Not long ago Ann-Michael Holland became the envy of her kindergarten class at St. Anne's-Belfield School by bringing two prized objects to show-and-tell—her father and the family dog, a golden retriever. What made her presentation particularly noteworthy was the fact that Ann-Michael's father is Terry Holland, coach of the Virginia Cavaliers who were 18-0 at week's end, and the dog is a bitch named Dean Smith. Ann-Michael, who is four years old and nobody's fool, later rivaled even that epic achievement by bringing in sophomore Guard Doug Newburg and his unnamed pet boa constrictor. "She had that snake all over her," says Ann-Michael's mother, Ann. It was a game attempt by a plucky little competitor, but show-and-tell purists will tell you that in ACC country you can't do much better than the coach of just about the hottest team around and a dog named Dean Smith.
Holland is scarcely ever mentioned in the same breath with Dean Smith—the coach at North Carolina, not the dog—but this season he has skillfully turned a self-effacing group into a juggernaut. Last week the defending NIT champions ran their two-season winning streak to 23 games—the longest in the nation—by grinding up sixth-ranked Wake Forest 83-73 and Duke 68-47. The Cavaliers have already beaten every team in the intermittently murderous ACC at least once. "We are boring," says Guard Jeff Lamp. Right. All they do is win.
There has never been anything quite like this basketball season at The University that Thomas Jefferson built. The Cavaliers (or Wahoos, take your pick, the school having two nicknames for its athletic teams) rank behind Oregon State in every major poll but one. Last week, largely as a result of an impressive 89-73 victory over Ohio State on national television on Jan. 25, the Cavaliers moved into a first-place tie with the Beavers in the AP writers' poll. Even sharing No. 1 was a watershed for U. Va.; it was the first time in the school's 163-year history that it had gotten a No. 1 ranking in any sport except lacrosse. Suddenly the Commonwealth was so preoccupied with its beloved Cavahoos that it was difficult to distinguish The Lawn from Tobacco Road. Yooveeay madness reached such a pitch that when Chris Logan of Fredricksburg, Va. was summoned to traffic court to clear up some outstanding violations, his lawyer politely but firmly informed him that the wages of sin in this particular case would be Logan's mother's two tickets to the Saturday Duke-Virginia game. No tickets, said the counsel for the defense, and Logan could start warming up his Count of Monte Cristo act. Logan gave the tickets to the lawyer, who graciously shared one of them with his client. Logan's mother watched the game on television.
Holland had dreaded the prospect of being the focus of so much national attention, but when 7'4" sophomore Mega-Center Ralph Sampson scored 40 points and grabbed 16 rebounds against the Buckeyes with a nation watching, Virginia's secret was out. The Cavaliers had begun to look like a serious challenger for any number of championships, from ACC to NCAA. Sampson's potential is generally conceded to be unlimited, but it wasn't until his performance against Ohio State that he seemed to have finally become the game's dominant player. He leads his conference in scoring (19.4 points a game), rebounding (12.4) and blocked shots (60), and he's more involved in the Virginia offense than he was a season ago. "Last year he was content to catch the ball in scoring position, turn and shoot," says Holland. "This year we've asked him to handle the ball more. We want to force the other team to struggle with Ralph."
In addition to Sampson's improvement as a player, there has been a noticeable change in his offcourt manner. Sampson had a reputation for being difficult with the press last season, but now the visiting media herds are immediately informed that there's a New Ralph, who's more outgoing and easier to talk to. If you can get to talk to him, of course; the New Ralph doesn't see just anybody.
If one doesn't get to interview the man himself, there's always speech teacher Carol Jablonski, who has given so many insights into the New Ralph in the past six months that she has become something of a media superstar in her own right. In the last two weeks alone she has been interviewed by such heavies as TIME, Newsweek and The New York Times.
Meanwhile, the Milwaukee Journal, The Chicago Sun-Times and the New York Daily News (combined circulation: 2,670,000) sent reporters to Charlottesville, but none of them got to see Sampson outside the locker room. One reporter who did get a private audience was startled when Sampson suddenly rose and strode out of the room and into Sports Information Director Doug Elgin's office. "Have you got anything on when I was in the fourth grade?" Sampson asked Elgin. "This guy wants to know how big my feet were in the fourth grade, and I don't want to get into it again."
"I guess," said the reporter sheepishly, "he'd heard that one before."
Even in the Virginia locker room after games, Sampson is in a world apart. While his teammates answer questions and towel off, Jerry Glover—a football player with no neck and arms permanently folded across his chest—sees to it that nobody tries to talk to Sampson during the team's 15-minute interview period until he's attired in his 42-inch-inseam pants, which he allegedly puts on one leg at a time. Throughout the postgame ritual, Sampson's muscular honky valet stands behind the assembled press and barks out a minute-by-minute countdown.
There's a delicatessen in Charlottesville that sells a half-pound submarine sandwich called the Sampson. The sandwich consists of roast beef, turkey, American cheese, tomato and lettuce. Opponents have been making a sandwich out of Ralph, too, surrounding him with two or three defenders. The only team that didn't try this was Ohio State, and the consequences were disastrous. Both Duke and Wake Forest kept a defender in front and in back of Sampson at all times, and though the Blue Devils prevented him from getting off a shot until only 7:20 remained in the first half and held him to 10 points for the game, the strategy failed in one important respect. With two men shadowing Sampson, Lamp, who was scoring 17.4 points a game at week's end, and Forward Lee Raker (12.1) were usually open on the perimeter. "We did a great job on Sampson," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, "but if you leave those other guys open for just a second they'll burn you. For Sampson to be as good as he is, it's important to have those jump shooters."
