says Coach Dave Buss, "I don't think we play so slow. But it is true we don't take game films, just slides.") When Bryan Boettcher made a three-point play with 6:06 to go, Green Bay suddenly led 36-35. Moments later Green Bay came back down the floor with a chance to increase the spread to three. Tom Anderson, the Phoenix' best player, frequent game winner and All-America, broke loose for a driving open layup—and missed. That was the game. Cheyney scored the next two times it had the ball, and not until only 31 seconds remained did the losers finally score again—a drought of more than five minutes.
But while the night belonged to Cheyney State, the week somehow belonged to the irrepressible Buss, who produced a blizzard of complaints, accusations and suggestions that kept things in turmoil.
The idea that a person might get along by going along has apparently never occurred to the Green Bay coach. Not six hours after he arrived, he attended a banquet where everyone was exhibiting party manners and was ready to say nice things about Springfield. What Buss said was, "I guess I'm the only one who is not glad to be here. I want to be in St. Louis." The point was that Buss wants the Division II championship—contested by 175 schools who spend less money and award fewer scholarships than Division I—to be played in conjunction with the Division I championships. Opponents contend this would cause Division II to lose its identity. Sniffs Buss, "What identity? The best-kept secret in sports is who wins this tournament."
Then Buss was saying that there should be no consolation game, that Converse shoes should be boycotted because the company doesn't invite small college coaches to summer clinics, that all four semifinal teams should get watches instead of only the finalists, that the television time-outs were at the wrong time, that Division II and III players should get more chances to make international teams, that the official photographer was not planning to use nearly enough film, that the Eastern Illinois fans are rotten, that tournament security was lax because a Frisbee kept flying around knocking people in the head, and that the waitress forgot to bring his players ice cream. That's a sample.
What maddens officialdom is that Buss has become so successful (196 wins, 60 losses in nine years) that they have to pay him grudging attention. Predictably, when it comes to coaching philosophy, Buss once again is different. Bumping ice cubes around in a brandy and Sprite, he sets forth his outlook: "No matter a person's color, church or how much money he has, a jerk is a jerk, and I treat him as such. Never give a guy a second chance, especially your own players. And if it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Alas, Buss could only adhere to the jerk-spotting part of his philosophy at Springfield. Green Bay gave Cheyney lots of second chances and a lot of things turned out to be broken in the Phoenix basketball machine.
Buss swallowed the defeat with no excuses, no what-ifs. All he did was softly remind listeners that the Phoenix was a mythical bird consumed by flames but able to rise renewed from its own ashes. Said Buss, "We'll be all right."
The winners, of course, were already all right. But you could tell that Cheyney State was not used to celebrating with champagne. The Wolves drank the stuff instead of spraying it on one another.