9 VILLANOVA

November 15, 1996

If Philadelphia is as much a mother lode of high school
basketball talent as it is of soft pretzels, one would never
know it from combing through the Villanova hoops archives. For
20 years not a single Philly schoolboy gravitated three miles
past the city limits to play for the school in the suburbs. In
1993 an ambitious first-year coach, Steve Lappas, finally
unclogged the pipeline when he persuaded Alvin Williams and
Jason Lawson--one a sapling of a point guard, the other a
sequoia of a center--to stay and attend college in the Delaware
Valley. "Bringing in those two local kids was one of the best
moves I've made since coming to Villanova," says Lappas.

Before long, Williams and Lawson were sitting beside each other
in the back of the team bus orchestrating freestyle rap improvs
during road trips. "It's like a tag-team thing," explains senior
Chuck Kornegay. "Other guys give them a beat, and they go back
and forth making up silly rhymes. We just listen and laugh, but
they're actually pretty good."

The duo also share spartan quarters, on the top floor of Delurey
Hall, that look more like a Motel 6 than a college dorm. There
are no neon beer signs, no Sega consoles, not even the usually
obligatory Michael Jordan poster on the wall. Just an
overflowing hamper, two tiny institution-style beds and scads of
rap CDs (there's Wu Tang Clan right on top of the stack). Says
Williams, "I guess we're more into playing basketball than
hanging out in our room."

That's a good thing, because Williams and Lawson are the two
players on whom Lappas is relying most to break Villanova's
unsavory habit of destroying its competition during the regular
season but destroying itself during the NCAAs. Two years ago the
team won 25 games--and the Big East title--only to bow to Old
Dominion in the first round of the tournament. The Wildcats
followed that last season by winning a school-record 26 games
before losing to Louisville in the second round. "Totally
disappointing" is how Williams describes the school's postseason
woes. "Both years I thought we had a chance to go far, but we
never really got in sync."

Fortunately, it's about as likely that Villanova's season will
end prematurely as it is that Delurey 402 will show up in
Architectural Digest. Although the team lost its two leading
scorers, All-America Kerry Kittles and sweet-shooting Eric
Eberz, three solid starters are back, and, thanks to an
outstanding recruiting class, the Wildcats have one of the
country's premier front lines. No one on the Main Line will say
it publicly, but Kittles's departure may prove to be a blessing
in disguise. Last year the shooting guard was suspended by the
NCAA for the team's final three conference games when it was
discovered that he had racked up $3,100 in unauthorized phone
charges. After he returned to the lineup, Villanova never
regained its stride, losing four of its last seven. "Kerry and
Eric both were great players for us, but I like our talent base
this year," says Lappas. "The catch is that someone has to fill
the void that they left."

Enter the kids from Philly. In Williams, Villanova has perhaps
the most underrated guard in the country. Last year he had the
highest assist-to-turnover ratio (2.2 to 1) of any Big East
guard and showed an improved touch from the outside. On defense,
the 6'5" wisp sticks to his man like a bad memory.

Lawson, on the other hand, is a 6'11" pack mule, who as a senior
at Olney High shared a fierce local rivalry with Simon Gratz
High's Rasheed Wallace. While Wallace spurned Villanova for
North Carolina and is now with the NBA's Portland Trail Blazers,
Lawson has played solidly for the Wildcats, but in relative
anonymity. Now he finally has the chance to establish a national
profile. "I know that more will be expected of me, and I've
worked hard on shooting facing the basket," says Lawson, who
averaged 12.3 points and 6.8 rebounds a game last season. "For
us to succeed, though, we've all got to pitch in and pick up the
slack."

Prime candidates include fellow front liners Kornegay, a tough
power forward who has been hampered by injuries, and freshman
sensation Tim Thomas, who averaged 29.6 points and 11.5 boards
for Paterson (N.J.) Catholic High last year. Zeffy Penn, a
versatile 6'6" senior, will get minutes off the bench, as should
7'1" sophomore center Rafal Bigus. Freshman Malik Allen, a
6'10", 240-pound behemoth, might get caught in the frontline
logjam but will blossom once Lawson and Kornegay graduate.

The great unknown is the team's outside shooting. Kittles and
Eberz launched nearly two thirds of the squad's three-pointers
last season. Sophomores John Celestand and Howard Brown will
battle for the starting off-guard spot, but neither is
particularly skilled from beyond the arc. The outside threat
might come from Thomas, who in fall scrimmages showed a
preference for the perimeter. "We don't know yet who's going to
knock down those shots, but you look at our roster and there are
a lot of options," says Lappas. "Anytime you have choices, good
things happen."

Ultimately, though, the heart and soul of this team are the
local kids who vow not only to keep rapping but also to take
their roles as co-captains seriously. "As seniors, we've been
there and we know what leadership is about," says Williams, who
usually plays cheerleader to Lawson's martinet. "The coaches do
the yelling, but there's plenty we can do to help the chemistry.
Jason and I plan on bringing the other guys, especially the
freshmen, up to our room to watch tapes and study opponents."
Before extending that invitation to their teammates, Williams
and Lawson may want to treat themselves to some furniture.

--L. Jon Wertheim

[BOX]

THE DATA BOX

Coach: Steve Lappas
Career record: 135-108 (eight seasons)
Record at Villanova: 79-46 (four seasons)
1995-96 record: 26-7 (final ranking: 10th)
Big East record: 14-4 (second)

PROJECTED STARTERS

PG *Alvin Williams, 6'5", Sr.
Only Wildcat to start every game last year
SG Howard Brown, 6'5", Soph.
Will split time with John Celestand
SF Tim Thomas, 6'10", Fr.
Two-time New Jersey player of the year
PF *Chuck Kornegay, 6'9", Sr.
Still recovering from surgery on left ankle
C *Jason Lawson, 6'11", Sr.
Starts year three blocks shy of school mark

*returning starter

KEY GAMES

Dec. 14 vs. Duke
Jeff Capel is a tough test for 'Nova guards

Jan. 20 vs. Syracuse
Beat Orange in OT at Carrier Dome last season

Jan. 27 at Georgetown
Chance to avenge Big East tournament loss

Feb. 9 at Kentucky
Two of nation's deepest frontcourts clash

Feb. 23 vs. Connecticut
Cats dropped both games last year to Huskies

COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN COVER [Varies by region] Super 'Nova Jason Lawson stars for title-hungry Villanova COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Lawson intends to firmly reject the Wildcats' recent postseason pattern. [Jason Lawson in game]

PLAYER TO WATCH

Will the real Chuck Kornegay please stand up? After transferring
to Villanova from N.C. State three years ago, Kornegay has been
strictly hit or miss. Is he the bruising power forward who last
season torched Georgetown for 25 points and provided the margin
of victory over West Virginia with a thunderous dunk at the
buzzer? Or is he the nonpresence who averaged a modest 6.3
points and 4.8 rebounds per game and showed a tendency to
disappear when games got tight? The fate of Villanova's season
may depend on the answer. "I've set a goal of averaging a double
double, and consistency is something I'm really looking to
improve on," says the 6'9" Kornegay. "Hopefully this season I'll
be healthy and I'll play a bigger role in the success of this
team. I've never regretted coming to Villanova, but I don't feel
like people have seen the real me yet."

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)