It's after midnight, and it's your third TV game of the night,
but still you watch. New Mexico or New Mexico State is playing
Cal State-Somebody, and you can't turn it off. The NBA
represents--or should represent--the evolutionary apex of this
sport, but you wouldn't be sitting there, bleary-eyed, if it
were the Clippers playing the Kings. Why is that? Why do so many
hoops fans swear by the colleges and swear at the pros? Here are
the reasons why.
1 College basketball has no labor problems and always begins its
season on time. The NBA is in a protracted lockout, its players
unwilling to accept a "hard cap." College players actually want
a hard cap: It's called a mortarboard, and you get one at
2 In college, arena names pay homage to classy coaches (Dean
Smith Center, John Kresse Arena). In the pros arena names pay
homage to coach class (Continental Airlines Arena, Delta Center,
3 The NCAA has a no-woofing rule that forbids trash talk. In the
NBA dunks are punctuated by crotch grabbing and soliloquies
barked into the baseline camera.
4 There's no Ahmad Rashad in the college game.
5 In college players travel with their homework. In the pros
players travel with their posse.
6 Correction: The pros don't travel at all. Traveling is never
called in the NBA. How else do you explain Allen Iverson?
7 In the NCAAs seniors weep like babies when they lose. In the
pros loser players whine like babies all the time.
8 P.J. Carlesimo at Seton Hall; P.J. Carlesimo at Golden State.
9 At Indiana State, Larry Bird ruled. The pros have the Larry
10 Forty Minutes of Hell describes coach Nolan Richardson's
intense, trap-happy Arkansas defense. It also describes the last
30 seconds of most NBA games.
11 In college you have to keep an eye on your GPA. In the pros
you have to keep an eye on your CPA.
12 Cheerleaders Leerleaders
13 A no-name player like Texas Tech's Darvon Ham makes SI's
cover by shattering the glass in the NCAAs. In the pros big-name
players like Charles Barkley make the court docket by shattering
the glass--of a bar window...with a fan.
14 Bench players enthusiastically wave towels in college. In the
NBA a benched Robert Horry petulantly throws a towel in the face
of his coach, Danny Ainge.
15 Indiana has storied Assembly Hall. The Lakers have shameless
16 John Wooden's Pyramid of Success was a compendium of homespun
wisdom, meted out to his basketball-playing pupils. Pat Riley's
The Winner Within is a compendium of business tips, available to
anyone with $22.95.
17 The intensity level in a basketball arena is inversely
proportional to the elevation implied in its name. Thus, the Pit
(at New Mexico) is basketball's summit. The Summit (home to the
Houston Rockets) is the pits.
18 At Temple players show up for practice every day at 5:30 a.m.
In Portland, J.R. Rider shows up for practice--periodically.
19 In college high-spirited pep bands play during timeouts. In
the pros ceaseless technopop swallows all other sound.
20 College players spend days in Psychology 101. NBA players
spend days in court-ordered counseling.
21 In college one postseason loss and you're done. In the pros
one postseason loss and you have only three left.
22 The pros have nothing quite as cool as Kansas's "Rock Chalk,
College is The NBA is
Carolina Blue Charlotte Teal
John Chaney Don Chaney
Ralph Sampson Ralph Sampson
28 At Princeton four players without the ball move in a pattern
of symphonic precision designed to flummox opposing defenses. In
Philadelphia four players without the ball stand around demanding
29 In college Sweet 16 is cause for celebration--you're in the
regional semifinals! In the pros Sweet 16 is cause for
celebration--it's the age of consent in New Jersey!
30 In college corrupt programs are put on probation. In the NBA
entire teams can't be put on probation, though the Portland Trail
Blazers have come close.
31 College players give 110%. NBA refs expense 110%.
32 Selection Sunday, and all the speculation over how and where
teams will be seeded, beats watching the NBA standings by a mile.
33 Utah Utes coach Rick Majerus: palaverous quip speaker. New
York Knicks coach Jeff Van Gundy: cadaverous crypt keeper.
34 In Praise of Cheating
Admit it. You love the fact that Jerry Tarkanian's an outlaw.
You love that he has loaded his Fresno State roster with guys
you wouldn't let in your door, even if the Broncos' offensive
line were standing behind you wielding polo mallets. You love
that there are more fast-talking snake-oil salesmen schmoozing
recruits than there are peddling used cars.
You love it because cheating, or the specter of it, gives
college hoops a delightfully nasty edge. Either you're convinced
someone's cheating, or you're pretty sure they're cheating, or
you know they would cheat if given the opportunity. Your guys?
They play it straight.
You love the guessing game. Does North Carolina cheat and not
get caught? Or are the Tar Heels paragons of rectitude? Has Bob
Knight taken to stuffing hundred dollar bills down the sweat
socks of his juco transfers? Or does he remain one of the game's
last angry men, swimming against the tide of corruption? That
kind of debate doesn't happen in the NBA, where a fan indicts
individuals, not entire teams. So what kind of buzz do you get
out of booing Dennis Rodman? You'll only start cheering again
when Michael Jordan gets the ball.
You love the morality play that is college hoops. You love it
when a school with a squeaky-clean image, like Duke, goes up
against a team with a checkered past, like UNLV. Or you may root
against the Blue Devils because you think they're sanctimonious
prisses and you derive a perverse joy out of believing that the
Rebels hand out Range Rovers to backup point guards. But here's
the point: You root. --Jack McCallum
When a team such as Villanova, an eighth seed in 1985, wins a
championship, it affirms the notion that any team can win. When
did that last happen in the NBA?