If Sampson is the linchpin that keeps the Wahoos whirling under control, Lamp and Raker are equally indispensable in their own way. Against Wake Forest and Duke, for instance, Raker was merely 19 of 23 from the field, scoring 43 points. While Wake was concentrating on bottling up Sampson early in the first half on Wednesday night, Lamp lit up the Deacons for 11 points in the game's first seven minutes without missing a shot. When Lamp quieted down, Raker poured in eight points in two minutes 29 seconds to put the Cavaliers ahead by 10 at halftime. "We decided we would rather have them shoot the jumper than give it to Ralph and let him dunk it all night," said Deacon Guard Frank Johnson, who had 28 points himself. "When they've got those outside guys hitting, they're unstoppable."
Lamp and Raker played together for four years at Ballard High in Louisville, winning a state championship there before leaving for U. Va. Lamp was the star of the Ballard team and Kentucky's Mr. Basketball; Raker was a plugger whose hard work enabled him to finish second in the Mr. Basketball voting. Lamp was sought by a number of basketball powers, but only Vanderbilt, Virginia, Colorado and Louisville went afer Raker. "When we recruited him," says Holland, "we thought he was a nice player, but not strong enough to start at forward or quick enough to start at guard."
Virginia was 12-17 the year before Raker and Lamp arrived in Charlottesville, and Holland wasted no time telling Lamp that he would have to "shoulder the load." Lamp averaged 17.3 points as a freshman, but the floor in University Hall was so hard on his feet and ankles it limited his running and jumping. When a new surface was laid in U. Va.'s arena for the next season, Lamp regained his spring and led the ACC in scoring with a 22.9-point average. In his four seasons at Virginia, Lamp has made 10 baskets that have tied the score or put the Cavaliers ahead with less than a minute to play. In Virginia's crucial 66-64 road win at Maryland this season, Lamp hit a 16-foot baseline shot to tie the score with 11 seconds left and then put the Wahoos ahead with an almost identical shot four seconds later.
More than anyone, Lamp had to make accommodations in his game when Sampson arrived last season. His scoring average fell off by more than five points, and suddenly he was no longer the center of attention. "He's handled it as well as a human being could handle it," says Holland. "I'm sure there were times when he thought to himself, 'Why do they have to ask me questions about Ralph Sampson all the time. I'm a pretty good player myself.' "
For Raker, who had always been in Lamp's shadow, the presence of Sampson simply pushed him farther into the background, not an easy thing to take. "It's important to him to be first in everything he does," says Holland. "When I start to blow the whistle in practice, he watches to see my lips purse so he can be first in the drills." When Raker doesn't play well, he goes to practice early the next day and runs the University Hall steps. "He's like a masochist," Holland says.
Virginia lost six of its final nine regular-season games last year and finished tied for fifth in the conference standings. The Wahoos were eliminated in the first round of the ACC tournament, but regrouped and won the NIT. The decline may have been the result of some bruised egos. In February several players had complained publicly about lack of playing time. Also around that time, Raker had learned that he hadn't been selected to live on The Lawn the following year, a senior honor he'd felt sure he'd win. "It bothered me," he says. "It still bothers me." But Raker expects no recurrence of the February Fizzle. "While we were getting to know each other we lost a lot of close games," he says. "We're winning those games this year. I think a lot of the bad things that happened to us last season are paying off this year."
Another big difference in the Cavaliers this season is the addition of freshmen Othell Wilson and Ricky Stokes. Both are small point guards who love to scavenge on defense and run the fast break. They provide up-tempo relief for junior Jeff Jones, who has led the ACC in assists the past two seasons. After Virginia fell behind North Carolina by seven points with 8:39 left in the second half three weeks ago, Holland sent in Wilson and Stokes to harass the Tar Heels, who had gone into their four-corners offense. With Raker scoring 16 points in the second half and the Cavaliers converting on 18 of their last 19 possessions, Virginia was able to turn what might have been a damaging loss into a 63-57 victory.
The double thrill of being highly ranked and having the game's most visible player seems to be largely lost on Holland. "Being No. 1 at this time of the year really doesn't make a great deal of difference," he says dourly. "It all depends on who has on the prettiest bathing suit."
Holland is considered to be distant, even aloof, by people who know him only casually, but behind the game-face and the cold eyes something altogether different's going on. When Terry and his wife have a spare moment at home, they thumb through sailing magazines and boat ads in newspapers, seeking the perfect vessel in which to sail off into the sunset. "It's something we dream about to get us through the winter," says Ann, "to hold us together." It was Terry who named the family dog. "When we got her, she cried all night long," recalls Ann. "The next morning I asked Terry what we should call her. He said, 'There's only one person I know who cries that much. We'll call her Dean Smith.' "
Though he is in his 12th year as a head coach, Holland has never attended any of the coaches' meetings or clinics that go on at the site of the NCAA final four. "One of his coaching friends was trying to get him to go last year," says Ann, "but Terry said, 'I'll never go until my team goes.' He would never come right out and admit it, but I think that was his way of saying he wants to win the national championship."
Then nobody in the whole wide world of show-and-tell could top Ann-Michael Holland's daddy and his dog.