If the Trans America Athletic Conference has any sense of flair, it will send CENTENARY as its representative to the NCAA tournament's field of 48. The Gents' top scorer and passer have names you'd expect to find in a history book: Cherokee (Chief) Rhone and Napoleon Byrdsong III. Rhone, a 6'9" senior center, is coming back from a knee injury that sat him down midway through last season, when he was averaging 21.7 points and 10.6 rebounds a game. Although the doctors say Rhone is fully recovered, Coach Tommy Canterbury is taking nothing for granted. "Well to me is getting 28 points against Arkansas," says Canterbury, alluding to something Chief did last year. "Well to them might be walking to English class." Byrdsong, a 145-pound sprite of a point guard who handed out 6.3 assists a game in 1980-81, puts his deft hands to good use as a pre-dentistry student. "If we stick him in the whirlpool we have to put a life preserver on him," says Canterbury. "But he's sharp as a tack, and if he can get up high enough to look into somebody's mouth, he's going to make a lot of money." Another key returnee from the 16-12 Gents of last season is Forward Willie Jackson, who averaged 17.2 points and 7.9 rebounds per game.
"We've got a beautiful schedule," says ALCORN STATE Coach Davey Whitney, whose Braves should win the Southwestern Athletic Conference. "A beautiful schedule. If people don't take us seriously, it could put us in the limelight." Missouri, Kansas and Illinois beware. Whitney has outstalked Mississippi and Mississippi State for some of the best talent in the Magnolia State, including 6'1" All-SWAC Forward Albert (Silk) Irving, who is almost completely recovered from a stress fracture in his right leg.
After losing four seniors to the NBA draft, LSU isn't likely to equal last year's 31-5 record or make the Final Four again. But the Tigers will be a factor in the post-season tournament, thanks to the return of Forward Leonard Mitchell and Swingman Howard (Hi C) Carter, whose nickname fits his jumping ability. Freshman Forward Steffond Johnson will start, along with classmate Ray Borner, an affable 6'10" Aussie Center with a knack for getting position. Sophomore Guard Johnny (Bullet) Jones will run the show, though Coach Dale Brown cautions: "Sometimes his speed is a lethal aspect for the positive and sometimes for the negative."
South Florida was limping along with a 2-4 record last season when it won 12 in a row and 14 straight at home to earn a berth in the National Invitation Tournament. Two talented transfers become eligible this season and will play alongside two-time Sun Belt Conference scoring champ Tony Grier (19.2 point average last season) and senior frontcourt men Vince Reynolds and Willie Redden. In 1980-81 Reynolds and Reddon averaged 24 points and 16 rebounds between them as South Florida improved its record from 6-21 in 1979-80 to 18-11 in its first year under Coach Lee Rose. Rose expects either Lewis Card, late of Auburn, or Dave Bastian, late of Butler, to become the point guard who'll free Grier from ballhandling chores and make him even more of a scoring threat. The 1,400 students who plant themselves in the Rose Garden of the school's year-old Sun Dome will have plenty to shout about.
The changing of the guards has occurred at PURDUE, where the Boilermakers' two starters and top reserve in the backcourt are gone. "We'll be biding our time to get some experience," says Coach Gene Keady, who was 21-11 in 1980-81, his first season at Purdue. The new guards are two seniors: Kevin Stallings, a fine passer and shooter, and converted Forward Keith (Ice) Edmonson, a San Antonio native and George Gervin disciple who has the agility and touch to play the shooting guard spot. The front court features holdovers Russell Cross, a 6'10" sophomore, and Forward Mike Scearce, a standout in last season's NIT Cross, who averaged 16.9 points and 6.3 rebounds a game as a freshman, may switch from center to forward, opening up some room for either 6'10" junior Ted Benson or 7-foot sophomore Joe Gamtfer.
Notre Dame Coach Digger Phelps has his work cut out for him. Gone from last season's 23-6 team are the formidable Kelly Tripucka, Orlando Woolridge and Tracy Jackson. "We're not worried about being in the Top 20," says Phelps. "We'd be satisfied to be in the next 28." Wish granted, for now, even though none of the Irish returnees averaged in double figures a year ago. Phelps calls John Paxson "the best guard in the country," but he's not about to lavish similar superlatives on silky but unproven Forward Bill Varner. The incoming class is thin, but Phelps promises, "We're going to steal 20 victories."
