People in Lafayette, La. are frustrated. In Andrew Toney, a 6'3" guard for the University of Southwestern Louisiana, they feel they have a genuine superstar, and they want the world to know about it. Toney has scored 2,253 points over his three-plus seasons at USL, one good reason why local fans feel he is the equal of any player in the nation and, perhaps more important to them, good enough to join Pistol Pete Maravich and Dwight (Bo) Lamar as Louisiana basketball legends.
Only one person in town takes exception: Toney himself. He doesn't care for the legend talk. "All I want is to have fun and play basketball," he says.
What fan could ask for more? Toney is merely averaging 29.5 points a game, and he has a chance to become the seventh leading scorer in NCAA history, surpassing such luminaries as Phil Ford, Jerry West, Lew Alcindor and Austin Carr. He has accomplished this while averaging only 18 shots a game, but because he is blessed with amazing quickness, he seldom shoots from beyond 15 feet and is adept at drawing shooting fouls for three-point plays. He will end his career as USL's second-highest all-time scorer, behind Lamar.
And he can hack it in the classroom, too. A conscientious, goal-oriented person, Toney said when he first arrived at USL that he would like to graduate early. And he did, completing work on his degree in health and physical education in December, one semester ahead of schedule. The degree meant so much to him that he returned in the middle of a basketball trip to the West Coast to attend graduation ceremonies. In his absence the Ragin' Cajuns suffered one of their three losses of the season, a one-point decision to Portland State.
"I was sorry the team lost, but coming back for graduation meant so much to me after working so hard," says Toney, who is now taking graduate courses in administration and supervision. "My parents had come all the way from Birmingham and I had to be there. Accepting the degree in the mail wouldn't have been right."
Coming from Toney, that's quite a speech. He rarely talks about himself, never solicits recognition for his accomplishments. "I just do what I can to help the team," Toney says. "Things like publicity aren't what I strive for. I take pride in what I do, so I like to hold things inside. I share some things about basketball but not a lot."
What he shares tends to be wild understatement. "I guess I shot kind of well tonight," Toney allowed after a 46-point performance in a recent game against Auburn.
"Andrew's just that way," says a local sportscaster. "We've tried to get him on our show many times, but he insists we use guys from the bench, so they can be seen."
Although he would never shout it out loud, Toney is confident that his game is as good as those of many of the country's more highly acclaimed guards, like Louisville's Darrell Griffith or Iowa's Ronnie Lester. "You have to respect what other guys can do, so I don't like to compare myself with them," Toney says. "Every player has a different game, anyway. I'm not fancy, not spectacular, no passes through my legs, so it's hard to judge. But you go out on a court and the actions will speak for themselves."
Toney's actions scream at you. This past summer he led the U.S. team in scoring in both the World University Games and the Russian Spartakiade. He hopes to do equally well in the Moscow Olympics, but first he must make the team, and here politics intrude.
This is an area in which Toney's modesty could do him in. His school, USL, is in a section of the country hardly noted for basketball excellence on a national level; furthermore, it is often confused with other schools in the state. In addition to USL there is SLU, or Southeastern Louisiana University, which isn't to be confused with LSU (Louisiana State University) or Northeast Louisiana-or Northwestern State (La.), for that matter.
According to Toney's coach, Bobby Paschal, USL should be set apart from the others by its "national schedule." "We're unique in that sense," Paschal says. "In recent years we've played five different Pac-10 schools and some in the Big 10. People around the country recognized us as the basketball school in the state before LSU, and those same people recognize good players, no matter where they come from."
USL's drive for national prominence began in the early '70s, when the Ragin' Cajuns were led by the high-scoring and flamboyant Lamar, who accounted for 3,493 points during his career. In those years USL made three NCAA tournaments. The Cajuns also were placed on NCAA probation in 1973 for more than 100 recruiting violations.
That probation was still in effect when Toney chose USL over the University of Alabama. "Of course I was concerned with the things that were going on at the time," he says. "I looked into it deeply because I wanted to do what was right, but the school wasn't really in trouble. There was a year of probation left, but it was obvious things were coming around."
Especially after Toney's freshman season, when he averaged 21 points a game and led USL to the Southland Conference championship.
Inevitably, Toney has been compared with Lamar, who does radio commentary for USL games. But as Lamar has said, "I was a shooter; he's a scorer." A more accurate comparison would be with Calvin Natt of the New Jersey Nets, who came to the pros unheralded from Northeast Louisiana last year but who has averaged almost 20 points a game in his rookie season. Natt is considerably more imposing physically but plays the same kind of smart, clean, unfancy game.
"I'd like to play pro ball," says Toney. "That's something I've worked for. I don't think being unknown hurt Natt, and I don't think it will hurt my chances, either. It's the performance that counts."
Unknown isn't quite the word for Toney, according to the scouts who have seen him play. "He's a definite first-round pick, with everything you look for," says Dick McGuire of the Knicks. "He's quick and can shoot. But it doesn't take a genius to figure this kid out. You could go up into the stands and ask anyone to pick out the best player on the floor, and they would choose him."
At first sight, though, Toney is hardly overwhelming. Weighing only 178 pounds, he looks frail and spindly. His jump shot is not a thing of beauty. Toney rises from the ground stiffly, as if he were being pushed against his will, and holds the ball close to his head while the upper half of his body almost jackknifes toward the defender. The shot looks as if it should be easy to block, but more often than not it is a basket, with Toney then going to the free-throw line to complete a three-point play.
Auburn can attest to that. In the finals of the Bayou Classic last month, Toney made six three-point plays en route to matching his career high of 46 points in a game for the second time. Even so, Paschal had to call Toney over to the bench twice to tell him to shoot more. True to form, Toney shrugged at the suggestion.
After the game, Toney was Toney to a T. He had little time for the battery of newsmen who surrounded him, but a group of elderly citizens who came to see him play got more than their money's worth. Toney saw each one onto his bus.