Big Splash for the Green Wave
William F. Reed reports on the basketball revival at Tulane.
Coach Perry Clark's extraordinary rebuilding program reached a pinnacle of sorts last Saturday when Tulane upset Louisville 87-83 in overtime on the Cardinals' home court. In 1985, when a point-shaving scandal and NCAA violations were uncovered in the program of then Green Wave coach Ned Fowler, Tulane president Eamon Kelly eliminated basketball as a varsity sport. The Green Wave didn't begin playing again until 1989, when Clark hastily assembled a team that struggled to a 4-24 record. Last season, Tulane improved to 15-13. Now the Green Wave appears ready for greater success after running its record to 9-0 with the win in Louisville. That victory was only Tulane's second against the Cardinals in 25 games and its first in 11 tries at Freedom Hall. "When we came up here last year," said Clark, "it seemed as if we were intimidated by everyone from the man who sells popcorn to the man who sweeps the floor. Today we fought hard, made the plays we had to and left our guts on the floor. The importance of this game to our program is tremendous."
Just as important was the message being sent to the rest of college basketball: The revamped Metro Conference may be a lot stronger than anybody dreamed going into the season. The league seemed to be coming unraveled after last season when four of its eight teams bolted for other leagues (Florida State to the ACC, South Carolina to the SEC, and Memphis State and Cincinnati to the new Great Midwest). Indeed, the turnover in Metro membership cost the conference its automatic NCAA tournament berth for this season. However, by picking up UNC Charlotte, South Florida and Virginia Commonwealth from the Sun Belt Conference, the Metro seems to have saved its life.
After last weekend's games, five of the Metro's members had winning records, and three of them had scored major upsets against nonconference competition. While getting off to an 8-1 start, UNC Charlotte handed Alabama its only loss. South Florida (9-2) had a win over Iowa, and Louisville (7-2) upended Louisiana State in Baton Rouge.
If the conference games turn out to be as exciting as the Tulane-Louisville match, that'll be good news for the league's fans, because there were no dull moments in that game. The contest featured 18 ties and 26 lead changes. Tulane won because of the terrific play of its bench. One reserve, forward Matt Greene, led Tulane in scoring, with 21 points. Another, guard Kim Lewis, contributed 20 points and a team-high nine rebounds. Yet another, aptly named point guard Pointer Williams, chipped in with seven assists and four steals. "One through five, our players can't beat very many people," said Clark. "But one through 10, we're very difficult to beat."
Trouble in Texas
Unlike the Metro, the Southwest Conference continues to suffer on and off the court as it adjusts to life without Arkansas, which ditched the SWC after last season and made its Southeastern Conference debut last weekend (page 39). The quality of play in the conference is declining, fan interest is dwindling, and the area's best high school players are leaving.
Without the Razorbacks, winners of the last three conference titles, the Southwest isn't competitive with the nation's elite. Through Sunday, conference teams were 1-10 against Top 25 clubs.
That kind of performance won't hold fan interest in an area where football is already king. At Texas A&M, coach Tony Barone has taken to scheduling teams with good football programs, like Florida, Alabama and Auburn, to get the name recognition that might bring out more fans. Still, it's not unusual for the Aggies to draw fewer than 2,000 fans.
Meager attendance like that is raising questions about the future of the conference's postseason tournament. In the past, Arkansas fans bought as many as 11,000 tickets to the Southwest Conference tournament at Reunion Arena in Dallas, which seats 16,700. The league will hold the 1992 tournament in Dallas, where the crowds are expected to be disastrously small, but it is pondering where it might have a chance of successfully staging the tournament next year.
The conference's woes can be traced back to the Texas schools' inability to keep many of the state's top high school players at home. Two members of Michigan's outstanding freshman class, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson, are from Texas, as are some of the other top freshmen around the country, including Alfred Grigsby of California and 7-footcr Greg Ostertag of Kansas.
Until its coaches can convince local players to stay home, the SWC will continue to suffer the sort of humbling experience it did when South Alabama went to Waco on Saturday and beat Baylor 88-59. Derek Turner scored 23 points for South Alabama, making seven of nine three-point shots. Turner is from Tyler, Texas.
A Stirring Debut
When Earnest Killum, a 6'5" sophomore guard for Oregon State, said he would give anything to play basketball, he meant it. Killum has had to clear some daunting medical hurdles to play for the Beavers.
During a pickup game last summer in Los Angeles, Killum went up for a rebound and realized that his left arm and part of his face had gone numb. When he sat down, he began to feel dizzy and his speech was slurred. He was taken to a hospital, where it was determined several hours later that he had suffered a slight stroke. Blood clots, including one in a main artery leading to his brain, had formed in Killum's circulatory system.
He underwent surgery for the removal of a clot in his left arm and was put on an anticoagulant called Coumadin. Trouble was, the medication made it risky for Killum to play basketball, because a blow to his body can result in internal bleeding.
"At the start of practice everyone said I would redshirt this season, and maybe I'd be O.K. to play next year," Killum says. "But I never felt any symptoms after they took care of that first problem. I knew I'd be able to play this season."
He was right. On the day after Christmas, Killum's doctors agreed it would be safe to reduce the amount of medication enough to allow him to play, even though he would be taking a calculated gamble. "He likely will always be at some risk, which he is aware of," Richard Cronk, the Oregon State team physician, told the Portland Oregonian. "But the experts have determined that the risk is in an acceptable range."
Part of the reason Killum so badly wanted to play is that he has a chance to be a star. He was the Player of the Year in Southern California as a senior at Lyn-wood High in Los Angeles, where he averaged 29.7 points per game and was one of the most highly rated recruits in the nation two years ago. Killum signed with Oklahoma but went to Oregon State after it was learned that he would be academically ineligible to play for the Sooners as a freshman.
In his first four outings after being approved to play with the Beavers, he averaged 9.3 points in only 14 minutes per game. That kind of production would be impressive for any player, but for Killum, it's remarkable.
Before 31-year-old coach John Calipari took over at Massachusetts four seasons ago, the Minutemen had 10 straight losing seasons, including five years of 20 or more losses. The joke was that they were called the Minutemen because a minute was how long it took before victory was out of their reach. But an NCAA tournament bid seems a real possibility for UMass after last Saturday's 86-73 win over No. 14 Oklahoma moved the team's record to 11-2....
Kansas State sophomore guard Askia Jones, son of former NBA guard Wali Jones, scored 20 straight Wildcat points in a 71-65 victory over Wyoming....
Only 20 of the 16,000 Kentucky season tickets were not reclaimed this season. There were more than 7,000 requests for those 20 tickets.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
Khari Jaxon, a 6'8" junior forward for New Mexico, scored a career-high 21 points, converting nine of 11 held goal attempts, and blocked seven shots in the Lobos' 60-54 defeat of Utah.
Mercer's Andrea Congreaves, a 6'3" junior center, averaged 41.3 points, 9.7 rebounds and three assists as the Lady Bears beat Marshall 71-56, East Tennessee State 92-65 and Coastal Carolina 81-52.
Jack Smith, a 6'3" senior forward for Troy State, averaged 22.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and three steals as the Division II Trojans beat Florida Southern 84-82, Wofford 114-107 and Rollins 107-92.
Then & Now
In 1974-75, forward Steve Green was the top scorer—16.6 points a game—for a 31-1 Indiana team that coach Bob Knight has said was even better than his undefeated '75-76 juggernaut. Green still drills 'em as a dentist in Indianapolis.