"We get calls from the pro people," says EVANSVILLE Coach Dick Walters. "Everybody's buzzing about him. I just hope that, with all the hype, people will be patient and not expect him to be Magic Johnson from Day One." But he is Magic Johnson, Richie (Magic) Johnson, a—sound familiar?—6'9" sophomore point guard and defensive forward. While Johnson's talent isn't suspect, his temperament is. He enrolled at Missouri last year but left the day before preseason practice, taking his funky game home to New Albany, Ind. The presence of freshman Forward David Bennett, a high-school teammate of Johnson's, should levitate Magic's spirits—and give the Aces' bench some depth. But it'll be the starters who should earn Evansville the first automatic bid awarded the 3-year-old Midwestern City Conference. Aside from Johnson, they are 6'10" sophomore Forward Kenny Perry, who had the finest first season in Evansville history despite playing every game with a broken bone in his left wrist; Theren Bullock, a finesse forward and good passer; and young Turk Emir Turam, a 7'1" center. Evansville's Ace in the hole is 6'5", 195-pound senior Guard Brad Leaf, a 17.6 point scorer on last year's 19-9 team who's stronger following some off-season weight work. He and Bullock are co-captains and members of the first class recruited after the 1977 airplane crash that wiped out the entire Evansville team.
If MISSOURI seemed like a team that self-destructed on the road last season—the Tigers were 8-10 in away games and 22-10 overall—imagine how Center Steve Stipanovich felt after almost self-destructing at home. He shot himself while cleaning a gun and then concocted a story about a pistol-wielding intruder to explain away the incident. "Naturally, he was embarrassed," says teammate Jon Sundvold. "But he has come back this fall with new purpose." Sundvold, a 13.8-points-per-game guard, and the 6'11" Stipanovich will be joined as starters by defensive ace Moon McCrary, All-Big Eight Forward Ricky Frazier and Mark Dressier, a fiery, fine-shooting forward who sat out all of last season with an injured left knee. Missouri has won the last two Big Eight championships but no school has ever won three in a row. Mizzou might change that.
In his first year on the job last season, Clem Haskins coached WESTERN KENTUCKY to a surprisingly good 21-8 record and the Ohio Valley championship. The Hilltoppers figure to be just as strong in 1981-82. The front line returns intact, led by Forward Tony Wilson and 6'10" All-OVC Center Craig McCormick, who averaged almost 30 points between them.
Two willowy transfers and a 5'9", 155-pound point guard should earn BALL STATE the Mid-American Conference's NCAA tournament berth. David Scott, 6'9" and 200, and Jon Mansbury, 6'7", 215, formerly of Arkansas and TCU, respectively, should be the forwards. The glue that holds the Cardinals, 20-10 a year ago, together is 5'9" Ray McCallum, Ball State's leading scorer two times running, including 18.4 last season.
With all five starters back from an 18-10 team, WESTERN CAROLINA should outdistance injury-plagued Furman in the Southern Conference. Ronnie Carr led the team in scoring (17.6 points) and made the first three-point basket in collegiate history as the SC experimented with the three-point shot. Swingman Greg Dennis, who averaged 15.9 points per game, is Coach Steve Cottrell's other all-conference player. The Catamounts also recruited four freshman frontliners, the best being Forward Cedric Cokely, who could start immediately.
Wake Forest welcomes back its front line of 6'11" Jim Johnson, Guy Morgan and Alvis Rogers and most of the other players who helped run North Carolina out of its own gym 84-68 and won 14 straight games before coming down to earth and finishing the season at 22-7. The Deacons' biggest task will be to find a suitable replacement for point guard and first-round NBA draft pick Frank Johnson (Washington Bullets). Coach Carl Tacy's choice is 6'2" freshman Delaney Rudd, who was lightly recruited because his coach at Hollister (N.C.) High insisted on playing him at center.
Long Island University is located in Brooklyn, one of the most fertile breeding grounds for basketball talent anywhere, and Coach Paul Lizzo has succeeded in persuading an outstanding flock of prospective Blackbirds not to fly the coop. Eight of the 10 players who got LIU an 18-11 record and an NCAA bid in 1980-81 are back, including four starters, and all live a subway ride away from school. Center Riley Clarida, an honorable mention All-America, is the best of the Blackbirds, but 5'9" Earl Fuller, a Brownsville product nicknamed World after erstwhile neighbor Lloyd Free, is the most spectacular.
Old Dominion should beat out James Madison as the ECAC South's NCAA qualifier. The four starters returning from last season's 18-10 Monarchs are bolstered by a good recruiting class. Senior Forward Ronnie McAdoo scored 15.9 points and had 7.9 rebounds a game in 1980-81, and Center Mark West, who led the nation with more than four blocked shots a game last season, was in double figures in both scoring and rebounding.
