For years now, the Oregon State football team has played like the Northwestern of the Northwest. But every fall, just when the losses and rains threaten to establish a feeling of permanent gloom in Corvallis, sports fans begin to smile again. Thankfully, basketball season is upon them. Two students at a preseason practice reflected this. "We need this team here," a young man said. "If they left, we'd probably transfer, too," his girl said.
Last year Coach Ralph Miller's Beavers were virtually ignored in preseason polls, yet they won their third straight Pac-10 title and made it to the final eight of the NCAA, losing to Georgetown in the West Regional final. Four starters are back from the club that led the nation in victory margin with a 14.6 average. The missing regular is Guard Lester Conner, who led the Beavers in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals last season. "Obviously he was an outstanding player," Miller says. "But I'm sure we'll still be sound defensively. We also have better shooters and a stronger front line than we did a year ago."
Anchoring the forecourt, and the team, is 6'8" junior Charlie Sitton, who has seen his role in Miller's offense change each year. As a freshman, with Steve Johnson in the lineup, Sitton was a defensive specialist and rebounder, averaging only 6.4 points per game. Last year he moved underneath to fill the void left by Johnson and proved effective, doubling his scoring output to 12.9. Now he's the Beavers' leader, the player everyone listens to—even Miller, in a way. When Miller was recruiting Sitton, the kid made the coach promise he wouldn't retire until Sitton graduated.
Forwards A.C. Green and Danny Evans are excellent ball handlers, who could see time at guard while freshman Guard Darryl Flowers adapts to the discipline of Miller's high-post, low-post, quick-passing game. The other newcomers, 6'7" Tyrone Miller and 6'10" Steve Woodside, will get playing time underneath.
Despite this wealth of talent and experience, Miller remains as grumpy as ever. Consider this scene that took place a few weeks ago, during an all-out, full-court scrimmage, when a guard drove to the hoop and sank a spectacular reverse layup. "I know you can dribble," Miller said. "I want to see what else you can do!" A minute later a post man sank a classy lefthanded hook. "You've signed your death warrant if you ever take that shot again," barked Miller, thoroughly disgusted. Outside Gill Coliseum the rain poured down. Things are looking up in Corvallis.