SON KNOWS BEST
Things were looking pretty bleak for the Southwest Missouri
State Bears when they came to their bench at Illinois State last
Thursday trailing 63-50 with just 7:33 left to play on a frigid
night in Normal, Ill. Steve Alford, the former Indiana star who
is now the coach of the Bears, gathered his assistants and said,
"I think it's time we try some zone. We aren't stopping them at
all in man."
One of the assistant coaches wasn't so certain. "Are you sure,
Coach?" he asked. "Man is still our best defense."
"It isn't tonight," Alford said, stepping into the huddle to
talk to his players.
The exchange was unremarkable in most ways--a head coach
listening to a suggestion from an assistant and deciding to go
with his own instincts--except for one thing: The assistant coach
whose advice was rejected was Alford's father, Sam, who taught
Steve how to play basketball and was his high school coach.
January 22, 1996
"The only time he calls me Dad these days is when he needs a
babysitter," Sam Alford said with a laugh the next day. "More
often than not, though, when he rejects my counsel on the bench,
The zone didn't save the Bears that night, though it did help
them cut the margin to five late in the game. Even so, their
coach was less than pleased after the 86-79 loss. "We didn't
score a single point off a screen all night," Alford said. "In
the first half we had no offense; in the second we had no
defense. We only let them score 58 points [in the second half].
We aren't tough enough yet to win a game like this."
Shut your eyes, throw in a few profanities, and you might think
you were listening to Alford's college coach, Bob Knight. Tell
Alford that, and he laughs at the notion.
"I think I'm a little gentler than he is," said Alford. "But as
far as coaching is concerned, I learned an awful lot from him.
Almost everything I do, even the pregame meal [spaghetti,
regardless of the time of day], comes from my days at Indiana."
Alford, who was a Hoosier from 1983 to '87, also learned some
things from Knight he hasn't used--at least not yet. After
Southwest Missouri was hammered 85-67 on its home court by
Southwestern Louisiana in the second game of the season, Alford
wanted to take his team right back on the practice floor--one of
Knight's favorite torture tactics. Alford had his players in
their practice gear, ready to go, but then life in the '90s got
in the way. His assistants pointed out that if the team
practiced, he would have to cancel a regular practice later to
stay under the NCAA's 20-hour-a-week limit.
Threats of torture aside, the Bears seem to enjoy playing for
the Alfords. The team's top scorer is 6'4" sophomore guard Ben
Kandlbinder, an excellent shooter who lacks quickness. When
Kandlbinder was held scoreless in a game early in the season,
Alford called him in and gave him a video. "This will show you a
player who was pretty good at cutting, screening and moving
without the ball," said the coach. The tape was of Alford, circa
1987, leading Indiana to the national title. Two games later
Kandlbinder scored 36 points.
"It wasn't that long ago that he played," says Kandlbinder, "so
you have to respect what he says."
It wasn't that long ago--December 1991--that Alford was home in
New Castle, Ind., working as a volunteer assistant to his father
at New Castle High. He had just been cut by the Sacramento Kings
after a four-year NBA career with the Dallas Mavericks and the
Golden State Warriors. Then came a surprise offer to coach
Manchester College, a Division III school in Indiana whose coach
had quit in the midst of his team's 0-8 start. Alford took the
job, went 4-16 the rest of the season and then went 20-8, 23-4
and, last year, 31-1, the only loss coming to
Wisconsin-Platteville in the Division III title game. When
Southwest Missouri State athletic director Bill Rowe brought
Steve to Springfield for an interview last March and offered him
the job the same day, he got two Alfords instead of one.
Clearly the Alfords are doing something right on the court. The
Bears bounced back from the Illinois State loss with a 61-58
road win over conference favorite Bradley last Saturday night.
That victory improved their record to 8-5 overall and 4-1 in the
Missouri Valley Conference. Not bad, considering that the Bears
were picked to tie for eighth in the league in the preseason.
And the prospects for next season are bright. Alford has signed
four players already--all from Indiana. One is Kevin Ault, a Mr.
Basketball candidate who is averaging 31.6 points a game for
Warsaw High. It doesn't hurt that Sam was a high school coach in
Indiana for 29 years and knows virtually everybody in the state.
Still, there is one thing troubling the younger Alford about
coaching with his father. "The man can't dress," Steve moans.
"Before every game I have to pick his tie and then tie it for
"Once upon a time he couldn't do anything without me," says Sam.
"Now I need a little help with a tie, and all I hear is
The blizzard of '96, which paralyzed the East Coast beginning on
the morning of Jan. 7, wreaked havoc with last week's schedule.
Dozens of games had to be postponed; others were played in front
of nearly empty stands. One ACC game, between Maryland and
Florida State, was postponed on Jan. 9 because the Seminoles
couldn't get to College Park, Md. Both teams' coaches would have
played on Jan. 10, but Raycom, which pays the ACC millions a
year for TV rights, nixed that idea because it was televising
two other ACC games that night. "Now it screws us up no matter
when we play," says Maryland coach Gary Williams.
But no team suffered more than St. Joseph's. The Hawks made it
to Blacksburg, Va., on Jan. 7 to play Virginia Tech, but the
game was postponed, and it took the team 9 1/2 hours to get back
to Philly by bus. Next, St. Joe's game against UMass on Jan. 9
was postponed, though it was played the next day. Then Arizona,
which was to play St. Joe's last Saturday, took a look at
Friday's prediction of more snow in Philadelphia and refused to
fly, even though the game, scheduled to be on ESPN2, could have
been played on Sunday. St. Joseph's, irate over the
cancellation, showed up at the Palestra last Saturday for the
scheduled start and, before perhaps 50 people, introduced the
starting lineups for both teams and had the Hawk mascot throw
the ball up for an opening tip. The Hawks won the tip and
scored--they ran their offense to perfection--then everyone went
home. The NCAA ruled, however, that the canceled game will not
count as a forfeit.
SCARY DAY FOR UMASS
When Massachusetts center Marcus Camby collapsed on Sunday after
pregame warmups at St. Bonaventure, the college basketball world
once again held its breath. Camby's sudden fall brought back the
terrifying specter of Hank Gathers's death almost six years ago,
when the Loyola-Marymount star suffered a fatal heart attack
during a West Coast Conference tournament game. Thankfully, as
of Monday, all indications were that what happened to Camby, the
top-ranked Minutemen's leading scorer, wasn't as serious as it
Camby was taken to Olean (N.Y.) General Hospital and held
overnight for tests. The Bonnies' team physician, Ed Griffin,
said the 6'11" junior was "unresponsive to verbal commands for
about 10 minutes" after collapsing, although his heart didn't
stop beating, and he didn't stop breathing. On Monday, UMass
coach John Calipari said that doctors ruled out any heart-
related trouble, and he said Camby had been fighting a cold for
Still, the incident was frightening enough that Calipari went
with Camby to the hospital while assistant coach James Flint
took over the team. The Minutemen, though in tears after their
teammate's collapse, won their 14th straight game, beating the
Bonnies 65-52. The incident was particularly frightening for
UMass because it came just four days after swimmer Greg Menton
died of an apparent heart attack during a meet against Dartmouth.
On Monday, Camby was moved from the hospital in Olean to one in
Worcester, Mass., for more tests. He appeared relaxed in a
meeting with the press and had a wide smile as he announced,
"I'm fine, I feel great. I'm anxious to get back on the court."
He couldn't be nearly as anxious as those who watched in fear as
he lay unconscious on Sunday.