"Buzzer jobs, we call 'em," says former ST. JOSEPH'S Coach Jim Lynam, whose assistant, Jim Boyle, has replaced him. "We had a lot of buzzer jobs." And in two seasons as a starting guard, senior Bryan Warrick has been the key figure at the end of 11 such victories. Seven of them came last year as the Hawks soared to a 25-8 record and the East Coast Conference championship. Warrick's running mate, Jeffery Clark, is also back, as is the cream of the Philly high school crop of two years ago, Forward Lonnie McFarlan and Center Tony Costner.
Princeton Coach Pete Carril isn't used to getting all-city high school players. He's especially not used to getting all-city players from Los Angeles. And to have an All-L.A. prospect change his mind and decide to enroll just a few weeks before school opens—well, it's almost enough to cure Carril of his congenital pessimism. The hotshot is Lawrence Raphael, a shooting guard, who'll get playing time with two other promising freshman backcourt candidates, Jeff Pagano and Isaac Carter. By midseason one of them will probably pair up with sophomore Bill Ryan, who started most of his freshman season and contributed five assists and five steals in the Tigers' playoff win over Penn for the Ivy title. The front-court has experience in Craig Robinson, Neil Christel and Rich Simkus. Robinson is the top returning scorer, while Christel, Ryan and Simkus, a 6'8" center, are the three passers who make Princeton's clockwork orange-and-black attack go.
North Carolina A&T was the surprise of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference last season, going 21-8 and reaching the NIT with mostly freshmen and sophomores. Coach Don Corbett's Aggies, led by top scorer James Anderson (18.3 points a game) and top re-bounder Joe Binion (9.3) should win the 1982 league tourney and earn their first NCAA tournament bid since going Division I in 1971.
Although the Eastern Eight is reportedly on the verge of falling apart, WEST VIRGINIA is as stable as ever. Forward Greg Nance is the only major loss from last spring's 23-10 NIT semifinalists, and a 14-game summer tour of Australia should give Coach Gale Catlett's Mountaineers a running start. Forward Russel Todd was on top of his game Down Under, playing the best ball on the tour; Greg Jones is the top guard in the conference and made the NIT all-tournament team.
Boston College wore out 23 opponents in 1980-81 with Coach Tom Davis' constant substitutions and wore out more than a few basketballs with its constant bounce-passing. Last season's Eagles were a finesse team, but now B.C. has two bruisers to go along with four veteran starters. John Garris, a 6'8", 215-pound shot-blocking specialist, is eligible after transferring from Michigan, and 7-foot Montrealer Ron Crevier, a junior and a former Junior A hockey player, spent last season playing with the Canadian national team. Big East Conference Player of the Year John Bagley (20.8 points per game), British Forward Martin Clark and 6'9" Center Jay Murphy are the best of the starters, but in Davis' scheme, starting doesn't mean much.
Holy Cross should improve on its 20-10 record of last year and earn the ECAC North's NCAA bid. Though the Crusaders lost two sharpshooters in forwards Garry Witts and Tom Seaman, they retain one of the East's best backcourts in Kevin Greaney, who toured South America during the off-season with an NIT all-star team, and Eddie Thurman. Forwards Chris Logan and Pat Elzie blossomed toward the end of last season and are likely starters; the top newcomers are Forward James Carlton, Guard Larry Westbrook and 6'10" Center Myles Maguire, who worked over the summer at The Meadowlands in New Jersey as, presumably, the world's tallest vendor.
When BRIGHAM YOUNG opened its season last Saturday with a 63-61 loss to Virginia, it clearly missed Danny Ainge, the erstwhile Blue Jay and incipient Celtic. These days Ainge is a volunteer JV coach who can only help call the shots, not take them. "You don't replace a Danny Ainge," says Coach Frank Arnold. Senior Fred Roberts, 6'10", leads a front line that averaged 37 points and 27 rebounds a game last year when BYU went" 25-7 and finished third in the Western Athletic Conference.
BYU should make the tournament field, but look for the WAC's automatic bid to go to WYOMING. "We might not be as explosive or flashy as last year," says Coach Jim Brandenburg, whose Cowboys no longer have their alltime leaders in scoring (Charles Bradley) and rebounding (Ken Ollie). "We'll have to fit the pieces together a little differently." Last year's team was 24-6 and led the nation in field-goal-percentage defense and scoring and rebounding margins. Center Bill Garnett, 6'9", is the top returnee (14.1 points, 6.8 rebounds), and Dwight McClendon and Mike Jackson, Wyoming's best outside shooter, will man the backcourt.
