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Inside College Basketball

March 02, 1998
March 02, 1998

Table of Contents
March 2, 1998

College Basketball [bonus Piece]

Inside College Basketball

HIDDEN GEMS

This is an article from the March 2, 1998 issue Original Layout

When Bryce Drew, Indiana's Mr. Basketball of 1994, decided to
attend Valparaiso instead of Notre Dame four years ago,
conventional wisdom had it that Drew, a 6'3" guard, would
disappear from the nation's radar screen, untelevised and
therefore uncelebrated. While it's true that Drew sacrificed
major air time to play for his father, Homer, at a basketball
backwater--he has been on national TV just five times in four
years at Valparaiso--his labors have not gone completely
unnoticed. The most prodigious three-point shooter in
Mid-Continent Conference history, Drew is considered to be "one
of the best guards in the country," according to NBA director of
scouting Marty Blake. "Bryce is a good pro prospect and one of
the few players who handles the point and scoring guard
positions well."

Is Drew a hidden gem on the level of the Chicago Bulls' Ron
Harper (Miami of Ohio), Scottie Pippen (Central Arkansas) or
Dennis Rodman (Southeastern Oklahoma State)? Only time--and a
scouting combine or two--will tell. Meanwhile, here are some
other underexposed pro prospects emerging from college
basketball's less publicized precincts.

--Center Brian Skinner, 6'10", 245, Baylor. After resisting the
urging of his mother, Gladys, to quit basketball during high
school because of the pain caused by a growth spurt, Skinner was
averaging 18.3 points, 9.6 boards and 3.3 blocks a game through
Sunday. Kansas center Raef LaFrentz calls Skinner "the toughest
defender in the Big 12," and NBA scouts are calling him a top 15
pick. "He's active, and he can rebound and block shots," says
Mavericks director of player personnel Keith Grant. "Those guys
make it in our league."

--Forward Bonzi Wells, 6'5", 210, Ball State. Wells (SI, Jan.
12, 1998) had 2,382 points through Sunday, five more than the
Mid-American Conference career record set by Harper in 1986, and
his 335 steals were also a league mark. Says Darrell Hedric, the
Cavaliers' head scout, "I think he'll be a high first-round
draft choice."

--Guard Saddi Washington, 6'3", 180, Western Michigan. Lightly
recruited coming out of Lansing (Mich.) Sexton High, Washington
picked Western Michigan for its business program but has
expanded his career options by battling back from surgery on
both knees. He was scoring 22.0 points a game and can turn it on
against the big boys: He had 33 points against Michigan and 25
against Indiana this season, and he was named MVP of the Hoosier
Classic, the first non-Indiana player to win the award in the
tournament's 16-year history.

--Forward Shawn Marion, 6'7", 210, Vincennes (Ind.) junior
college. Recruited by Tennessee and Vanderbilt as a senior at
Clarksville (Tenn.) High, he landed at Vincennes when he didn't
qualify academically. Though Marion, who was averaging 23.4
points and 11.9 rebounds a game for the Trailblazers, has signed
a letter of intent with UNLV, he says there is "a big chance"
he'll jump to the pros next year. A Pippen type who can pass,
run the floor and "get in two jumps in the time most people take
for one," according to his coach, Dan Sparks, Marion has been
getting a hard look from just about everyone, including Bulls
general manager Jerry Krause, who may soon be Pippen-less. "He's
one of those guys who's ultraquick in everything he does," says
Courtney Witte, a former scout for the Indiana Pacers. "He's
definitely a prospect. You can see where he really projects as a
player."

Well, right at the moment you can't, given Vincennes's
nonexistent TV schedule. But if this scouting report holds true,
the TV blackout on these players will end soon enough.

Tennessee
THE VOLUNTEERS ARE SET FREE

All you have to do is look at the cover of this magazine to get
an idea of how tough it has been to play on the Tennessee men's
team the last few years. While the Lady Vols were winning two
national titles in the last two years, the men were looking for
their first NCAA bid since 1989. And if there was any fun to be
had, it was lost laboring in a walk-it-up, work-it-in offense
under former coach Kevin O'Neill.

But suddenly the Tennessee men are winning and having fun doing
it, which is almost as startling a sight as the new
orange-topped billiards table in the Vols' locker room. The
winning and the pool table are both upgrades that can be traced
to new coach Jerry Green, a former Roy Williams assistant at
Kansas who spent the last five years rebuilding Oregon's
program. Though Green is working with O'Neill's players, he has
gotten rid of O'Neill's offensive shackles. "The only rule about
shooting now is that you have to be off the bus," says junior
guard Brandon Wharton. Indeed, Green has promised to levy a $50
fine against any assistant who utters the words "bad shot," and
already the Vols have taken 136 more three-pointers than they
did all last season.

The result has been happy, confident players and a season
Tennessee can be proud of. After starting 10-0 and then losing
five of their first six SEC games, the Vols won seven of their
last eight, including last Saturday's 90-76 defeat of
Vanderbilt, to bring their record to 18-6 (8-6 in the
conference). That guaranteed them their first winning season in
five years and made them a good bet to break that string of
seasons without an NCAA tournament bid. Moreover, they've done
it without two of their best players, Charles Hathaway and
DaShay Jones, both of whom suffered season-ending injuries in
December. "This isn't the time anyone wants to be playing
Tennessee," Vanderbilt coach Jan van Breda Kolff said after last
Saturday's loss. "They're on a roll."

