A tough schedule and undersized lineup could not stop Georgia's
surge to the top of the SEC
Every time Georgia breaks from a huddle during practices and
games, the Bulldogs say, "Believe!" Such a positive expression
might seem like a perfectly reasonable explanation why Georgia
has been perhaps the nation's most surprising team, but the
Bulldogs' second-year coach Jim Harrick isn't eager to embrace
that theory. Some things, he knows, defy explanation. "We said
'Believe' last year too, and it didn't help us much," Harrick
says. "I thought we would be better, but I never dreamed we'd be
Georgia, which finished last season with its worst record in 23
years (10-20, 3-13 in the SEC), is making believers out of a lot
of people. It claimed sole possession of first place in the SEC's
East Division with a thrilling 77-75 double-overtime victory over
No. 6 Tennessee last Saturday. The Bulldogs, who don't start a
player taller than 6'7", were down by 16 points late in the first
half and trailed during the last two minutes of each extra
session. "We worked too hard to lose," said 6-foot junior guard
D.A. Layne, who played 46 minutes and scored 24 points, both game
Layne knows all too well what it's like to suffer for this
program. In 1999, following his freshman year, he saw five
players graduate, one (sophomore Jumaine Jones) enter the NBA
draft and the coach, Ron Jirsa, get fired. "I felt like I was
here all by myself," he says. Layne led the Bulldogs in scoring
(18.3 points per game) as a sophomore, but he was the their lone
perimeter threat. Though his scoring average was down slightly
through Sunday (16.5), Layne and the Bulldogs are much more
dangerous this season with the addition of Ezra Williams, a 6'4"
swingman who is Georgia's second-leading scorer (12.1), and
6-foot freshman point guard Rashad Wright, whose steadying
presence is reflected in his stats from the Tennessee game: 1 for
3 from the field, four assists and one turnover in 34 minutes.
Georgia's season came perilously close to falling apart in late
December and early January, when the Bulldogs slogged through the
toughest schedule in the nation. During a Jan. 13 game at Ole
Miss, the Dawgs, who had lost four of their previous six, started
bickering after falling behind 14-2. Harrick lectured his players
at halftime on the need to encourage one another, and Georgia
kept chipping away in the second half to rally for a 70-66 win.
"We had built a lot of frustration going into that game," Layne
says. "It took a big win for us to snap out of it."
With a 13-7 record, Georgia finally cracked the rankings, at No.
25 on Monday. The Bulldogs are closing in on an NCAA tournament
bid, and their future looks bright, given the proven ability of
Harrick, who won the NCAA title at UCLA in 1995, to recruit and
Harrick was delighted by the scene he encountered when he walked
into the locker room on Saturday. Instead of celebrating
jubilantly, his players were exhausted. "I've tried to teach them
that it's the greatest feeling to walk into that locker room,
dying, with a W," Harrick said later. "I don't think they could
have played another minute. They were completely drained, but
they were happy."
Nation's Top Scorer
Rising Star at Centenary
Centenary's basketball legacy is confined mostly to a trivia
question: What college did Robert Parish play for? Ronnie
McCollum concedes he "thought it was a joke" when he received his
first recruiting call from Centenary, a small liberal arts
college in Shreveport, La., during his senior year at Fayette
County High in Fayette, Ala. "I knew Robert Parish's game,"
McCollum says, "but I didn't know he played there."
McCollum, a senior guard, may never be more famous than Parish,
but he's on pace to surpass the Chief as the No. 2 man on the
Gents' career scoring list. The nation's scoring leader, with a
28.4-point average through Sunday, McCollum was only 58 points
from Parish's career total of 2,334; Centenary's leader is Willie
Jackson, who scored 2,535 points from 1980-81 to 1983-84.
