11 Vancouver Grizzlies As a smaller Big Country shapes up in the middle, this team becomes a bigger threat

November 01, 1999

By the time the summer sunlight started to bathe the 500-acre Big
C Ranch in Gans, Okla., its proprietor was already busy working
up a sweat. Bryant (Big Country) Reeves, the Grizzlies' 7-foot,
280-pound center, returned to his Lilliputian hometown this
off-season hell-bent on exercising away the poltergeists of a
disastrous 1998-99 season. He ran sprints and distances, pumped
iron, underwent a battery of conditioning drills and sharpened
his footwork until his body could take no more. "Then," he says,
"I rested and started up again."

A year ago, thinking that a lockout would doom the season, Reeves
stayed at home in Gans (pop. 251) indulging his appetite for all
things fried and whiling away time with his wife, April; their
son, Treyton Lee; his 100 head of cattle and his collection of
pocketknives. "It's my hometown, so I love it there," he says,
"but there's not a lot of NBA competition in Gans." When Billy
Hunter and David Stern declared a truce, Reeves arrived at
training camp resembling less Big Country than, say, Asia.
Saddled with 40 excess pounds, he had his worst stats since his
freshman year at Oklahoma State before missing the last 25 games
of the season with a knee injury. "I know the team was
disappointed in me, and I was disappointed in myself," he says.
"I used this summer to make sure that didn't happen again."

To make sure his motivation didn't waver, Vancouver dispatched
assistant coach Jim Boylan and strength and conditioning coach
Robert Hackett to monitor Reeves's progress. With no hotel in
Gans--"We still don't even have a stoplight," Reeves says
proudly--the coaches stayed 20 minutes away in Fort Smith, Ark.,
on and off through the summer. By day they would take Reeves to
the gym at Gans High (recently rechristened the Big Country
Fieldhouse), and in that un-air-conditioned sweatbox put him
through a series of gut-busting drills. By night they would
wonder why Reeves felt compelled to return home every off-season.
"I think I saw enough movies this summer to have a second career
as a critic," says Boylan, "but you can't argue with the
results."

Indeed, when Reeves showed up for the first day of training camp
on Victoria Island, he looked to be in the best shape of his
life. Though he'll never have the footwork of a ballerina--or even
of teammate Cherokee Parks--he's immovable without the aid of a
backhoe and has a surprisingly deft touch. "I'm feeling lighter
on my feet, and most of all, I'm feeling real confident," says
Reeves, 26. "I don't see any reason why I'm not going to have a
great year."

If only it were that easy for the rest of the Grizzlies. Despite
the team's perennially Panglossian predictions that include words
like "playoff contender" and "spoiler," Vancouver has yet to
awaken from its expansion hibernation. Last year the Grizzlies
showed signs of life, starting the season 4-6 and beating the
Lakers in General Motors Place before dropping a whopping 36 of
40. "Obviously we have to make significant strides," says coach
Brian Hill, "but we should definitely be the most improved team
in the league."

On paper, though, Vancouver's prospects are scarcely improved.
With the second pick in the draft the Grizzlies selected guard
Steve Francis, who essentially told Vancouver, "Take off, Hoser."
On a day that should have ranked among the happiest of his life,
Francis angrily declined to accept the ceremonial Grizzlies'
jersey and exclaimed, "I hope I feel better when I wake up in the
morning." A few days later he taped an ESPN spot that poked fun
at Canada.

Capitulating to Francis, the Grizzlies traded him to the Rockets
in an 11-player, three-team megadeal. They received promising
young players Othella Harrington and Michael Dickerson and
veterans Brent Price and Antoine Carr. It was fair-market value
for Francis--an explosive, if untested, player--but it established
a dangerous precedent for future prima donnas. "It was really
pretty simple," says general manager Stu Jackson, under whom
Vancouver has gone 56-240 (.189). "We don't want players who
don't want to be here."

That may not be an issue much longer. Shortly after the Francis
trade, businessman Bill Laurie and his wife, Nancy, heiress to
the Wal-Mart fortune, bought the Grizzlies for the
less-than-discount price of $200 million. Though a move couldn't
occur until after the 2000-01 season, speculation is rampant that
the Grizzlies will pack off to St. Louis, where the Lauries
already own the Kiel Center and the NHL's Blues. Billionaire
Bill, who played guard on the Memphis State team that reached the
Final Four in 1973, has remained mum on the relocation issue, but
as one NBA owner says, "As far as staying in Vancouver, I think
they're toast."

