The freshman season of UCLA forward Ed O'Bannon is a good example of how quickly a bright basketball future can turn cloudy. More than that, though, O'Bannon is a model of how to handle oneself when things look gray.
A year ago O'Bannon was touted as the best freshman in the country. He had a photo session for this magazine with teammate Don MacLean and former Bruin stars Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Bill Walton. "He would have been the Pac-10 player of the year as a freshman," says UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian, who originally signed O'Bannon but lost him when the Rebels were put on NCAA probation.
But in October 1990, a torn anterior cruciate ligament in O'Bannon's left knee, the same type of injury that threatened the careers of Bernard King, Danny Manning and Ron Harper, ended his freshman season before it began. Rehabilitation has been slow, although not without its high points (singers Michael Jackson, Paula Abdul and George Michael sent get-well wishes), and O'Bannon still has a long way to go before he'll have fully recovered. Earlier this month he had his third operation on the knee—arthroscopic surgery to relieve swelling—and will probably not be able to return to the court until late December.
"I'm about 75 percent of what I was," says O'Bannon, whose quickness and slashing drives to the basket before his injury had some observers comparing him with the Los Angeles Lakers' James Worthy. "My jumping ability and quickness aren't all the way back. I don't feel as explosive as I used to be."
But O'Bannon hasn't spent the past year moping. At UCLA he has grown in every way except as a basketball player. He developed an interest in astronomy and worked on a plan to do a radio show with teammate Shon Tarver for the campus station. Friends and family describe him as far more outgoing than he was a year ago. A season without basketball has also made O'Bannon a supporter of freshman ineligibility.
"I never thought I'd say it, but now I think freshmen should take their first year to get used to the college environment," he says. "I lost a year of playing, but I've gained a lot too."
If the notoriously rowdy Duke student section becomes strangely quiet at times this season, it won't be due to a loss of enthusiasm. It will only show that the fans are up on the latest research into crowd behavior.
Last season Charles Maxfield and Sharon Mavros, husband-and-wife radiologists at the Duke University Medical Center and Blue Devil season-ticket holders, decided to chart the success of the various techniques used by the students at Cameron Indoor Stadium to distract opponents' foul shooters. (It has long been suggested that the Cameron crazies ought to be seriously studied by doctors, but this wasn't what anyone had in mind.)
Maxfield and Mavros summarized their findings in a tongue-in-cheek research paper that concluded: "The most effective distractionary technique utilizes that one entity seldom experienced by opposing players at Cameron: silence."
But first Maxfield and Mavros defined their terms. They labeled and analyzed the five distractions most commonly used by the Dukies: the Hop, in which students behind the basket hop up and down in place; the Whirl, in which students stand with their hands over their heads and whirl their arms in a circular motion while making a woooooo sound; the Lean and Shift, in which students behind the basket first lean in one direction, then shift to the opposite direction just as the shooter is releasing his shot; the "Shhhh...Hey!!" in which students sit silently until the shooter is about to release the ball, at which point they scream; and the Egg-beater, in which students motion with their arms in simulation of a referee's traveling call.
To illustrate the effect of each distraction, the good doctors used "the foul-shooting percentage of ACC players shooting without any distractions...i.e., in a vacuum" as a standard of comparison. In a dig at archrival North Carolina, they chose, as the vacuum, the Tar Heels' Dean Smith Center, where visiting players shot 66% from the foul line last season. Maxfield and Mavros found that in 1990-91, Duke opponents in Cameron shot only 36% (9 of 25) against the "Shhhh...Hey!!" approach, while they shot from 64% to 80% against the other four tactics.
Only hated North Carolina fared better than 50% against the "Shhhh...Hey!!", which Maxfield and Mavros attributed to the fact that "the Tar Heels are accustomed to playing in dead silence."
But they also point out that a distraction isn't always needed to make an opponent miss. Last season in Cameron, Clemson's Dale Davis was shooting a free throw near the end of one of his more difficult games at the line. After pondering which tactic to use on Davis's final attempt, the Duke students turned their backs and chanted, "It just doesn't matter. It just doesn't matter." They were right. He missed.
One of the biggest gaffes of the off-season occurred in Lexington, Ky., when WLEX-TV sports director Alan Cutler made a comment implying that the Kentucky basketball program might be too honest to draw top recruits.
"The bottom line is that everyone cheats," Cutler said during a July telecast. "The question is, To what extent? And if the Cats are going to compete on a big-time level for the best recruits, they're going to have to play the game."
Cutler later said his words were misinterpreted. "The point of the commentary was to let people know cheating was still going on all over the country," he told the Lexington Herald-Leader. "I'm not suggesting that Kentucky goes out and cheats. What I'm saying is, there are players who won't come here because Kentucky won't cheat. There's a big difference between the two."
A month later Cutler's airtime was slightly reduced, a move that WLEX officials said was not a punishment. That's easy to believe. By reducing Cutler's chances to put his foot in his mouth, the station probably did him a favor.
Can the Fords Get Started?
Haverford (Pa.) College almost has to have a better season than it did in '90-91. The Fords, 0-25 last season, have a 36-game losing streak that dates back to January 1990.
"We're going to break the streak this season," says coach David Hooks. "I'm not going to say when, but we're going to break it." If not, Hooks, who has a master's degree in sports psychology, may have to start holding group therapy sessions for his players.
To be fair, the Fords had a series of injuries last season. Freshman guard Jac Leonardi gave up the game altogether after unsuccessfully trying to come back from a spinal-cord injury he suffered the year before. Only one recruited player made it through the year without missing a game for health reasons.
Because Haverford is a top liberal arts school, Hooks has concerns that most Division I coaches don't have. For instance, starting guard Jeremy Edwards missed all of last season for academic reasons—he was studying abroad, in Spain.
Hooks is as concerned about academics as his players are. His work on a doctoral dissertation in sports psychology is on hold at the moment, but he acknowledges that his team could be an interesting topic for a paper. "But right now," Hooks says, "I'm thinking less about a Ph.D. than I am about winning some games."
Former UNLV forward Larry Johnson is putting some of the money from his six-year, $19.8 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets to good use. One of Johnson's first acts was to pledge a donation of $24,000 annually for the funding of an academic adviser's position, not at UNLV but at the junior college he attended, Odessa (Texas) Junior College....
Pepperdine coach Tom Asbury has named his team's new pressure defense "Clarence," after Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. "We deny everything," Asbury said....
North Carolina, which has one of college basketball's most recognizable uniforms, is changing its look. Designer Alexander Julian, who created the Charlotte Hornets' duds, is designing a new uniform for the Tar Heels. The new outfits have not yet been unveiled, but Julian assures fans that the warmups will be changed more drastically than the uniforms themselves. "Having Dean Smith ask you to redo the Carolina uniforms is like having God ask you to redo the uniforms for the archangels," Julian says....
Stanford center Adam Keefe is either very brave or very foolish. Keefe, a probable first-round NBA draft pick next spring, went bungee jumping from a crane during the off-season—twice from 150 feet and once from 250 feet.