In high school McCollum aspired to play in a big-time program,
but none came calling--despite the best efforts of his mother,
Beverly, who used to take him to Alabama home games and deliver
what she calls "mildly persistent" recruiting pitches to visiting
coaches. "I'd be standing [near the tunnel to the locker room]
thinking, My gosh, this is Rick Pitino, this is Nolan
Richardson," Ronnie says. "I was too shy to speak up, but my
mother would corner them." Billy Kennedy, Centenary's coach at
the time, acting on a tip from Mike Davis (now the interim coach
at Indiana and a cousin of Ronnie's), offered Ronnie a
scholarship in April 1997 without having seen him play. "He
couldn't jump over a piece of paper," says Gents coach Kevin
Johnson, an assistant at the time. "It's amazing how he's
developed his game all four years, and now he can do it all
The 6'4" McCollum entered Centenary at 230 pounds, but he now
weighs less than 200, and last season his 23.8-point average was
the third best in the country. McCollum, a pure shooter, should
at least earn a place in the NBA's predraft camps this spring
McCollum already has a head start on the career he plans to
pursue when his playing days are over: coaching. When the father
of a Shreveport teenage girl called Centenary four years ago
looking for someone to coach his daughter's summer team, McCollum
volunteered to take over the reins of a team now known as the
Twin Cities Cyclones. He has coached them for three seasons, and
last summer he guided them to a 13th-place finish at a national
tournament in Dallas. "I try to stress to them that it doesn't
matter what level you're playing at. You can accomplish anything
by practicing hard," McCollum says. "That's how it's been for me
the last few years. Every game I play is like being a kid again."
Boston College Rebounds
Eagles Are Finally Soaring
As a member of the 1970-71 freshman team at UMass, Al Skinner
didn't have many chances to compete against the varsity, but he
did spend considerable time in the off-season playing one-on-one
against the Minutemen's best player, a spindly 6'6" junior named
Julius Erving. Skinner learned a lot about limitations that year.
He also learned to appreciate the value of opportunities. "My
challenge was to get better by competing against Julius, but that
didn't mean I had to duplicate him," he says. "Most of us are not
blessed with those kinds of tools, but you can still work hard to
be as good as you can be."
That philosophy of perseverance is paying dividends for Skinner,
who is in his fourth season as coach at Boston College. Two years
after guiding the Eagles to a 6-21 record, including a 3-15 mark
in the Big East, Skinner has No. 20 BC off to its best start in
20 years (14-2, 5-1 through Sunday), an impressive feat
considering that the team consists mostly of players the rest of
the conference didn't want. Skinner, however, sees opportunities
in BC's roster. "It helps to have a common thread," he says.
"These guys aren't a bunch of prima donnas. They wanted to play
at the highest level, and we're giving them a chance to do that."
No player better embodies that concept than 6'1" sophomore point
guard Troy Bell. Following his junior season at Academy of Holy
Angels in Richfield, Minn., Bell wasn't among the 600-plus high
school players invited to the Nike or Adidas summer camps. The
few major schools that pursued him did so without much
enthusiasm. For example Tennessee coach Jerry Green was out of
town the weekend Bell made his official visit to Knoxville. Bell
made the most of his opportunity at BC last season--he averaged
18.8 points and was named Big East rookie of the year--though
his inexperience took its toll: He committed a team-high 102
turnovers, and the Eagles finished 11-19 and won only three
league games. "They really threw me to the wolves," he says. "It
was scary out there sometimes."
Bell is again scoring at a sizzling pace--his 21.4 average through
Sunday was third in the conference--but he has been much more
efficient this season. His shooting percentage has improved
dramatically, from 38.6% to 46.6%, and he had 81 assists to only
After enduring three consecutive losing seasons, Boston College
would love to settle some old scores. No victory was sweeter than
its 85-68 defeat of Connecticut on Jan. 3, which ended a 23-game
losing streak against the Huskies. Senior guard Kenny Harley
remembers with particular bitterness a 96-55 loss to Syracuse in
the first round of the 1999 Big East tournament. "Even when they
were up by a lot, they didn't let up," Harley recalls of the
Orangemen. "A lot of teams did us like that. If we keep playing
the way we've been playing, I'm hoping we can return the favor."
SW Missouri's Jackie Stiles
Guard Closes in On Scoring Mark
There are gym rats, and there's Jackie Stiles. Every day during
her last two years of high school Stiles would stay in the
Claflin (Kans.) High gym until she had made 1,000 baskets. This
routine, which could take as long as four hours, often continued
late into the night.