For all the ambient instability, the Grizzlies' immediate future
isn't altogether bleak. Mike Bibby may not have made as many
highlight-reel plays last season as fellow rookie point guard
Jason Williams, but he shot better from the floor and, without
particularly athletic teammates filling the lane, averaged more
assists. Shareef Abdur-Rahim has quietly become a star; despite
constant double teams he was the league's fourth-best scorer in
1998-99. After solid seasons with the Rockets, Harrington and
Dickerson will have a chance to fill two huge voids, at power
forward and shooting guard, respectively.

The Grizzlies also made strides in addressing what might be best
described as a lack of Grrrrr. Vancouver ranked 27th in defensive
rebounding, conceded countless loose balls and played defense
with daintiness reminiscent of a Merchant Ivory movie. Carr and
free agent pick-up Grant Long should infuse the troops with a
much needed dose of bad-ass.

For the second year the Grizzlies are eligible to obtain the top
pick in the draft. After two straight drafts with the second
choice, the league's northernmost franchise, which has
consistently finished southernmost in the standings, has a good
chance to move up.

--L.J.W.

COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Such a waist Excess pounds kept Reeves from raising his game last season. COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Distant star Far from the madding crowds, Abdur-Rahim was the NBA's fourth-leading scorer.

STARTING FIVE [3 stars]
BENCH [2 stars]
COACH [2 1/2 stars]
FRONT OFFICE [2 1/2 stars]
CHEMISTRY [3 stars]

[BOX]

By the Numbers

1998-99 record: 8-42 (14th in Western Conference)
Coach: Brian Hill (third season with Grizzlies)

1998-99 PER GAME POINTS FG% REBOUNDS TURNOVERS
AVERAGES (rank) (rank) (rank) (rank)

GRIZZLIES 88.9 (24) 42.8 (19) 40.2 (23) 17.0 (29)
OPPONENTS 97.5 (26) 46.3 (27) 42.6 (20) 15.1 (11)

In Fact

Over the Grizzlies' four-year history, their home record is
39-109 (.264), making them the NBA's alltime worst home team.
The next biggest home court disadvantage? The Providence
Steamrollers' 29-55 (.345) from 1946-47 to '48-49.

Projected Lineup

STARTERS PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

SF Shareef Abdur-Rahim 11 23.0 ppg 7.5 rpg 3.4 apg 43.2 FG%
Scoring, rebounding and assist averages have improved every season

PF Othella Harrington[#]118 9.8 ppg 6.0 rpg 0.4 apg 51.3 FG%
Has practiced against Ewing, Mourning, Mutombo, Olajuwon and
Barkley

C Bryant Reeves 72 10.8 ppg 5.5 rpg 1.5 apg 57.8 FT%
Shot dismal 40.6% last season, compared with 52.3% in 1997-98

SG Michael Dickerson[#] 126 10.9 ppg 1.7 rpg 1.9 apg 43.3 3FG%
Named to all-rookie second team after starting all 50 games for
Rockets

PG Mike Bibby 63 13.2 ppg 2.7 rpg 6.5 apg 43.0 FG%
Better production than more heralded rookie point Jason Williams

BENCH PVR* 1998-99 KEY STATS

F Grant Long[#] 171 9.8 ppg 5.9 rpg 1.1 apg 42.1 FG%
235 free throw tries with Hawks would have been second on
Grizzlies

G Felipe Lopez 190 9.3 ppg 3.5 rpg 1.3 apg 44.6 FG%
Scored 11.2 points per game as starter compared with 5.2 coming
off bench

G Brent Price[#] 263 7.3 ppg 2.0 rpg 2.8 apg 48.3 FG%
Shares record for consecutive successful three-point attempts
with 13

F Dennis Scott[#] 268 6.5 ppg 1.6 rpg 40.8 FG% 38.1 3FG%
After seven years with Magic, he is with his fifth team since
1997-98

C-F Antoine Carr[#] 324 2.6 ppg 1.7 rpg 0.5 apg 40.4 FG%
Streak of eight straight seasons earning playoff cash is in
jeopardy

[#]New acquisition (R) Rookie (statistics for final college year)
*PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 102)

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)