The biggest change on the court, besides Green's freewheeling
style, is the presence of freshman point guard Tony Harris, a
blue-chip recruit from Memphis whom O'Neill courted with every
blandishment he could think of--including the clinching FedEx
delivery, on the eve of signing day, of a bright orange box
filled with more than 1,000 letters signed by rabid Vols fans
like "Abraham Lincoln" and "Cindy Crawford." Harris, who was
averaging 14.5 points and 4.0 assists a game through Sunday, has
turned out to be worth the effort. If anything, he has become a
much better on-court leader since sitting out two games with a
stress fracture in his left leg in January. "I learned so much
watching Brandon run the team," says Harris. "He lets the game
come to him. I had been out there just taking quick shots."

Harris still has the Green light to shoot, just as he has it to
apply full-court pressure on defense, which he'd be happy to do
all night. In high school he ran the 3,200 meters and frequently
won. "I never got tired, I don't know why," says Harris. "I seem
to have an extra energy boost that allows me to run on and on."

That's a good sign for the Vols, because for the first time in
years, their season appears to be going a longer distance.

Duke
A Brand New Season

Shortly after Duke freshman center Elton Brand had surgery on
Dec. 30 to repair a broken bone in his left foot, coach Mike
Krzyzewski declared there was "absolutely no chance" Brand would
return this season. Even as late as Feb. 6, the day after the
Blue Devils were humiliated 97-73 at North Carolina, Krzyzewski
said Brand wouldn't be back. But thanks to a high-tech rehab
program, Brand's injury healed with astonishing alacrity, and on
Sunday he returned to action, scoring 14 points and grabbing
seven rebounds in 16 minutes as Duke drilled then No. 12 UCLA
120-84.

Though Brand, who was Duke's leading scorer and rebounder before
he was injured, was a bit out of sync on Sunday, he will have as
many as five more games to shake off the rust before the NCAA
tournament begins. "His timing is off," Krzyzewski said after
the game, "but I was very pleased. It was good to see him muscle
up a few."

That muscle is exactly what the Blue Devils lacked in that loss
to the Tar Heels. If Brand's teammates--most notably junior
guard Trajan Langdon, who had 34 points against UCLA, and senior
forward Roshown McLeod, who scored 23--can get him back into the
flow without fouling up their own offensive rhythm, the Blue
Devils could have what it takes to go all the way. --Seth Davis

For the latest scores, polls and news in men's and women's
college hoops, check out www.cnnsi.com

COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY BOB DONNAN DUKE VERSUS BARON The Blue Devils took a step toward another crown by beating Baron Davis and UCLA to reclaim the top spot in the polls (page 122). [Leading Off]COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO TV or not TV NBA scouts know Skinner can score, rebound and block shots despite his lack of air time. [Brian Skinner]COLOR PHOTO: PATRICK MURPHY-RACEY Male Vols Harris has Tennessee's men on a tournament track, too. [Tony Harris]

WEEKLY SEED REPORT

C.M. Newton, chairman of the NCAA Basketball Committee, held a
teleconference last week and reminded the media that the
committee esteems teams that are hot down the stretch. To which
our pollsters responded, What teams can be considered hot these
days? Just about everyone is losing, including North Carolina,
which was spanked on its home court by N.C. State last Saturday.
That setback caused the Tar Heels to be moved out of the East
region by our merciless voters.

Purdue is suddenly stone-cold, having lost twice last week, to
Iowa and Penn State. The Boilermakers nearly dropped out of our
seedings from their lofty No. 2 perch, just holding on as a No.
4. Also feeling a chill was UCLA, bounced from our poll for the
first time this year, after a lackluster overtime win over USC
and a drubbing by Duke. New Mexico also fell a notch after
falling to TCU, and with guard Royce Olney out for the season
the Lobos may drop even further.

The hottest team in the game (aside from seasonlong powerhouses
Kansas and Arizona) is TCU. The Horned Frogs leaped into our
seeding for the first time by virtue of their butt-kicking of
New Mexico. It was TCU's 13th straight win. Also recovering its
stride was Stanford, which moved up to the No. 2 spot in the
Midwest vacated by Purdue.

And for those looking to follow Newton's advice, keep an eye on
Cincinnati. The Bearcats, winners of seven of their last nine
games through Sunday, just missed getting a fourth seed, though
tough games against UNC Charlotte and St. Louis are up next.

EAST SOUTH
1. Duke (25-2) 1. North Carolina (26-2)
2. Kentucky (24-4) 2. Connecticut (24-4)
3. Michigan State (20-5) 3. South Carolina (20-5)
4. Princeton (23-1) 4. New Mexico (21-4)

MIDWEST WEST
1. Kansas (29-3) 1. Arizona (24-3)
2. Stanford (23-3) 2. Utah (22-2)
3. Arkansas (22-5) 3. Mississippi (19-5)
4. TCU (24-4) 4. Purdue (22-6)

MATCHUP OF THE WEEK

Trans-America Athletic Conference Final
Saturday, Feb. 28

If you like drama, conference championship games are hard to
beat. In most cases the winners go to the NCAA tournament, the
losers go home. The TAAC is especially appealing because it
promises an opportunity to catch up with the College of
Charleston, last year's NCAA darlings. The Cougars, however,
aren't a lock to win the TAAC this year. Florida International
snapped their 32-game conference winning streak on Feb. 14, and
the second-seeded Golden Panthers finished 13-3 in the league,
thanks in large part to junior Raja Bell (17.1 points a game).
Charleston and its coach, John Kresse, have one big advantage
though: The tournament is being played in John Kresse Arena.