USC has ridden a stronger, deeper lineup to the top of the
Southern Cal coach Henry Bibby is a dyspeptic, superstitious man
who finds comfort in having a routine. For instance, when Bibby
was a star guard at UCLA in 1969 and the early '70s, he always
put on his left sneaker first before games.
As the Trojans prepared for their showdown with the Bruins for
the Pac-10 lead last Thursday, they dined on their usual pregame
meal of chicken teriyaki, rice and broccoli--a combination their
coach has determined to be a winner--but one thing was different:
Bibby was relaxed. Senior point guard Brandon Granville cracked
up the room when he called out, "Hey Coach, when the lights come
up tonight, don't let your a------ get too tight."
The Trojans defeated the Bruins 81-77 later that night for only
the second time in Bibby's six years as coach, in a game that
wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Southern Cal had a
46-33 rebounding advantage, including a 24-11 edge on the
offensive glass, and, despite shooting only 37.3% from the floor
to UCLA's 46.6%, led for about 30 of the game's 40 minutes. More
important, in taking over sole possession of first place in the
Pac-10 with a 5-0 record (13-2 overall), the No. 18 Trojans gave
Bibby one more reason to leave well enough alone. "He's been
surprisingly mellow this year," Granville says. "You can joke
with him more, and he gives us a lot more freedom." Explains
Bibby, "As long as they play well, I'm mellow."
Anchored by three seniors, Granville and 6'7" forwards David
Bluthenthal and Sam Clancy, the Trojans have a combination of
talent and experience that is rare in today's game. They also
have depth, something that Bibby's teams have previously lacked.
Their 10-man rotation includes nine players who have started at
least three games. Not only does the longer bench give Southern
Cal the luxury of pushing the tempo, but it also permits Bibby to
reduce his regulars' minutes if he believes they aren't playing
hard. On Dec. 4, for example, a not-so-mellow Bibby yanked his
three star seniors from the starting lineup before the Trojans'
game against Rhode Island for not hustling in practice.
Another major reason for USC's quick start is the play of 6'2"
freshman shooting guard Errick Craven, who scored 13 points
against the Bruins and has been tough in the clutch all season.
Craven is third among the Trojans in scoring (12.3 points a game)
and is as much a creature of habit as Bibby. Among other things,
Craven wears the same white undershirt to every game and dons
black ankle braces for away games and white braces for home
games. "It's just something I do to put me in a confident
mind-set," he says.
Nothing, however, produces confidence like winning. Whatever the
Trojans are doing, now isn't the time for change.
UC Irvine's Jerry Green
Capitalizing on a Second Chance
In some respects, what UC Irvine guard Jerry Green did on the
night of the NBA draft last June was no different from what
millions of basketball fans across the country did: He watched
it on television with family and friends at home in Pomona,
Calif. However, he was no ordinary observer that night. Eight
weeks earlier Green, who had been named Big West Player of the
Year after averaging 19.0 points a game as a junior, had
declared himself eligible for the draft. He competed at the
NBA's predraft showcase in Chicago and was flown across the
country by the Knicks for a private workout. But when the big
night came, Green went unselected. "It was disappointing, but I
got over it pretty quick," he says. "It was good to check out
where I stood."
Since he hadn't signed with an agent, Green could regain his
final season of eligibility under NCAA rules, provided that he
repaid a total of $2,500 in travel expenses to the sponsors of
the Chicago camp and to the Knicks. After learning what he
needed to improve--namely, his strength and playmaking
skills--Green took out a loan to pay back the money.
These days the 6'3" Green, who has added 10 pounds through
weightlifting to beef up to 190 pounds, is making the most of
his second chance. Through Sunday he was 10th in the nation in
scoring (22.6 points a game) and was ranked among the top 10 in
the Big West Conference in three-point shooting (43.1%), assists
(3.4) and steals (1.7).
Last Thursday he scored 31 points--the final two coming on a
length-of-the-court drive that ended with an eight-foot,
game-winning jumper in the lane at the buzzer--to lift UC Irvine
(12-4, 5-0 in the Big West) to a 67-66 victory at Utah State.
That win not only snapped the Aggies' 31-game home winning streak
but also gave UC Irvine sole possession of first place in the
conference. It was the third time in two seasons that Green has
won a game at the buzzer.
Green's success is unexpected considering that he was lightly
recruited coming out of Pomona High. Part of the reason for his
low profile was that he spent summer weekends at home rather than
on the road trying to impress college coaches on the national AAU
circuit. That's because Green is deeply involved in Pomona's
Great I Am Pentecostal Church, of which his uncle, Carroll, is
the pastor, his father, Gerald Sr., is a minister and his mother,
Linda, is a secretary. (Jerry often reads the liturgy at Sunday
In the spring of 1998, Anteaters coach Pat Douglass, who had just
taken over a program that had gone 1-25 in 1996-97, signed Green
more out of desperation than prescience. "I had no players,"
Douglass says. "Not a lot of schools were on him, and he took a
chance on us."
Green has started every game for the Anteaters and at week's end
was only 75 points from eclipsing Tod Murphy as the school's
alltime leading scorer (1,778 points). The NBA's rejection of
Green last spring might have broken his spirit. Instead it has
pushed him to greater heights. "The sun's always shining with
Jerry," Douglass says. "His resilience is remarkable. That's why
I believe he'll play in the NBA."
