Arkansas Is Back
This is a fine time to be Arkansas coach Nolan Richardson. The
NCAA investigation that haunted his program for 16 months has
been completed, resulting in a mere slap on the wrist. His
beloved 40 Minutes of Hell defense, missing in action for the
last couple of seasons, is back in full infernal force. And just
one year after missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in
10 seasons, his Razorbacks were 20-3 through Sunday and sitting
atop the SEC Western Division with a 9-1 league record, their
best start ever in the conference.
The Arkansas team that beat Ole Miss and Vanderbilt in
Fayetteville last week to improve its national ranking to 12 is
basically the same club of average shooters that went 18-14 last
season. But unlike the 1996-97 Razorbacks, these Hogs are
winning close games, winning on the road and winning with a zeal
that tempts Richardson to call it the best defensive team he's
ever coached. Certainly, he says, "it's one of the most unusual
teams I've coached."
Personifying Arkansas's unconventionality is 6'9", 201-pound
senior center Nick Davis, a born-again Christian with the
rebounding instincts of Dennis Rodman and the ferocity of a
school crossing guard. "Nicky is the nicest guy I've ever met
who is a good rebounder," says Richardson. A junior college
transfer who averaged only 3.6 points and 3.5 rebounds during
his first two years in Fayetteville, Davis delivered his soul to
God and his body to the weight room last summer. The resulting
confidence and extra 16 pounds of muscle have helped him elevate
his game: Through Sunday he was second in the nation in
rebounding with an 11.9 average, and his 2.3 blocks a game
placed him third in the conference. Though his jump shot is
unsightly--it has been compared to someone loading and firing a
musket--it serves him well. He has had 12 double doubles this
season (he had one in his first two years), and his 12.4 points
a game was second among the Hogs. "Nicky still looks like a rag
doll out there," says Richardson, "but he has made our team much
So has junior guard Pat Bradley, a Bostonian who was most likely
headed to St. Bonaventure or Boston University before Richardson
spotted him at the national 17-and-under AAU tournament 3 1/2
years ago and fell in love with his feel for the game and his
three-point shooting. Bradley, the Hogs' leading scorer (14.3
points) and thief (43 steals), has in turn fallen in love with
Arkansas--"even the constant smell of manure from the fahms," he
Who knows how far the Razorbacks can go in the NCAA tournament,
but anyone who saw them dismantle Mississippi 100-87 last week
for their 12th win in 13 games couldn't help but think about the
Arkansas national-title team of four seasons ago.
NEWMAN BRINGS NEW LIFE
Why did preseason prognosticators pick Arizona State, now 16-8
and tied for fourth in the Pac-10 with a 6-5 mark, to finish
10th in the league? Because they couldn't pick the Sun Devils
11th or 12th.
This is how dark things looked for Arizona State heading into
the season: After finishing last year's miserable 10-20 season
with an 11-game losing streak, the Sun Devils had become
engulfed in a scandal that saw two former players plead guilty
to shaving points during the 1993-94 season; had lost their
coach, Bill Frieder, who resigned in September; and had had two
players arrested for theft, two others leave the program and one
go down for the year with injuries sustained in a car accident.
Arizona State had just eight scholarship players remaining and
an interim coach, Don Newman, 40, who had been a Frieder
assistant for all of three months and whose only head coaching
experience, five years at Cal State-Sacramento, had yielded a
dismal 20-114 record. Hopeless? That's putting it mildly.
Newman didn't realize how bad things were until he launched into
his allotted five-minute spiel at Pac-10 Media Day in Los
Angeles and got cut off after a minute and a half. "I couldn't
wait to get back to Tempe and pull on my shorts for practice,"
says Newman, a former CBA guard who suits up for practice when
the Sun Devils are short on bodies. "I was ready to dig in."
With a foxhole mentality and a rotation of just six players,
including blossoming senior point guard Ahlon Lewis, who has
increased his assists from 2.7 a game last year to a nation's
best 9.1 this year, Newman's overachievers have beaten
Cincinnati, taken Kansas to OT and beaten then fifth-ranked
Stanford in Palo Alto. With wins against Washington State and
Washington last week, the Sun Devils positioned themselves for
an appearance in the postseason, which puts athletic director
Kevin White, who has said that Newman is not a candidate to
become the permanent coach, in an awkward situation.
Though it's widely believed Newman has virtually no chance of
keeping his post, he's working as though there is an Arizona
State contract with his name on it waiting to be signed. After
all, he has already faced down one hopeless situation this year.
"I think about it every day," says Newman. "I think about what
kids we need to recruit and what we can do to make Arizona State
the best program it can possibly be. Until somebody tells me to
unfocus, I'll keep thinking about it."
A CHANGE FOR THE BETTER
The success of Arizona State's Don Newman, Florida State's Steve
Robinson, Memphis's Tic Price, Michigan's Brian Ellerbe and
Seton Hall's Tommy Amaker (whose surprising Pirates improved to
6-6 in the Big East after demolishing Syracuse at the Carrier
Dome last Saturday), all of whom are black coaches in their
first year of running major programs, suggests that
opportunities for blacks have improved recently. So do the
numbers: Fifteen years ago there were nine black head coaches;
today 57 of the 308 head coaches (18.5%) are black. What's more,
27% of the teams in last year's NCAA tournament had black
coaches. But are opportunities all that they could be?
