As that that veteran Washington enforcer who's obviously ready to take Michael Graham's place in the Georgetown lineup might say:
"There you go again!"
Just because the 1984-85 college basketball season looks as if it could be a rerun of the presidential election, more a coronation than a contest—begging your pardon, Mr. Bonzo, sir, re-coronation—this isn't to say that the rest of the nation is giving up. However, in a time of peace, prosperity, low interest rates and high interest fives, and secure with the notion that Georgetown's department of defense is still terrifying, the ticket of Patrick Ewing and John Thompson may have already ensured a landslide for the Hoyas. Thus does Oral Roberts coach Dick Acres describe the competition for the national championship: "It's Georgetown and chase."
Or is it? Let's look at history. Not since 1973, when UCLA, the FDR of college ball, was wrapping up its seventh straight title and ninth in 10 years, has an NCAA champion repeated. Let's look at the dropouts from among the Georgetown campaigners. Gone are Fred Brown and Gene Smith, last year's senior guards who dictated the Hoyas' vicious pressure out front. And Graham, last season's freshman hit man, will be hitting nothing but textbooks this time around. Why, even John Thompson III left his D.C. home and hearth—to enroll as a freshman at Princeton. Maybe The Third, who was first-team All-City in Washington last season, just wanted to talk to the media.
Moreover, let's look at the rules. The new rules. The improved rules. This year's brilliantly conceived, take-a-great-game-and-blow-it-to-smithereens-with-change-after-change rules. It's obvious that when the rulemakers sat in their rules room eating their curds and rules, they were out to halt Georgetown:
A) They expanded the NCAA tournament field from 53 to 64 teams. The more the merrier, right? The more teams, the more games, the more chances for Georgetown to lose. The Hoyas barely survived SMU 37-36 in their first tournament game last March. Think how they might swoon against Baylor.
B) They increased the number of allowable time-outs during TV games from three to four per team. Nowadays a TV game is just about every game played within 6,000 miles of Al McGuire between the hours of noon and 4 a.m. Factoring in the three automatic time-outs each half for commercials, this means we can now enjoy up to 14 time-outs in a single game. "So many, we'll need a guest speaker in the huddles," says Memphis State coach Dana Kirk. Kentucky coach Joe B. Hall could have used 28 to slow down the Georgetown hordes in the second half of last spring's NCAA semifinal rout (53-40) in Seattle.
C) They installed the 45-second clock. Well, sort of. This is yet another experiment by the NCAA, which conducts more experiments than NASA. The clock will be used in 21 conferences during the season and then abandoned entirely in the tournament. Naturally, the clock makes no sense whatsoever except as a preventive measure to keep Georgetown, which has the best spread-delay offense in the business, from delaying.
D) They gave us the coaching box. This one's sure to be everybody's favorite. But, plainly, it's an anti-Thompson device. Remember the terror on the faces of pipsqueak referees as all 6'10", 300 pounds of Thompson would come barreling down the sideline, arms waving, nostrils flaring? A frightening combo of Lash LaRue and the Terminator. That's over. Now Thompson must stay within the confines of a 28-foot-long box outlined on the floor in front of his team's bench. Of course, this rule also applies to Indiana's Bob Knight, North Carolina State's Jim Valvano, St. John's Lou Carnesecca, Nevada-Las Vegas's Jerry Tarkanian and DePaul's Ray, oops, Joey Meyer. Leave, guys, and it's a T.
The rule may sound silly, but unless the NCAA can come up with some braver, sturdier and tougher-minded officials—how about Jeff Blatnik, Grace Jones and Monsieur T?—this is the way it has to be. Of course, all coaches belong behind barbed wire anyway. Not to mention inside straitjackets.
"Twenty-eight feet?" Carnesecca shrieked upon hearing of the rule. "Is that in every direction?" No, not out onto the floor, Looie. "Then somebody better tie a rope around me."
Carnesecca once hid on the bench to escape an official's eye. The opponent's bench. In a home game against Pittsburgh last season Carnesecca was in the midst of a stroll when Panther coach Roy Chipman demanded that Carnesecca re—move himself from in front of the Pitt bench. "This is my house," Carnesecca rasped, "and I can go wherever I want."
Not any more, Looie.
Ropes, bars, seat belts (shades of Bones McKinney, the old Wake Forest coach who once actually strapped himself in his seat as a gimmick). How will they beat it? Megaphones, elevator shoes, hot-air balloons—all have been suggested. "We still can get at 'em," says Oklahoma City's Abe Lemons. "The refs got to come by us sooner or later."
Last season the SEC was one of three leagues that experimented with the box. Results were mixed. Georgia's Hugh Durham was once caught near the Auburn bench. "I'm just down here talking to Sonny [Smith, the Auburn coach]," Durham explained to the ref. "The hell he is," Smith snapped. "I don't know who he is."
"We have to tippy-toe on the edge of the box," says LSU's Dale Brown. It's like Korea, the 38th parallel. I feel like I'm in Panmunjom."
