"ALL SHOOK UP"
(COACH: GENE BARTOW)
Was there ever a more talkative and talented twosome to come out of Memphis than Sugar Daddy and Tater Head? Sugar is Jerome Mincy, UAB's 6'6", 225-pound power forward confection; Tater is Steve Mitchell, their cool-as-vichyssoise point guard. They've known each other since Mincy was a Sugar Baby and Mitchell a Tater Tot. They grew up near Elvis's Graceland mansion and used to catch the King on the afternoon TV movie. "I saw Elvis in Blue Hawaii," says Tater. "He was playin' that guitar and singin' to the women." Says Sugar, "I always identified with the dude myself. He was up-tempo, like our offense. Free-lancing. Always making with the passes."
"Just like the song," says Tater. "You know, All Shook Up."
Mr. Potato heads a veteran lineup; four players with a combined 10 years of starting experience return from last season's NCAA second-round team. Mitchell may be the quarterback of the offense, but he also can fill it up (18.1 points per game). His backcourt mate, junior James Ponder, earned the moniker the Unknown Assassin last season. While opponents overplayed Mitchell, Ponder busied himself scoring 12.2 points per game.
Then again, Ponder may be unknown because he grew up in suburban Atlanta instead of Memphis. Mincy will be joined by two slightly less garrulous Memphians in the frontcourt, 6'7" senior forward Anthony (Big Jack) Gordon and the new starter, 6'8" senior center Archie (Caboose) Johnson. The four starting seniors are the last Memphians on the roster. It seems that the Memphis well UAB coach Gene Bartow pumped for so long may have finally run dry.
Bartow is still revered in the River City for taking Memphis State to the Final Four in 1973; last summer it was rumored that he would replace embattled Tiger coach Dana Kirk. That was no surprise. Every time a major coaching job opens up, Bartow's name is among the first mentioned. Blazer boosters have offered the 55-year-old coach a $1 million annuity to stay until he reaches retirement age. "It'd be awfully nice for my wife and family if I were to die," deadpans Bartow. "But I'm planning to coach another 40 years."
Of course, all the annuity does is raise Bartow's asking price. The lack of respect accorded the best coach in Alabama galls this otherwise relaxed, happy guy. His wardrobe galls everyone else. "That's him. The Haggar slacks and Sansabelt man," says Mincy.
Bartow will be working extra hard to take up the slack in his team's sometimes sloppy play. The six-point lead UAB blew with 3:30 to play in its NCAA overtime loss to—oh, my—Memphis State was exceeded only by the 19-point lead with 8:55 to play that evaporated against Old Dominion. Behind the starting players there's little experience. Sophomore Michael Charles, a 6'4" swingman, will be first off the bench if he's not starting. In any case, he should increase his average of 16 minutes per game.
Also of concern to Bartow is the fact that UAB finished last in the Sun Belt in scoring and free-throw percentage, and next-to-last in field-goal percentage. But Mitchell insists that the current team is more enlightened. "We've all learned a valuable lesson here," Mitchell says. "Never take fashion tips from your coach."