Sixteen teams strong, the bigger, badder WAC now has two
eight-team divisions where once it had a puny 10 teams and no
divisions. With size has come strength. Utah (page 74), Tulsa
(page 99) and New Mexico (page 101) are at the peak of the
Mountain Division, and Fresno State (page 90) should pull away
in the Pacific, but other schools could flex their muscles this
This is an article from the Nov. 15, 1996 issue
Fresh from the basketball-poor Southwest Conference, TCU has the
unenviable distinction of being grouped in the Mountain
Division, with three Top 25 teams. Still, sophomore center
Damion Walker, whose 20.5 scoring average was second highest in
the nation among freshmen, isn't intimidated. "I'm not just
being bold," he says, "but those teams better not come out
half-stepping against us."
Last season marked the first time in coach Roger Reid's eight
years at BYU that his Cougars missed the postseason. This March
could be the second time. With seven freshmen, inexperience
reigns in Provo.
The remaining Texas schools--UTEP, Rice and SMU--will battle it
out for sixth place (the final slot in the WAC tournament from
the Mountain Division), but the Miners seem to have an edge.
Coach Don Haskins, beginning his 36th season in El Paso, is back
on the bench after a heart attack last January, and his return
should inspire the team.
In the Pacific Division, the last time Wyoming had this much
promise was 1987-88, when Fennis Dembo was the Cowboys' star. In
fact, junior guards LaDrell Whitehead and Jeron Roberts are the
first Wyoming duo to score at least 500 points apiece since
Dembo and Eric Leckner 10 years ago. And senior forward HL
Coleman, the only WAC player to average a double double last
season (12.2 points and 10.4 rebounds per game), is one of four
Bill Bayno, the second-year coach at UNLV, may have the front
row at the Thomas and Mack Center wearing Gucci again after
garnering the 19th-best recruiting class in the nation. Says
Bayno, who was John Calipari's top recruiter at UMass, "If
everything falls into place, we may surprise some people." One
unhappy surprise is that blue-chip recruit Issiah Epps, a 6'10"
center from Kingstree, S.C., has yet to qualify academically. He
has taken the SAT again and has been attending classes part
time, however, and he could be eligible by late December.
Expectations are also high at San Jose State. The Spartans won
nine of their last 11 games, including the Big West tournament,
and went to the NCAAs for the first time in 16 years. Junior
forward Olivier Saint-Jean will continue to shoulder the scoring
load after averaging a team-leading 17.1 points per game.
Both Colorado State and San Diego State are coming off
successful seasons too. The Rams went to the NIT, and the Aztecs
had their first winning season since 1984-85. But tough times
are ahead: Each team lost four starters.
With four of its players standing at least 6'10", Hawaii should
tower over Air Force--at the bottom of the Pacific.
PROJECTED FINISH '95-96 RECORD
1 Utah (6) 27-7
2 Tulsa (19) 22-8
3 New Mexico (21) 28-5
4 TCU 15-15
5 BYU 15-13
6 UTEP 13-15
7 Rice 14-14
8 SMU 8-20
1 Fresno State (13) 22-11
2 Wyoming 14-15
3 UNLV 10-16
4 San Jose State 13-17
5 Colorado State 18-12
6 San Diego State 15-14
7 Hawaii 10-18
8 Air Force 5-23