"It's close to where conditions are even for everybody," says
Jerry Eaves, a black assistant at Louisville. Eaves says the
hiring of Tubby Smith at Kentucky sent a message "that the best
jobs were open to black coaches, that opportunities are there,
and good things are happening."
But other coaches still see inequities, particularly when it
comes to second chances. "Where's [former Memphis coach] Larry
Finch? Where's [former Tennessee coach] Wade Houston?" asks
Oklahoma State assistant Paul Graham. "If a black coach fails,
he's not recycled."
The evidence supports Graham. You can add Walt Hazzard (UCLA)
and Bob Wade (Maryland) to his list of coaches who got one
chance and weren't heard from again. Consequently many black
coaches feel tremendous job pressure. Ask Bruiser Flint, coach
of 20th-ranked UMass, about the stress he felt in replacing John
Calipari in 1996, and he says, "I know people didn't think I
could keep it going. They said the bottom is going to fall out.
I hope I'm successful so that they give other young black
coaches a chance."
THE LITTLE LADY DUNKSTER
Terrell (Scooby) Roach has a nasty looking right hand. Two
fingers have large oval blisters protected by Band-Aids. A third
features a long red scar surrounded by layers of dead skin. When
she's asked about these injuries, Roach, a junior guard for
Division II Barry University of Miami Shores, Fla., gives an
answer that causes an incredulous eyebrow to rise. "Dunking too
much cuts up my skin," she says.
Yes, Roach is only 5'9", but she most certainly dunks--with
authority. "I've seen a lot of unusual things in basketball,"
says Gregg Lasher, a Barry assistant coach, "but Scooby is a
certifiable freak of nature." Though she has yet to slam in a
game, Roach, who's from Nassau in the Bahamas, promises she'll
do so by season's end. She regularly dunks one-handed in
practice and came excruciatingly close in a game earlier this
year against Tampa. On a breakaway after a steal, she leaped
high, had her hand well above the rim--and clanged the ball off
the back iron. Barry had a three-point lead at the time and
ended up losing, and coach Jan Allen issued a not-so-common
women's hoops proclamation: No dunking unless we're up 20.
Roach, the youngest of 14 children, played lots of pickup ball
as a kid but didn't participate in organized games until four
years ago, when she came to Miami to live with an aunt. She
played on North Miami Beach High's team her senior year and then
spent two seasons at Broward Community College, where she was
Southern Conference player of the year as a sophomore. It was
also there that she caught the attention of Allen, who kept an
anxious eye out, hoping that a Division I program wouldn't come
in at the last minute and steal her.
The possibility of dunking first came up during her freshman
year at Broward, and she started by jumping off a desk, straight
up to the basket. Eventually Roach (who was nicknamed Scooby in
high school and has a tattoo of the cartoon character Scooby Doo
holding a basketball) was soaring to the rim on her own.
Unfortunately, say teammates, the media's focus on dunking
diminishes appreciation of the passing and shooting skills that
make Roach a rising star. Through last weekend she was averaging
12.2 points and 8.0 rebounds for the 12-10 Buccaneers, and Allen
believes she could have an ABL or a WNBA future. "Just the idea
of someone that explosive, that athletic," says Allen. "It's a
weapon, and once Scooby can use it consistently, it'll be
awesome." --Jeff Pearlman
For the latest scores, polls and news in men's and women's
college hoops, check out www.cnnsi.com
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
The changes this week start at the top as North Carolina
reclaimed the No. 1 spot in the East with its blowout win over
Duke. The Blue Devils, now top-seeded in the South, will get
another regular-season crack at the Heels in Durham on Feb. 28,
but the final seeding of these two powerhouses probably will be
determined by their performances in the ACC tournament.
Elsewhere, prosperity proved too much for Cincinnati, whose
presence in our poll lasted just one week. The Bearcats followed
up their second-half collapse at South Carolina on Feb. 1 with a
loss to UNC Charlotte. The Gamecocks, meanwhile, fell one place
to a fourth seed after losing at Tennessee.
It was also a tough week for the Pac-10. Slumping Stanford, not
long ago an undefeated marvel at 18-0, dropped to a No. 4 seed
after losing its third game in 10 days--a 76-56 waxing by UConn.
The Cardinal goes to UCLA this week, where it has lost six
straight times. The Bruins are smarting, too, having fallen to
Oregon last Thursday. UCLA dropped a notch in the seedings as
well, to a No. 3.
The big winners for the week included Purdue, which moved up to
No. 2 in the Midwest (and lord knows the Boilermakers can use
all the help they can get at tournament time). Arkansas and
Michigan State also solidified their positions as strong No. 3s
ready to move up should Kentucky (a near loser to LSU) or Utah
stumble. This week's newcomer is George Washington, which moved
into our seedings on the strength of a 20-3 record. Hot on the
Colonials' heels were TCU (9-0 in the WAC) and Massachusetts (a
winner over Xavier on Sunday).
1. North Carolina (24-1)
2. Kentucky (21-3)
3. Michigan State (17-4)
4. Princeton (18-1)
1. Kansas (26-3)
2. Purdue (20-4)
3. UCLA (18-4)
4. South Carolina (17-4)
1. Duke (21-2)
2. Connecticut (21-3)
3. New Mexico (18-3)
4. Stanford (19-3)
1. Arizona (21-3)
2. Utah (20-1)
3. Arkansas (20-3)
4. George Washington (20-3)