Oregon State, defending Pac-10 champion, has only two starters back from the team that won 24 straight and finished 26-2, and neither sophomore Forward Charlie Sitton nor senior Guard Les Conner qualifies as a veteran. Each is beginning only his second season as a Beaver. Oregon State will make its case to the tournament committee on the strength of its schedule, which includes early games with BYU and Louisville and, of course, the home-and-home action in the Pac-10. A junior college transfer from Canada and two reserves from last season will be asked to replace the 44.5 points per game that left with All-America Center Steve Johnson and Guards Ray Blume and Mark Radford. The newcomer is 6'11" Center Greg Wiltjer; the holdovers are Rob Holbrook, a senior forward who started as a sophomore, and Guard William Brew.
"I've never experienced such fan appreciation," says FRESNO STATE Coach Boyd Grant, who previously was an assistant at Kentucky. "They're first-class and gracious. And never rowdy." The enthusiasm of the Red Wave, as the Bulldog backers are known, combined with Grant's deliberate style—he calls it "tempo programming"—should serve Fresno State well as it defends the PCAA title. "We favor substance over style," says Grant, which means potentially stylish Rod Higgins, Fresno's All-America candidate at forward, won't gussy up his 15.4 scoring average. Fifteen a game is a bundle, considering that the Dogs are at their best when their top-of-the-charts defense—50.4 points allowed per game while going 24-4 in 1980-81—keeps scores in the 40s and 50s.
The man they call Dwight Lightning made an impressive debut with SOUTHERN CAL last year, averaging 19.3 points in 12 second-semester games while still not completely sure of himself or Coach Stan Morrison's system. "I averaged those points, on confusion alone," says Guard Dwight Anderson, who had transferred in from Kentucky. Now, with All-Pac-10 Forward Maurice Williams, Jacque Hill and James McDonald on hand to start again, and with the return of 6'9" Clayton Olivier, who missed all but the first two games of last season with bone spurs in his right leg, the Trojans will be plenty deep—and certain to improve on their 14-13 record. "I could have a problem trying to keep 15 people happy," says Morrison. "But that's better than not having that problem."
The UNIVERSITY OF IDAHO retains four starters from last season's 25-4 team, most notably the Big Sky's MVP, junior Guard Brian Kellerman, who averaged 18 points per game. Other key returnees: Forward Phil Hopson and Point Guard Kenny Owens. The Vandals will have to survive major losses at two positions. One is the pivot, where both the starter and backup from 1980-81 have departed. The other is what one might call the "roof." The Vandals have won 21 straight at the Kibbie Dome, a covered multi-purpose facility. But the Dome developed a leaky roof after the season and no sooner had the school removed the top for repairs than it rained. Poured. Kibbie's innards got soaked—as might some of the Vandals' fans while the repair job is being completed.
Lamar is making a habit of sorts of being in the NCAA tournament, having gained the Southland Conference berth three years in a row. But unlike many representatives of upstart conferences, the Cardinals have actually won in the tourney, too, eliminating such powers as Missouri and Oregon State. Even though the top three starters from a 25-5 team have completed their eligibility and another starter didn't return to school, look for the Cards to qualify again. Coach Pat Foster brought in six recruits, including five junior college transfers, to join Forward Kenneth Perkins and Guard Terry Long. Two of the J.C. products, Brian Kellybrew and Ronnie Wennberg, were last season's leading scorers for Westark (Ark.) Junior College, the national champ at that level. "I don't believe we'll be labeled a streaky club, like some of the other Lamar teams were," says Long, a senior. The only streaky label the Cards would like to maintain is the one regarding the Beaumont Civic Center, where they've won 46 straight, the nation's longest homecourt skein.
After 10 months in the U.S., Akeem Abdul (Jellybean) Olajuwon, HOUSTON'S 6'11½", 240-pound freshman center, has decided he likes steak and Moses Malone. The steak has replaced the native Nigerian's usual diet of rice—for breakfast, lunch and dinner—and added 25 pounds to his frame. Jellybean—he prefers the nickname Little Moses—joins just about everyone from last season's 21-9 SWC tournament champion Cougars. However, All-America Guard Rob Williams, who averaged 25 points a game, might be out until the SWC season starts in January because of minor surgery on his right knee. Williams is also noteworthy for his gold tooth. "My mother has one, my father has one, my sister has one, my brother has one," he says. "I didn't want to be the oddball."