36 JUWAN HOWARD VS. JUWAN HOWARD
Juwan Howard was the most endearing member of Michigan's Fab
Five. Hours after he signed his letter of intent in 1990, he
discovered that his grandmother, who raised him, had died of a
heart attack. Playing with a tattoo dedicated to Grandma Jannie
Mae over his heart, Howard became a star during his three
seasons in Ann Arbor, helping the Wolverines reach two straight
NCAA title games and later fulfilling a promise to her by
graduating with his class. While he was at Michigan he
befriended a young AIDS patient named Randy Walkowe and later
served as a pallbearer for him.
Then Howard joined the NBA as the fifth player taken in the 1994
draft, by Washington. He missed his first training camp because
of a holdout but signed a 12-year, $37 million contract. Two
years later he exercised an escape clause in that deal and
became the focus of a bidding war between Washington and Miami
that resulted in a seven-year, $105 million contract with the
Wizards. That same year Howard was named in a paternity suit,
which was settled out of court; then he was arrested for drunken
driving. (He entered an alcohol education program in order to
get the charges dropped.) On the court Howard has averaged 19.1
points a game as a pro, but the underachieving Wizards have won
no more than 44 games in any of his four seasons and have never
won a playoff game. Bottom line? Perhaps no one else better
illustrates how the NBA's big money can change a player, or at
least the public perception of him. --Tim Crothers
37 Good: Fathers take their daughters to Tennessee Lady Vols
games. Bad: Fathers take their daughters to New York Knicks
38 A ticket to the Final Four--good for all three games at a
price of either $80 or $100--may be the best value in all of
39 We look at Michael Jordan in 1982 and think, Oh, to be young
again. We look at Jordan in '98 and think, Eau de toilette.
40 In college a coach calls for a pick-and-roll from courtside
seat. In the NBA, Dyan Cannon calls for a California Roll from
41 With college ball you get the wit and wisdom of Dick Vitale on
about 150 broadcasts a year. Oops, that's one for the NBA.
41 The NCAA actually made its season shorter six years ago,
cutting by one the number of games a team can play, and the
season ends by April 1. The NBA season is endless.
42 Lou 'do Riley's mousse
43 NCAA tournament buzzer beaters--by Christian Laettner, U.S.
Reed, Bryce Drew, Tate George--outnumber the NBA's postseason
buzzer beaters. (We refuse to go back as far as Jerry West
against the Knicks in 1970.)
44 College basketball has the Cameron Crazies, the raucous
student section at Duke. The NBA has certifiable crazies, like
deranged Washington attorney Robin Ficker.
45 ZONE DEFENSE
"It was definitely settled in 1897," wrote James Naismith in his
1941 book Basketball: Its Origin and Development, "that a
basketball team should consist of five men." Oh yeah? So a
hundred years later why were three members of the Chicago Bulls
standing off to the side watching Steve Kerr throw the ball in
to a posting-up Michael Jordan? Worse, why were three members of
the Sacramento Kings standing around watching Tariq Abdul-Wahad
throw the ball in to Lawrence Funderburke? Welcome to the NBA,
Dr. Naismith, and don't karate-chop your spectacles to bits in
frustration. With their rule stipulating that only man-to-man
defense can be used, the pros have created a predictable and
aesthetically displeasing offensive atmosphere in which two
basic plays--the isolation and the pick-and-roll, both of which
involve only two of the five offensive players on the court--are
used a sickening percentage of the time. Worse, offense-impaired
centers, such as Manute Bol (left), are deliberately stationed
25 feet from the basket solely to pull the opposing center away
from the action.
College clubs, unencumbered by the illegal-defense rules that
perplex NBA fans, players and sometimes even refs, can double-
and triple-team a dominant scorer and prevent him from getting
the ball, thus forcing the scorer's teammates into the action.
Does that sort of defense make a back-to-the-basket scoring
center like Hakeem Olajuwon appreciate the freedom of the NBA,
where he can't be double-teamed until he catches the ball? Sure.
But it also means that if you enjoy team offense--a forgotten
concept in the pros--you should stick to the college game.
College defenses can employ all sorts of alignments that force
an opponent to find creative ways to score (witness Utah's use
of a box-and-one defense while upsetting Arizona in last year's
NCAAs). College defenses can change minute to minute--for
instance, going into a zone after made shots and man-to-man
after misses--thus forcing teams to make adjustments on the fly.
Isn't that what Dr. Naismith had in mind? --J.M.
46 Only in college hoops can the crowd storm the court after a
47 College is Bob Knight in a sweater. The NBA is Del Harris in
48 Fathers coach their sons (Valpo's Homer Drew watches Bryce) in
college. In the NBA, sons ask, "Where's Daddy?"
49 The college game gives us a chance to see raw young players
like Bryant (Big Country) Reeves develop. The pros give us a
chance to see old players like Charles Barkley deteriorate.
50 College is the place where the game reinvents itself each
autumn, introducing a crop of unfamiliar faces, including
freshmen, junior college transfers and foreign imports, destined
for stardom. The five players on the following pages, sure to
have an outsized impact on the season to come, have arrived from
diverse addresses, from the hinterlands to the Netherlands, to
fertilize the game for another season. So turn the page and