A LOT OF HEART
First, Joe Rhett just wanted to live. Then he wanted to play basketball again. Then he wanted to play well. Each wish has come true as Rhett's comeback story has become more and more amazing.
Rhett, a 6'8" junior forward at South Carolina, had a pacemaker installed in his chest last Feb. 22 to stimulate his irregular heartbeat, which would stop at times for up to seven seconds. Many people, including Rhett, at first thought his basketball career might be over because of the heart condition, but he has returned to the Gamecocks this season, and he's playing better than ever.
He made the all-tournament team two weeks ago at the Great Alaska Shootout, where he was the top rebounder, then topped himself last weekend as South Carolina beat North Carolina 76-74 and Houston 74-70 to win the Tournament of Champions, in Charlotte. Rhett had 15 points and six rebounds against the Heels in the first meeting between the teams in 18 years. For Gamecock fans, beating North Carolina was cause enough for rejoicing. But Rhett followed that with 21 points and 12 boards against Houston and was named the tournament MVP. Last weekend, after five games, he had averaged 14.2 points and 9.4 boards, a significant improvement on the 11.0 points and 7.9 rebounds he averaged in 22 games last season before his heart condition forced him to the bench.
"It's pretty hard to believe," he said. "I was hoping that eventually I'd get back to where I used to be, but I didn't know how long it would take. I'm just grateful."
Rhett first became aware of his problem when he nearly blacked out in a Louisville hotel room during a road trip. He became nauseated and his body grew numb. "I thought I was having a heart attack," he said. "I couldn't move anything, and that really scared me. Then my heart started racing, and I couldn't move. I was really sweating."
Less than two weeks after the pacemaker was installed, Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers, who suffered from cardiomyopathy, collapsed while playing and died. Rhett was moved to tears. "It made me see how easily it could happen, how one minute you could be playing and the next.... I used to lie awake at night wondering if I could play again, if I should play again."
Doctors eventually told Rhett that playing wouldn't put him at any increased risk. He takes no medication and says he can't feel the half-dollar-sized pacemaker, which is located near his collarbone and keeps his heart rate from falling below 40 beats a minute. But he doesn't deny thinking about the pacemaker.
"I never think about it when I'm playing, but sometimes when I'm sitting alone in my room, I wonder what will happen if I get an elbow there or something," he said. "But three doctors have told me I'm fine, and I feel fine."
Even Rhett has trouble explaining why he's playing better than he did before the pacemaker was implanted. "Maybe it's because I know that people are watching me, not wanting something to happen to me but curious to see if it will," he says. "I guess I'm just trying extra hard to prove to them that I'm fine."
WHAT SIN THE CARDS?
Louisville's 72-52 loss to Indiana last Saturday in the Big Four Classic showed that the Cardinals can't compete with the elite, at least not yet. But the program may have bigger problems brewing away from the court.
A clash between coach Denny Crum and university president Donald C. Swain over academic standards, among other issues, has Crum openly talking about life after Louisville. Crum, in his 20th season with the Cardinals, has stopped speaking to university administrators about an extension of his 10-year contract, which expires in July 1993.
"I might be receptive to other offers, depending on what they are," said Crum, who will receive a $1 million bonus when his current contract expires. "The whole atmosphere around here has changed. It's not like it was. Everything seems to be going in a direction that will make it very difficult for us to have success and compete at the level we've been competing."
The crux of the matter is increased scrutiny of the academic performance of Louisville players. Only six of the 37 scholarship players who completed their eligibility at the school from 1981 to '90 earned degrees within five years of enrolling. On top of that, four of this year's recruits are academically ineligible.
The administration reacted by passing a rule in October that requires juniors and seniors to maintain a 2.0 grade point average in order to play. Crum believes that the rule puts his team at a competitive disadvantage.
The discord between Crum and Swain escalated when Crum took part in a demonstration to protest the school's decision to use most of the proceeds from the football team's Jan. 1 Fiesta Bowl appearance for a minority scholarship program. Crum thinks that more of the money should be used for scholarships and equipment in Louisville's nonrevenue sports.
