Relaxation is the key to playing good basketball, says Colorado center Shaun Vandiver. How do the Buffaloes define relaxation? During last season's Big Eight tournament in Kansas City, Vandiver says, he and his teammates "went out and partied the nights before and after every game. We were hanging out at Lynn Dickey's and some of the other places in Westport. Having a good time—just kickin'. "
It worked. The Buffaloes, the league's last-place team during the regular season, upset top-seeded Missouri and Oklahoma State before falling 92-80 to Oklahoma in the title game. The 6'10" Vandiver was named tournament MVP after averaging 25 points and 13.7 rebounds in the three games.
School officials weren't prepared for the Buffaloes' postseason showing. Two weeks before the tournament, they had announced that coach Tom Miller (35-79 in four seasons) would be given his walking papers at season's end. They didn't change their minds.
If Colorado's play in Kansas City was a surprise, Vandiver's was not. Though the Buffaloes were a lowly 10-17 in the regular season, Vandiver was the first player to lead the conference in both scoring (22.3 points per game) and rebounding (11.2) since Oklahoma's Wayman Tisdale did it in 1983-84.
Vandiver likes to spend his free time wandering through the Rockies with his fiancèe, Danielle, and their two-year-old daughter, Aubrey. He was also active in Rebound Into Reading, a literacy program for elementary school children run by Dana Petersen, whose husband, Tom, is the school's sports information director. "Last year I read Dr. Seuss to 500 kids," he says.
New coach Joe Harrington will have to teach the Buffaloes how to win away from home: Colorado hasn't won a regular-season Big Eight road game since Feb. 10, 1983.
Program sales should flourish this season at Kansas, which lost four starters from a team that went 11-3 in the conference in 1989-90. But coach Roy Williams still has the versatile 6'9" forward Mark Randall, which should be just enough to keep the Jayhawks in the league's upper echelons.
The woes continue for Missouri, which was hit with a two-year probation on Oct. 8, after a two-year investigation into coach Norm Stewart's program. The Tigers' backcourt, a strength in 1989-90, is a memory. Travis Ford transferred to Kentucky, and Anthony Peeler is academically ineligible until at least January. On the plus side, All-America forward Doug Smith spurned a certain spot in the NBA draft lottery to play his senior season.
Oklahoma State rookie coach Eddie Sutton—yes, that Eddie Sutton—won't have former All-Conference forward Richard Dumas. Dumas was dismissed from the team after suffering a substance-abuse relapse 12 games into last season. Center Byron Houston, who averaged 18.5 points and 10 rebounds in 1989-90, cannot fill the void alone.
Both Iowa State and Nebraska will also look inside for inspiration. The key number for both teams is 265. The Cyclones, coming off their worst season (9-18) since 1980-81, want to keep 6'9" center Vic Alexander's weight below that level, while the Cornhuskers would be delighted if slender 7'2" Rich King rose above it. New Kansas State coach Dana Altman hopes that 6'9" transfer Darryl King can give the Wildcats the same boost that Darryl's brother Stacey gave Oklahoma from 1985-86 to 1988-89.