Bulldogs Have Some Bite
When Georgia began practice on Oct. 13, Bulldogs coach Jim
Harrick didn't see many reasons for optimism. A starting forward
and his starting center from last season's 16-15 team had
graduated, and his leading scorer, guard D.A. Layne, had,
against Harrick's advice, departed school a year early to enter
the NBA draft. (He wasn't selected.) In addition, Georgia's best
frontcourtman, 6'6" Damien Wilkins, was ineligible for this
season after having transferred from North Carolina State.
Finally, two of Harrick's freshman recruits were denied
admission for academic reasons, and a third was ruled ineligible
because of a mix-up on his high school transcript. That left the
Bulldogs with only seven scholarship players, none of them
That Georgia was 14-2 (3-0 in the SEC) through Sunday and ranked
No. 20 was a testament to Harrick's knack for getting the most
out of his players. It was also, as he would be the first to
admit, as mysterious as it was surprising. "When you're dealing
with young players, you never know how they're going to react
when you put safes on their backs," says Harrick, whose Bulldogs
defeated Kentucky in Lexington last Thursday for only the third
time in history, and on Saturday knocked off Tennessee 73-70.
Georgia has shown remarkable maturity for a team that starts four
sophomores and a junior. Williams was second in the SEC with 17.9
points a game. Point guard Rashad Wright was second in the league
with a 2.85-to-1 assist-to-turnover ratio, and as a team the
Bulldogs were fourth in the conference in free throw shooting
Luck, as much as anything else, played a part in Georgia's
start. Harrick had just concluded his second season in Athens in
the spring of 2000 when he received a fortuitous phone call from
James Hayes, whose identical twin sons, Jarvis and Jonas, had
completed their freshman season at Western Carolina and were
looking to transfer. Harrick's predecessor, Ron Jirsa, didn't
recruit the 6'6" forwards when they were at Atlanta's Frederick
Douglass High because, like many coaches, he was only interested
in Jarvis, the better player of the two. Although Harrick had
never seen Jonas play and had seen Jarvis perform only once, he
offered them both scholarships on the spot. After sitting out
last season, Jarvis is Georgia's second-leading scorer,
averaging 16.9 points through Sunday, while Jonas was averaging
6.9 points and 4.5 rebounds.
Regardless of whether the Bulldogs can finish as strong as they
started, it's apparent that Harrick is building a foundation for
success, though that's one development that's neither mysterious
nor surprising. Says Harrick, "You didn't think I'd just come in
here and lay down like a dog, did you?"
Michigan State's Streak Snapped
Four-time defending Big Ten champion Michigan State is reeling
after losing four straight and dropping to 0-3 in the conference
for the first time since 1987. Last Saturday's 64-63 loss to
Wisconsin at the Breslin Center ended the nation's longest home
winning streak at 53 games. The Spartans (9-7 overall) thought
they had won the game when freshman Kelvin Torbert scored on an
inbounds lob with .2 of a second remaining, but officials
reviewed television replays and waved off the basket, citing the
rule that a ball can only be tapped and not possessed if .3 or
less is on the clock.... Kentucky finally did the right thing and
cleared the way for reserve center Marvin Stone to transfer to
Louisville, but it seems coach Tubby Smith and athletic director
Larry Ivy still can't agree on who made the original decision not
to grant Stone a release (SI, Jan. 14). In announcing the
reversal last Friday, Ivy, who earlier contended he was following
school policy in refusing the release, said, "Coach Smith has had
a change of heart." The day before, however, Smith had said the
decision had been made by Ivy and compliance officer Sandy Bell.
After meeting with Cardinals coach Rick Pitino last Saturday
morning, Stone was on the bench in street clothes during
Louisville's 93-85 win over TCU later that day.... Is there any
doubt that Tennessee (6-8) is the most snakebitten team in the
country? The Vols' 73-70 loss to Georgia last Saturday marked the
third time this season they've been beaten by a three-pointer
with less than five seconds to play.... Cincinnati coach Bob
Huggins last week ripped into the Bearcats' fans for their lack
of support at home games. When he was told that Shoemaker Center
was still short of a sellout by 1,000 to 1,200 tickets the day
before the Jan. 8 game against Charlotte, Huggins blew up,
telling The Cincinnati Post, "There's never been a coach here
who's been more visible in the community, who's done more things
in the community. If they don't want to come, [bleep] 'em.
Really. [Bleep] 'em."
Player of the Week
SENIOR, FORWARD, UCLA
The week: In the Bruins' 87-77 victory over No. 1 Kansas last
Saturday, the 6'7" Barnes scored a game-high 27 points on 10 of
14 shooting. Last Thursday he hit 12 of 17 shots for a
career-high 34 in UCLA's 81-77 loss to USC. Here's his dossier.
Best course this semester: Social welfare, because I get to work
with underprivileged kids
Most surprising thing about you: I was a better football player
[as a wide receiver] than basketball player in high school.
Guilty pleasure TV show: Temptation Island
First phone call after a game: High school buddies in Sacramento
Favorite Tattoo: On left arm, of a player dunking, accompanied
by the words SAC TOWN'S FINEST
Best players ever faced: Paul Pierce and Chris Webber in summer
Best recent advice: From Magic Johnson, who said after a rough
stretch earlier this season to carefully study game tapes
In the CD changer: Jay-Z, Jermaine Dupri, Ludacris
Video game addicted to: 007: Agent Under Fire