Crum certainly is not opposed to the idea of higher academic standards or more minority scholarships, and it may be that what he really wants is a bigger voice in the decision-making process. Still, it appears that in this situation Crum is the one who should do most of the bending.
RECRUITING SEASON OPENS
You probably didn't realize it, but the most popular place for college coaches to be last weekend was Garden City, Kans. Nolan Richardson of Arkansas and Roy Williams of Kansas were there, as were recruiters for men's and women's teams at more than 100 other schools, including Oklahoma, Florida, DePaul, Missouri, Texas, Washington and Oregon.
They were in Garden City for the fourth annual Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference Shootout, which featured several players you're sure to see playing major roles at top Division I schools in a year or two. And surely it had to be the only event in the country that offered, as the Shootout's motto says, "32 games in three days under one roof."
That's 16 men's games and 16 women's games, held in adjacent gyms, 12 of them last Saturday, and 10 more on each of the next two days. That pretty much ensured the true basketball junkie at least 10 hours of continuous basketball every day, after which we would suggest that he or she seek professional counseling.
That doesn't mean the Shootout wasn't worthwhile. "Kansas, California and Texas have the top juco basketball systems in the country," said New Mexico assistant Paul Graham. "You can come to this tournament and see just about all the [Kansas] juco talent you need to see all in one shot. It's a recruiter's dream."
That's exactly what it's intended to be. It's no coincidence that the first day of the Shootout was Dec. 1, which was also the first day of the NCAA's 10-day evaluation period, when coaches can watch players but not talk to them.
The coaches at Garden City estimated that there were roughly 15 players capable of playing for teams in major conferences and that 20 to 30 merited scholarships from lower-profile Division I teams. Opinions differed as to who the top player of the tournament was—Butler County guard Gaylon Nickerson, Allen County swingman Trasel Rone, Independence guard Eric Coates and Garden City center Frazier Johnson all had their admirers—but the player who attracted the most attention was 6'6" freshman forward Darrin Hancock, who originally signed with UNLV but ended up at Garden City Community College because of academic problems.
"Terrific player, sleek, quick," said one recruiter. "He won the dunk contests at the McDonald's and Dapper Dan [high school all-star] games, which tells you how exciting a player he is."
The crowds for the Shootout expanded and contracted according to the attractiveness of the matchups, but about 2,500 fans filled the gym to watch Hancock and Garden City take on Coates and his Independence teammates on the first day. Hancock was acrobatic, putting together 14 points, eight rebounds and nine assists, but the night belonged to Coates, who had 26 points and nine rebounds to lead Independence to a 74-71 win.
Afterward, the recruiters stood in the lobby, most of them wearing something that displayed their school's emblem, as the players walked by. The emblems were a way of ensuring that the players knew of the school's interest in them. "Great place to see talent," Graham said. "Garden City is a tough place to get to—you better like propeller planes if you want to come—but for this, it's worth it."
PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST
As an aspiring artist, Missy Sharer of Grinnell (Iowa) College deals mainly in landscapes and still lifes, but the 5'8" senior guard has also exhibited a pretty fine stroke on the basketball court. Last season, she led Division III women in three-point field goal percentage (52.5%) and finished 18th in scoring (20.5 points per game). This year she's off to a great start, averaging 32.1 points after five games.
Sharer, who works mostly with water-colors, describes her style as "realistic, with a tendency toward impressionism. My paintings aren't photographic representations. I don't draw things exactly as I see them. But if I draw an apple, you can tell it's an apple."
She originally attended Central Arizona, a Division I school, on a basketball scholarship, but left after only one semester. "I didn't have time for art or other classes or anything else besides basketball," says Sharer. "We'd sometimes practice three times a day. It got to the point where I almost hated basketball."
So she transferred to Marshalltown (Iowa) Community College in her hometown and was given an honorable mention juco All-America as a sophomore. The next season she enrolled at Grinnell, where she has flourished as a player and an artist. She recently sold five of her paintings in an exhibition at the campus art gallery.
"The most expensive one I sold was $75," she says. "My friends keep telling me I'm crazy, that I have to raise the prices."
