They were still wearing the Phi Slamma Jamma warmups of the University of Houston Cougars, but Benny Anders and Braxton Clark weren't in training anymore. So they thought nothing of holing up in a Houston tavern last Thursday evening, ordering a couple of rounds—Heinekens for Anders, Long Island iced teas for Clark—and venting some pretty unfraternal feelings.
"In our offense, an option is whoever touches the ball," Clark said. "If you're the second person to touch the ball, you've got the second option."
"They're probably happy I'm gone," Anders said. "They can shoot more."
"There are two fraternities," Clark said. "There's Phi Slamma Jamma on the court and Phi Slamma Clappa on the bench. And once you're in Phi Slamma Clappa, you're finished."
It hardly needed saying, but Clark did anyway. "There's trouble," he said, "in the frat house."
Trouble, indeed. Three days earlier. Anders and Clark had quit the Cougars, then No. 3 in the SI poll, and flown back to Texas from the Chaminade Classic in Hawaii the day after Houston had beaten Louisville 76-73 and just before they would drop the title game 68-61 to Fresno State. Both players had lost early season roles as starters, and both quit because of what Anders is fond of calling "heavy pine time," a euphemism for prolonged periods on the bench.
After losing to North Carolina State in the NCAA finals last April, Houston billed this season as the Return of the Jamma. Instead, it has become a sort of Stars Wars. Anders and Clark claim that each got promises from Lewis of more action—promises they maintain have gone unkept. "Here I am one of the top junior-college recruits in the nation [from DeAnza J.C. in Cupertino, Calif., where he averaged 35 points and 11 rebounds a game last season], and I sit on the bench against Louisville—on national TV," says Clark, a 6'8" junior forward. "What an embarrassment."
Given how poorly Clark has performed for the Cougars, Lewis was saving Clark embarrassment by keeping him on the bench. "He can't jump, rebound or play defense," says Kevin Sherrington, of The Houston Post. "Nobody knows if he can shoot because he can't fire his flat-footed jumper without having to eat it [having it blocked]."
On the other hand, Anders, heretofore the Cougars' sixth man and foremost funkateer, is a proven talent. But he played poorly as a starter in Houston's season-opening loss to North Carolina State, and the 17 minutes a game Anders had averaged off the bench failed to satisfy him. Says Anders, a 6'5" junior swingman who had been scoring only 7.3 points a game while shooting just 43%, "If you can't play, why stay?"
But while playing time—a.k.a. minutes, light, PT—is at the nub of Anders' and Clark's gripes, they have other complaints. Foremost is that everyone at Houston wants the ball, but, like the rush queen at the fraternity mixer, there's only one to go around. "We've played 12 games and I've taken 17 shots," says Clark. "Sure, I'm shooting 35 percent from the field. But give me three more baskets and I'm shooting 50 percent. And they say I'm not as 'productive' as the power forward who was here last year." That was Larry Micheaux, who averaged 13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, compared with Clark's 2.6 and 2.6.
Chief among the Houston hogs, according to Clark and Anders, are starting guard Alvin Franklin and swingman Michael Young. Anders says Franklin misinterpreted a compliment Anders paid reserve point guard Derek Giles as a knock on Franklin—"I just told Derek how well he moved the ball up the floor," Anders says—and that Franklin, peeved, had told Anders, "See how many balls you get today." Franklin denies the story, while Anders claims Franklin ignored him whenever he was in the Louisville game. Young, who's the closest the Cougars have to a stoic, is expected to score. He takes 17 shots a game, averaging 22.3 points on 57% shooting.
If anyone deserves to see the ball more, it's Akeem Olajuwon, the Cougars' 7-foot junior center, who gets barely 10 shots a game. He's close to Anders and Clark and was so distraught at their defections that he scored just 12 points against Fresno State. Olajuwon then flew back to Houston a day earlier than the rest of the team, claiming he hoped to persuade Anders to rejoin the squad. But as of last Friday, the two hadn't spoken. Meanwhile, pro scouts, aware of the turmoil eating at Olajuwon, consider him a cinch to come out for next spring's NBA draft.
Clark and Anders also contend that Lewis favors in-state players over non-Texans. Anders, who's from Bernice, La., and Clark, a San Franciscan, point to freshmen Rickie Winslow and Greg Anderson, both Houstonians, who have supplanted them as starters. "They're Matt Houston and J.R.—Texas boys who get big respect," Clark says. In fact, the charge against Lewis simply doesn't hold up; the Cougars recruit heavily in the Houston area, but Lewis nonetheless has started no fewer than 33 out-of-staters in his 28 seasons, including a fellow named Elvin Hayes from Rayville, La.
Clark admits his college career is probably over. He had quit the team at Pepperdine before moving to DeAnza, and he has only one semester of eligibility left. "I'll pursue my master's," says Clark, a sociology major. "Selfishness in Sports will be my first publication."
For his part, Anders insists he still wants to play, but at week's end he said he wouldn't return to the Cougars. Yet, if Anders transfers, he'll have to battle his reputation as a bad actor. He was wooed while in high school by a host of colleges, including LSU, but Tiger coach Dale Brown became wary after Anders made his recruiting visit to Baton Rouge in a T shirt emblazoned with THE OUTLAW, which happened to be his nickname in high school. "I'd go from town to town, causing disturbances," Anders says. "I defied the laws of gravity, too, but I don't think the nickname was meant that way."
Anders' performance last month at LSU gives ample support to his nickname. First, he popped off in the Louisiana papers about how he was going to stick it to the Tigers. Then he stuck it to LSU, picking up 13 points, five rebounds and a technical for hanging from the rim on a missed dunk attempt after two monster jams—"Rimshakin', LSU-takin', history-makin', Leonard Mitchell-fakin' slams" is how Clark describes them.
Even after it became clear that the Cougars would win, Anders taunted the LSU players, clapping, pointing, egging them on. Lewis finally had to pull him from the game with a little over a minute left, at which point Anders indulged in roundhouse high fives with everyone on the bench, including, finally, his reluctant coach. "Hey, Benny, it's 10 o'clock," one LSU fan yelled. "Isn't it time you were back in jail?"
Lewis won't take either Anders or Clark back on any terms but his own. The Cougars were 10-2 at week's end, Winslow and Anderson were playing up to their considerable promise, and the backcourt had shown consistency. Meanwhile, Lewis, who was trying to cope with burst water pipes in his attic, caused by the cold snap, said only, "I don't want to talk basketball. I just want to talk with my in-surance man."
But the biggest question is how Olajuwon will react. After the loss to Fresno State he blasted certain unnamed teammates as "selfish" and said the Cougars needed the two malcontents to win. But last Friday he was joking during a closed workout and told Franklin, "We've got a good team and we're going to go play." In the long run, losing Anders and Clark may provide Houston with just what it needs—a little more "aw, shucks" and a lot less jive.