Shaq out of Whack
LSU coach Dale Brown has always had a knack for squeezing every last drop out of apparently ordinary teams. For instance, his 1985-86 Tigers reached the Final Four despite having finished fifth in the SEC. But Brown's more talented squads, like the '89-90 Chris Jackson-Stanley Roberts-Shaquille O'Neal group that lost in the second round of the NCAA tournament, have been notorious underachieves.
The current Tigers, ranked sixth in the preseason, are in early danger of falling into the latter category. Last Saturday Arizona crushed the Tigers 87-67 to drop them to 2-2. LSU also was blown out by UNLV, and one of its two victories was a lackluster 77-76 defeat of Northeast Louisiana in which the Tigers had to score the last nine points to avoid being embarrassed on their home court.
Brown, who used three different starting lineups in the four games, has been experimenting madly. "We're still trying to fine the right group," says sophomore guard Jamie Brandon "We're looking for one that car get the ball inside to Shaq and hit some outside shots when defenses collapse on him."
The Tigers were supposed to have shored up O'Neal's supporting cast with the addition of Brandon, who was rated by some recruiting experts as the best guard out of Chicago since Isiah Thomas, and the return of guard Maurice Williamson, who missed last season because of poor grades. Steady senior forward Vernel Singleton and junior outside shooter Mike Hansen were set to provide additional help for O'Neal. But against Arizona, LSU gave no indication that it had found what it was looking for. The Tigers had a difficult time getting the ball to the 7-foot O'Neal, and when he was out of the game, the offense often degenerated into a series of mostly unsuccessful one-on-one moves.
Last season, in a 92-82 LSU victory in Baton Rouge, O'Neal destroyed the Wildcats with 29 points, 14 rebounds, six blocked shots and one humiliating little jig, which he dubbed the Shaq-de-Shaq. The memory was still vivid for the Wildcats, especially center-forward Sean Rooks, and they made sure O'Neal would not boogie on their floor. At times Arizona had as many as four defenders around O'Neal, and the Wildcats simply dared LSU to beat them with jump shots. The Tigers couldn't do it. Williamson made only one of 10 shots, and forward Harold Boudreaux converted four of 11. All told, the Tigers shot 38% from the floor.
O'Neal, who was in foul trouble most of the game and played only 22 minutes, finished with 10 points—his lowest total since he was a freshman two years ago—four rebounds and three blocked shots. "I don't know too many people who can go out and score 30 points a night with three or four people on them," said O'Neal after the game.
The Tigers need to right themselves quickly, if only to make sure that they maintain O'Neal's interest. He passed up the NBA draft, in which he would have been the top pick, to return for his junior year, but he hasn't played with the ferocity he showed last season, and his early frustration against the Wildcats seemed to give way to resignation. Late in the game, when the outcome had been decided, O'Neal turned to Rooks and said, "I don't care how good you play. I'm still the Number One draft pick." He might have been joking, or he might have been inadvertently revealing where his mind sometimes wanders.
Arizona's players had no trouble concentrating, especially Rooks, whose teammates wouldn't let him forget O'Neal's performance of a year ago, including his thunderous slam dunk over Rooks that led to his exuberant dance. "I heard about it from my teammates every day for 365 days," said Rooks after scoring 16 points and grabbing five rebounds on Saturday. "Whenever they saw it replayed on TV, they'd come to my room, pound on my door and tell me, 'They're showing it again.' It was great motivation."
During CBS's telecast of the Kentucky-Indiana game last weekend, commentator Billy Packer put Houston forward Sam Mack on his list of the top newcomers in the country. Mack, a 6'7" senior, may be in his first season with the Cougars, but he's anything but a newcomer. Houston is the fourth stop in Mack's troubled college career, and so far it has been a most satisfying one. Through Sunday he had a 21.2 scoring average, which included a 32-point performance in a 68-65 loss to North Carolina on Nov. 27.
Mack's talent has never been in doubt; his difficulties have come off the court. He started at Iowa State, where he sat out his freshman season because of Prop 48 restrictions. He had a promising sophomore year in 1988-89, scoring 11.8 points a game for the Cyclones. But after the season, Mack and former Iowa State football player Levin White were charged with first-degree robbery in the holdup of a fast-food restaurant in Ames. White was convicted on the robbery charge and is serving a 25-year prison sentence, but Mack, who was shot by police in the hip and leg outside the restaurant, was acquitted. After that he decided to transfer to Arizona State.
But before Mack even became eligible to play for the Sun Devils, an Arizona State female student accused him of sexual assault. After a police investigation, no charges were filed. A few months later he was arrested on suspicion of using a stolen credit card to buy jewelry. Again, no charges were brought, but Mack was dismissed from the team and went to Tyler (Texas) Junior College, where coach Roy Thomas helped him stop his downward spiral. "He helped me gain discipline," says Mack. "I would set goals for myself, type them up on index cards and tape them to my locker. I had been hanging out with the wrong people, but I started to pull my life back together at Tyler."
Houston coach Pat Foster found Mack at Tyler and decided to take a chance on him after investigating his background and consulting Cougar athletic director Rudy Davalos and university president Marguerite Ross Barnett. "He's got a chance to salvage his career," says Foster. "He's been very cooperative; he's not a problem-type player. If you threw out all the guys in college and the pros who have been in trouble, you wouldn't have a lot of players, unfortunately."
For his part, Mack is saying all the right things. "All of that is in the past," he says. "I don't plan on getting in trouble."
Mack seems as confident of that as he is of his talent, which is saying a lot. "Scoring, putting the ball in the hole, is my forte," he says. "Anybody can tell you that. Offensively, I can be pretty hard to stop."
Now the challenge for Mack is to keep from stopping himself.