But Sharer isn't completely unconcerned with the bottom line. The starving artist's life doesn't appeal to her, so she's considering a career in commercial art and graphic design—unless she can find a way to combine fine art and basketball. "Europe wouldn't be a bad idea," she said. "Maybe I can find a team to play for in Paris."
The Left Bank and bank shots. Sounds perfect.
Peter Martin of MidAmerica Nazarene, an NAIA school in Olathe, Kans., describes himself in this way: "I'm a white guy, seven feet tall, slow, and I can't jump. I'm not very pretty on the court."
True, but his statistics are things of beauty. Martin, a junior center from New Zealand, is averaging 38.7 points per game after nine games, including a 79-point effort on Nov. 23 against Northwest Nazarene College. "Actually, it was 81," says Coach Rocky Lamar. "I went back and watched the tape and the official scorer gave two points to the wrong kid." The numbers would have been even more impressive if Lamar hadn't benched Martin before halftime of another game because Martin got two technicals for mouthing off to an official.
Martin doesn't just stand near the basket shooting layups and dunks. "He's a terrific shooter out to 15 feet, with a variety of shots, including a little sky hook," says Lamar. That makes Martin's 75% field goal shooting even more impressive. In his 79-point game, Martin made 33 of 41 shots.
MidAmerica Nazarene is obviously grateful that this large bundle fell more or less into its lap. Martin played at Utah Valley Community College in Orem, Utah, from 1987 to '89, then signed to play for Fresno State because he had been a high school exchange student in Fresno. But after spending a summer on the California campus, he decided he didn't like the school enough to stay. He went home to New Zealand for a year because Fresno State wouldn't let him out of his letter of intent.
Lamar heard about Martin from a former MidAmerica Nazarene player and phoned him in New Zealand about once a month until Martin agreed to come to Kansas for a visit. The college's rules prevented Lamar from paying Martin's way, which would have been difficult anyway, because even the long-distance calls were a strain on Nazarene's small budget. "The calls were very, very brief," Lamar says.
The coach got more than he bargained for. "I came back at about 255 pounds from my mum's home cooking—Vegemite sandwiches, meat and potatoes," says Martin. He has since lost about 20 pounds and is moving a bit quicker. Against NAIA competition, the only thing that may slow him down is his temper.
If I can keep my mouth shut and not make a fool of myself, perhaps I'll get a chance [at the NBA]," says Martin.
After Temple lost to Iowa 73-71 in the opening round of the NIT on Nov. 15, Owls coach John Chaney put his team through double-session practices for three straight days during the Thanksgiving break. On Thanksgiving Day, the Owls practiced from 9 a.m. to noon and from 6 to 9 p.m., with time off for a turkey dinner in the cafeteria. Apparently the extra work helped. Temple beat rival Villanova 70-57 last week....
Texas A&M's new practice of letting a walk-on start every home game and play until the opponent scores its first field goal got off to an inauspicious start. The first honored walk-on was Brian Linder, a 6'3" freshman, who was whistled for a travel in the 22 seconds he played before Oklahoma scored. The Aggies lost, 81-65....
Rice women's coach Mike Dunavant learned recently that he had successfully recruited 6'5" center Nicki Manzo of Lompoc (Calif.) High when Manzo had a pizza delivered to Dunavant with the word yes spelled out in pepperoni....
La Salle guard Doug Overton is spending the semester as a student teacher of a fourth-grade class at Simmons Elementary School outside Philadelphia. When he was out with a sprained ankle during preseason, one of his students sent him a get-well card with a drawing of a scoreboard. It read: LA SALLE 19121353201, TEMPLE 0.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Alphonso Ford, a 6'2" sophomore guard for Mississippi Valley State, averaged 40.3 points and 5.7 rebounds as the Delta Devils beat Southern 93-84, North Carolina A&T 80-74 and Albany State 95-86.
North Carolina State's 5'10" senior guard Andrea Stinson scored 28 points on 13 of 26 shooting, and had nine rebounds, two steals and two blocked shots in the Wolfpack's 90-77 win over No. 3 Tennessee.
Willie Davis, a 6'7" senior forward for Alderson-Broaddus, made 21 of 29 shots while scoring 59 points and grabbing 26 boards in two victories, 104-96 over Wheeling Jesuit and 99-86 over Salem.