Back on Their Heels
This is the time of year when Top 25 teams are supposed to be rounding into shape for the NCAA tournament, but North Carolina is doing just the opposite. The Tar Heels' 82-80 loss at Maryland on Sunday was their fourth straight defeat, their longest losing streak in 27 years. The Heels, in fact, haven't played a solid game since they upset Duke on Feb. 5.
How concerned is North Carolina coach Dean Smith? Probably more than he is letting on. Smith chose to concentrate on how well his team played in the second half against Maryland, when the Heels overcame a 22-point deficit. But Smith's behavior at intermission, when he stomped out of the locker room in disgust after giving his players a rare tongue-lashing, might have been more indicative of his real feelings.
After the game the players also professed not to be worried. "We're catching opponents at the peak of their games," said guard Hubert Davis.
March 9, 1992
"Everybody's hot when they play us," said center Eric Montross.
The losing streak must have the Carolina players feeling disoriented, because, in truth, three of the teams that beat the Tar Heels in succession—Virginia, North Carolina State and Florida State—all ended losing streaks with their wins.
North Carolina has been especially woeful on defense. The Tar Heels surrendered 110 points to Florida State—equaling the most ever allowed by a Smith team in his 31 years in Chapel Hill—and 99 to North Carolina State. The team's recent struggles have prompted critics to trot out some time-honored knocks against Smith. The complaint is heard that some of the most talented players stop developing, while others—Walter Davis and Michael Jordan being prime examples—don't really flourish until they turn pro. The system is the star, with the result, it is said, that players are reluctant to take charge when the game is on the line.
Not that anyone is ready to count out the Heels, however. "I think North Carolina is going to be a very good tournament team," said Maryland coach Gary Williams after Sunday's game. "If you look at the teams in the ACC this season, from top to bottom they've all gone through bad stretches."
But the Tar Heels' stretch seems particularly ill timed. With the postseason fast approaching, they don't have much time to find themselves.
Prince of the City
Notre Dame is making a habit of ambushing good teams, some of which may simply have trouble maintaining their enthusiasm for nonconference games. The Irish's 79-70 defeat of St. John's in South Bend last Saturday appeared to be a case in point. But certainly the loss didn't erase the Redmen's impressive recovery in the Big East after a 4-5 start. Going into Monday night's game with Georgetown to break the two teams' tie for the conference lead, St. John's had won seven consecutive Big East games.
The Redmen have benefited from the improved play of senior guard Chucky Sproling and of 6'11" sophomore forward Shawnelle Scott, who has made sure the team doesn't miss injured center Robert Werdann too badly. However, the Redmen's pillar of strength has been 6'8" senior forward Malik Sealy, who has played like the first-round NBA draft choice he's likely to be.
If it's possible for a New York City athlete to be underpublicized, Sealy has been. That's ironic because Scaly, a graduate of Tolentine High in the Bronx, is the consummate New Yorker. As a child, his parents made sure that he and his sister and three brothers saw more of the city than just basketball courts. "They took us all over New York," Sealy says. "As a kid I went to all the museums, and I knew all the bridges and all the different neighborhoods. I saw a lot of things that kids my age didn't get to see, and I learned that you can get an education outside the classroom as well as inside it."
Another thing Scaly learned was how to sew, a skill his mother, Ann, taught him when he was in the fifth grade. In fact, Malik became a proficient enough seamster to make a blouse for one of his elementary school teachers. He hasn't tried anything so ambitious lately—unless you count the fact that he has helped piece St. John's season back together.
A Historic Mission
Even before Virginia Union's 66-63 win over Johnson C. Smith in the final of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament last Saturday in Richmond, it was obvious that both teams would be invited to the NCAA Division II tournament, which begins March 13. Virginia Union entered the CIAA tournament ranked third in the country, while Johnson C. Smith was No. 5.
But some people around the CIAA, a 14-team league of historically black colleges, are so dissatisfied with the tougher admissions standards passed by the NCAA in January that they are urging CIAA schools and other black universities to withdraw from the NCAA. The most controversial of the new rules replaces the 700 SAT score required by Proposition 48 with a sliding scale, so that a student with only, say, a 2.0 GPA must have a minimum of 900 on the SAT to qualify for an athletic scholarship.
"We're talking about schools that exist, at least in part, to provide higher education to students who haven't reached their academic potential," says Johnson C. Smith alumnus Joseph Faust, a former sports information director at North Carolina A&T, a black school in Division I. "To go along with the NCAA on this is to go against the principles on which these schools were founded. The NCAA is asking schools for African-Americans to exclude African-Americans by using a test that has been shown to be culturally biased against African-Americans."
Don't look for the CIAA to secede from the NCAA anytime soon, but some school officials in the conference are at least listening to Faust and his supporters. "If the scales tip too far in the wrong direction—and this is the wrong direction—then pulling out would be an option that we would have to consider," says Virginia Union athletic director James Battle.
Johnson C. Smith senior forward Mark Sherrill, who scored a game-high 24 points in the CIAA final, is an example of the kind of player who might not be in college had the new standards been in place four years ago. Sherrill, the Golden Bulls' alltime leading scorer, remembers a seventh-grade teacher telling him he was too stupid and undisciplined to succeed in school. Last spring, Sherrill made the dean's list with a 3.35 grade point average.
Some coaches and educators think the NCAA's new standards are at odds with the academic missions of black schools. The sad truth—sad, that is, for the NCAA—is that these schools are so committed to educating students without strong educational backgrounds that there may no longer be a place for them in the NCAA.
Kevin Roberson, Vermont's 6'7" senior center, figures to finish his career as the No. 2 shot-blocker in NCAA history. Through Sunday, Roberson had 401 blocks in 109 games, second only to Alonzo Mourning of Georgetown, who had 418 in 113 games....
The third-ranked Mississippi women's team is one of the nation's biggest surprises. Last Saturday the Lady Rebels clinched the SEC regular-season title with a 59-57 win over Vanderbilt that improved their record to 26-1....
The point guard at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College is Jessie James. He's averaging 4.3 steals per game.
PLAYERS OF THE WEEK
USC's Harold Miner, a 6'5" junior guard, scored 29 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, both game highs, as the Trojans completed only their second sweep of UCLA in 50 years with an 83-79 win.
Miami's Frances Savage, a 5'9" senior forward, had 63 points and 15 rebounds as the eighth-ranked Hurricanes ran their winning streak to 26 games by beating St. John's 85-63 and Villanova 84-67.
George Gilmore, a 6-foot senior guard for Division II Chaminade, scored 46 points in a 97-93 overtime victory over Alaska-Anchorage and 39 points in a 101-96 defeat of Alaska-Fairbanks.