Now a senior at Southwest Missouri State, Stiles, a 5'8" guard,
has a chance to break the Division I women's career scoring
record. Though Sunday she was averaging 31.7 points this season
and needed only 253 points to pass Mississippi Valley State star
Patricia Hoskins, who scored 3,122 from 1985 to '89. Stiles was
on pace to break Hoskins's mark in the Lady Bears' final
regular-season away game, at Wichita State on Feb. 25.
With a deadly outside shot and crafty ball handling, Stiles has
thwarted defenses by shooting 60.3% from the field, and an
astonishing 52.9% from beyond the arc. After she dropped 49
points on Northern Iowa on Jan. 20, frustrated Panthers coach
Tony DiCecco was asked how best to guard her. "I'd go with a 6'2"
kid who ran in the 100 meters in the Olympics," he said.
Stiles's success at Southwest Missouri has raised interest in the
No. 13 Lady Bears (14-3) to a fever pitch in Springfield, where
the school is located. One fan even carved Stiles's likeness on a
piece of wood and gave it to her.
Stiles, who's expected to be a top 10 pick in April's WNBA draft,
would like nothing better than lead the Lady Bears to the Final
Four, which will be held only 215 miles away in St. Louis. That's
why, if you're looking for Stiles, you should check the gym
first. "She knows all the security people on campus," says
Southwest Missouri State coach Cheryl Burnett. "If they see the
lights on in the gym at midnight, they know it's Jackie." --Trisha
For complete scores and recruiting news, plus more from Seth
Davis and Grant Wahl, go to cnnsi.com/basketball/college.
WEEKLY SEED REPORT
After paying close attention to the feverish action during the
first 2 1/2 months of the season, SI's selection committee is
finally ready to weigh in and pick the top four seeds in each
region as if the NCAA tournament were starting this week. The No.
1's were virtually unanimous picks, but there was a lot of debate
about the rest of the top 16. Fresno State, Boston College,
Georgia, Notre Dame and Iowa were among the teams to receive
votes but not berths.
The biggest winner in our first report is the ACC. In each of the
last two years the conference sent just three teams to the NCAAs,
but five of its nine members make this week's rankings.
1. Duke (19-1)
2. Tennessee (17-3)
3. Georgetown (17-2)
4. Wisconsin (13-4)
1. Michigan State (16-2)
2. North Carolina (17-2)
3. Syracuse (16-3)
4. Alabama (16-3)
1. Kansas (17-1)
2. Arizona (14-5)
3. Wake Forest (14-5)
4. Virginia (14-4)
1. Stanford (19-0)
2. Illinois (16-4)
3. Maryland (14-5)
4. Iowa State (17-3)
The Joe College Report
Not only did Connecticut's 70-59 loss to Villanova on Jan. 24
drop the Huskies to fifth place in the East Division of the Big
East with a 13-6 record (2-4 in the league), but it also left
coach Jim Calhoun--can you believe it?--speechless. Asked after the
game what he told his players in the locker room, Calhoun
replied, "I said three words and left." Calhoun didn't elaborate
on what those words were, but if UConn doesn't turn things around
quickly it can start thinking about three letters: N-I-T....
This week's lousy timing award goes to N.C. State junior guard
Anthony Grundy, who was charged with misdemeanor assault of a
woman last Saturday, as speculation about coach Herb Sendek's
job security was reaching a fevered pitch. Grundy, the
Wolfpack's leading scorer, has maintained his innocence and will
be allowed to play while the judicial process runs its course....
Will someone please inform Massachusetts coach Bruiser Flint
that he's supposed to be a dead man walking? The Minutemen's
65-64 overtime win at Temple on Saturday was their sixth win in
their last seven games and kept UMass (8-10) tied for first
place in the Atlantic 10 with a 6-1 mark....
D'or means "golden" in French, which is fitting considering the
performance of Northwestern State's 6'11" D'or Fischer against
Southwest Texas State on Jan. 22. Fischer blocked 13 shots to
set a Southland Conference single-game record and come within
one of the NCAA mark shared by David Robinson and three others.