Or is it an ethnic squeeze? "Sure I'm going to be emotional," says Valvano. "But I don't see coaches starting riots. This is an anti-Italian statement. No question. It's a rule for WASPs. No question. If I'd wanted to be in a box, I'd have become a third base coach. I voted for it because I thought it was a referee's box. It's the single dumbest rule in college basketball."
Now wait a minute. There's another candidate. What about the new, improved open-up-the-process, rainbow coalition NCAA tournament? Now we're into dumb. Forty-eight teams weren't enough? Houston Baptist wasn't enough? Nevada-Reno wasn't? Rider wasn't? The tournament is so watered down now that even DePaul can get past the first round. But, sure, go ahead and open it up to everybody. Play the whole season for nothing. Invite intramural teams, playground fives, the YMCA, Culture Club, Geraldine Ferraro's CYO, College of the Desert, Franklin & Marshall, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Bishop Tutu's all-stars, Menudo, the Care Bears, Team Prince: Prince Charles, Prince Rainier, Prince the Wonder Dog, Prince Sihanouk and Prince Nelson (lead singer). Get 'em all in. And drive Dick ("You're sayin' to me, Vi-tal, you're crazy!") Vitale stark, raving haywire. Why not? The rest of the sport is already there.
Where Are They Now? Of six schools that together have made a total of 12 appearances in the Final Four in the '80s, Houston, UCLA, Kentucky and Virginia aren't even ranked in the SI Top 20, and North Carolina and Louisville barely are.
If Larry Holmes Can Fight Bone-crusher Smith.... The wimp schedule of the decade has been laid out by UNLV, which—you read it here first—can finish absolutely no worse than 29-1, the loss coming at Georgetown. Tarkanian's tanks will roll over the PCAA, a league so far down, Stockton, Calif. looks up. Vegas could end up playing 20 games against teams named Somebody State and may wind up beating Pacific, which is not a State but is in Stockton, by 142-60! See you in the Final Four, Tark, you scheduling shark.
Entertainment Tonight. Oregon coach Don Monson is featured prominently in his school's recruiting film, during which the narrator refers to Monson as the Duck head coach. Recently Monson got a letter from a recruit asking why they called him "Duck-head coach."
And Now, Heeeere's John! What?? The basketball coach at Indiana University shall henceforth and forevermore be known as Bob Knight.
Rookie Sports Columnist of the Year. Ray Meyer of the Chicago Sun-Times. A word of advice to the rook from one who's been there: Don't ask Bobby Knight what the turning point was—and don't call him Bobby.
I'm Walkin', Yes Indeed.... West Virginia walk-on Tim Austin removed his jersey and walked off the team during a loss at Marshall last December.
...I'm Talkin', 'bout You and Me. Excerpts from a soliloquy by Oklahoma coach Billy Tubbs: "I will no longer go to the extent of putting mittens on my team to show they don't make obscene gestures.... My guys all took the course Fingers 131...."
And Still Defending Champion. When last spied away from a camera or microphone, Valvano was running around the court at Albuquerque in April 1983 like a lottery winner with his numbers cut off. N.C. State had just won the national championship. Nobody has mentioned this, but the Pack has not yet lost that championship. Despite winning 19 games, N.C. State was not invited back to the tournament last March and thus was prevented (unlike golfers and chess players) from defending its title. Then, as Louis XV was told, so, too, Jimmy V: Apr√®s nous le déluge. In this year's ACC Basketball Handbook, a caption identifies assistant coach Tom Abatemarco as "Tomabate Marco" and now everybody calls him Tomabata. On the court, monstrous State frontliners Cozell McQueen, Lorenzo Charles and 6'11" freshman Chris Washburn (page 120)—Co, Lo and Uh-Oh—are champing at the bit. Beware of avenging, angry, not-exactly-dethroned champions.
Student-Athletes. Professor Bradley Loomer of Iowa says he did nothing wrong last year in awarding academic credit to Hawkeye basketball players for a course in which the required reading list was excerpted from Sports Books for Children: An Annotated Bibliography.
And Vice Versa. An assistant coach in the SEC said recently of one of his players, "If his I.Q. was any lower, we'd have to water him." This freshman was not Cedric Henderson of Louisville, Georgia, Carson Newman, Louisville, Georgia. Henderson committed himself in varying degrees to each of the aforementioned schools. Moreover, it was not Henderson who asked Monson why he was called Duckhead. Late last summer Henderson picked up his high school equivalency diploma. He earned many of his credits in Bermuda. The diploma was not shaped like a triangle. Henderson does become eligible to play for Georgia on Dec. 7. Bombs away.
The Name Game. Coach of the Year—Detroit's Don Sicko. Something old—Calodeis Canion of South Alabama. Something new—Mergin Sina of Seton Hall. Something borrowed—Emmam Abrodun (Largest) Agbejemisin of Wagner by way of Ibadan, Nigeria. And something blue—Marcell Blue of Southwestern Louisiana. Freshman double trouble: Fennis Dembo and Twalure (For Sale or Rent?) Boyd, both of Wyoming. Most potentially confusing nickname: Demetreus (Me) Gore of Pittsburgh. What happens in the heat of battle when the Panthers shout, "Pass the ball to Me!"?
Whe-ell...we shall soon find out. Let the games begin. And, gentlemen, stay in your boxes.