From the moment Referee Jack Hannon tossed the ball up for the tap—"Hey, Jack, don't screw it up," his partner, Jody Silvester, had said just seconds before—the proceedings were supposed to have been different. And for a while last Saturday it looked as if they would be. This time, when North Carolina State's Lorenzo Charles slipped by Houston's Akeem Olajuwon to hammer home a tap dunk—the sort of shot Charles made to clinch the Wolfpack's NCAA championship victory over the Cougars in April—he was called for an offensive foul. When N.C. State Coach Jim Valvano tried to freeze the ball for the last shot of the first half, his Pack turned it over. And it was Olajuwon, not Charles, who with 8:29 left scored to make the count hauntingly familiar, N.C. State 54, Houston 52, which is what the final tally was last spring.
But then, Lo and behold, Charles drove for a layup, and North Carolina State, led by its guards, including rubber-legged Anthony (Spud) Webb, a 5'7", 135-pound junior college transfer who finished with 18 points, five assists, four rebounds, three steals and the game's MVP award, scored 11 unanswered points. Houston began missing free throws. And the Wolfpack won again, 76-64.
Just as the sport of basketball began 92 years ago in a Springfield (Mass.) gym, so has the major college game begun each season since 1979-80 with Springfield's Hall of Fame Tip-Off Classic. Though heavily favored in this year's Classic, the Cougars—ranked No. 3 by SI—failed to get back at the Pack for their loss in the NCAA finals. Instead, unranked North Carolina State provided one more reminder that balance will prevail once again in college basketball in 1983-84. Meanwhile, the confusing rules experimentation that marked last season has been curtailed. The three-point field goal has been banished from every Division I conference but two, the Southern and the Trans America, and the NCAA has mandated that the three-point line, which last year came in four different versions, from 17'9" to 22', be no closer than 19'9" from the center of the hoop. Some 11 conferences will have shot clocks, but all will tick at least 45 seconds. And only two leagues, the Big Sky and the ECAC North Atlantic, will have a time limit on shooting through the entire game. The other conferences with clocks—including the ACC, SEC and Big East—will pull the plug for the last four minutes.
The man overseeing these and other modifications is Dr. Ed Steitz, the Springfield College athletic director and secretary-editor of the NCAA rules committee. Where that other noted basketball doctor from Springfield—the game's inventor, Dr. James Naismith—had his secretary type the sport's original 13 rules on two sheets of paper, today's regulations require 172 printed pages of delineation and elucidation. Steitz, who knows all the rules, predicts the most significant change this season will be the one that gives a team in the bonus situation two free throws for any common foul in the last two minutes. "The rule was amended to get rid of referees' inconsistencies in calling the intentional foul," he says.
Maybe so, but the new free-throw provision has already been informally dubbed the Valvano Rule by those who believe it was designed to stop Valvano—and anyone else so inclined—from masterfully using intentional fouls with his team trailing late in games. During last season's NCAA tournament, opponent after opponent would go to the line and miss the front end of a one-and-one, and the Pack would come down and get a crucial two-point field goal.
Not surprisingly, Valvano hates the new rule. He thinks it handicaps teams that are behind and will make for fewer exciting finishes. And sure enough, on Saturday, with Houston' fouling desperately in the last two minutes, State extended its lead with free throws. Still, Valvano sputtered, "It's the silliest rule in the history of the game."
If Valvano had a heightened sense of basketball's past last week, it may have been because of his attendance at the Peach Basket Festival leading up to the Tip-Off Classic. Among the Festival's highlights were a Four Tops and Temptations concert, a ball and a parade, which proceeded very, very deliberately. Appropriately, the parade's grand marshal was Hank Iba, the patriarch of slowdown basketball.
The most fun came when real live players relieved the Hall of Fame of its archival mustiness. During a visit there Thursday Olajuwon spent two full minutes staring at a picture of Oscar Robertson grabbing a rebound. The Big O's legs were spread almost 180 degrees. "That's a serious rebound," Akeem muttered.
The current Hall looks like Naismith Memorial Tool & Die. Executive Director Lee Williams can't wait until 1985, when the new Hall should be finished. It will be located on a grassy strip just steps from Springfield's born-again downtown and hard by Interstate 91. Since 1980, when $5 million for the $11.4 million structure was first approved as part of a state tourism bond issue, the Hall has been something of a political basketball. Williams scoffs at the objections. "Say each person who makes a stop at the Hall of Fame leaves $10 in the community," he says. "Well, I'm willing to bet our first year down there we'll draw at least 125,000 people [more than three times the current gate], and in due time 200,000 to 250,000. Multiply times 10, and you have millions left in the community, annually."
A lighter controversy persists over the new Hall's design. There had been talk that it might be shaped like a giant basketball, which inspired Leigh Montville of The Boston Globe to wonder whether the door would resemble an air valve, and each visitor would have to wet himself down—like an inflating needle—to gain entrance. Instead, the building will be a very functional rectangle, marked by a painted "action mural" on its facade that simulates moving basketball players. "The mural will be our Guggenheim touch," Williams says. So far, the Classic has raised $166,000 for the new Hall.
It has also raised some hairs. None of the first four games was decided by more than six points; twice games have gone into overtime; and there have now been two certified upsets, St. John's having stunned North Carolina's defending NCAA champions last November. In large part, the good games have been a byproduct of astute matchmaking. "We want the dynasties, the UCLAs and Kentuckys," says Steitz, one of the Classic's founders, who has the connections to line them up. "The gravy for the Hall of Fame comes from television, and it's a year-to-year deal with TV. So the game has to have appeal."
Great games have come with great teams, but Saturday's could have been better. Olajuwon quite literally walked through it, traveling on four occasions. Phi Slamma Jamma's highly touted fledgling pledge, freshman Rickie Winslow, went scoreless in 12 minutes. Benny Anders looked more enthusiastic during his visit to the Hall. And Coach Guy V. Lewis kept his Cougars in a tight zone even after Charles began floating outside to can 17-footers. But Lewis, who was one of the first coaches to broach the idea of a game to benefit the Hall of Fame, might note that both Louisville (1980) and North Carolina (1982) found losses in Springfield to be springboards to lousy starts. Let's not forget, though, that this is still November, when any school can prattle about Seattle.
Oh yes, Seattle, the site of the '84 Final Four. For all the preseason forecasting, there's really only one certainty. This season will end in rain.