It's the same old story at East Tennessee State. A year ago the Buccaneers proved to be better than almost anyone had expected, climbing as high as No. 10 in the Associated Press poll, thanks largely to pint-sized point guard Keith (Mister) Jennings. Now Jennings is gone—all 5'7" of him—but the Bucs have plugged another small piece into the puzzle. At week's end they were 4-0 and had beaten Tennessee 87-79 on the road and Southern Mississippi 87-76 at home.
Coach Alan LeForce has replaced Jennings with the aptly named Jason Niblett, a 5'11" transfer from Hagerstown (Md.) Junior College, who insists that he's not as flashy or as proficient a scorer as his predecessor was. That would be easier to believe if Niblett hadn't scored 33 points against Tennessee. He also had 14 points and six assists in the Southern Miss game last Saturday. "It's natural to compare us because of our height," says Niblett, "but I didn't come in here expecting to do the kinds of things Keith did. You won't see 33 points from me too often. We have guys who are better scorers than I am."
Two of those players are 6'4" leaper Calvin Talford, the Bucs' leading scorer, and 6'11" center Greg Dennis, who missed last season with a broken foot. Talford had 21 points and Dennis 19 against Southern Mississippi. The victory was the Bucs' 32nd in a row at home.
But it is Niblett who has made sure East Tennessee State doesn't miss Jennings's playmaking capabilities too badly. The only thing he lacks is a nickname, probably because his teammates don't make an issue of his size. "If you take care of your responsibilities and get guys the ball," says Niblett, "suddenly they don't care about your height anymore."
Vote Yes on 81
Alexander Wolff reports from Anchorage on the Great Alaska Shootout.
Tournament fields at the Great Alaska Shootout don't dazzle the way they used to. Two years ago the NCAA passed a rule that goes into effect on Aug. 1, 1992, limiting schools to one of the following every four years: 1) a trip outside the continental U.S.; 2) a berth in the Tip-Off Classic; 3) a spot in the preseason NIT. For coaches obsessed with recruiting and exposure, it's a no-brainer. Given a choice between Hawaii and Alaska, they'll go for leis over mukluks almost every time. Or, if they choose to stay in the Lower 48 and are asked to pick among the Tip-Off in Springfield, Mass., home of the Basketball Hall of Fame; the NIT, which ends in Madison Square Garden; or a trip to Anchorage, they'll quickly rule out the city that's shrouded in darkness for 18 hours on Thanksgiving Day. Thus the Shootout, which ended on Dec. 2, has evolved into a convocation of midmajor teams. This season's field—Coastal Carolina, Idaho, Santa Clara, Eastern Michigan, Oregon State, Massachusetts, New Orleans and Division II host Alaska-Anchorage—was typical. The names on the marquee have gone "from North Carolina [in 1985] to South Carolina [last season] to Coastal Carolina," wrote Anchorage Times columnist Mike Taylor.
The 14-year-old Shootout now faces another NCAA hurdle, one that could force it to move to Christmastime and perhaps scale back to four teams. New legislation, pushed through by the reform-minded NCAA Presidents Commission, will henceforth delay the start of the season until Dec. 1. Alaska-Anchorage has succeeded in getting a proposal on the agenda at next month's NCAA convention that would exempt teams that participate in the Shootout. The school's administrators, who are lobbying hard for the measure, note that the Shootout occurs over a holiday weekend, thus minimizing missed class time, and that it provides a chance to visit perhaps the most naturally spectacular and culturally diverse state in the union. "It isn't something that's at variance with what the reform movement is trying to do," says Alaska-Anchorage chancellor Donald Behrend. "Besides, to people here the Shootout is a tradition. Fourteen years is a long time in modern Alaska."
Last week, while U Mass was winning the tournament on the court, Alaskans slopped at the HELP SAVE THE SHOOTOUT booth at one end of Sullivan Arena to write the presidents of their alma maters in the Lower 48, urging them to vote yes on Proposition 81. At week's end they had sent letters to about 160 of the 298 Division I colleges. We hope their letters are read and heeded.
Playing against crosstown Tallahassee neighbor Florida State for the first time since 1982, Florida A&M had to forfeit the game with 1:19 left in the first half after all but three of its players were ejected for fighting. For their part, the Seminoles will have to make their ACC debut on Sunday against North Carolina without leading scorer Douglas Edwards and perhaps without starting point guard Sam Cassell, who also were ejected for taking part in the brawl. Under NCAA rules, a mandatory one-game suspension accompanies any ejection for fighting, but Florida State has filed an appeal with the NCAA to reinstate Cassell....
Hard times have hit New Mexico now that center Luc Longley has moved on to the NBA. The Lobos, who were 2-4 at week's end, lost 81-76 at home to Eastern New Mexico, a Division II school playing its fifth game in five days. Guard Jeff Cooper led the Greyhounds with 23 points....
Northeastern Illinois coach Rees Johnson, assessing his team's performance in a 100-77 loss to DePaul: "Basically, what we did is follow them around, watch what they did and foul them."
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Anthony Peeler, a 6'4" senior guard at Missouri, averaged 31 points, seven rebounds, 3.5 assists and 2.5 steals in the Tigers' 86-61 victory over Florida A&M and their 87-76 upset of 11th-ranked Arkansas.
Providence's Tracy Lis, a 5'9" senior forward, scored 29 points in a 94-86 defeat of Fordham and then poured in 45 points in a 121-95 win over Bowling Green to become the Friars' alltime leading women's scorer.
Tammy Wood, a 5'7" senior guard, averaged 18.3 points, 11.7 rebounds and 10.3 assists as California of Pennsylvania, a Division II school, beat St. Vincent 83-54, Seton Hill 85-71 and Salem-Teikyo 82-59.