SAN DIEGO — There was a time when the four-wide receiver offense was unheard of in football.
In basketball, a four-guard offense had been equally unthinkable. Until now.
Smokey Gaines, San Diego State's coach, is contemplating a four-guard offense at times by necessity this season. His team simply doesn't have enough big men. The Aztecs have only four players taller than 6-feet 6-inches. One is unable to practice and another is less than 100%.
Gerald Murray, expected to replace Leonard Allen at center, may miss the Nov. 29 opener because of recent surgery for a broken kneecap. And forward John Martens has been slowed the first two days of practice from postseason knee surgery.
Murray and Martens stand 6-8, as does transfer forward Steffond Johnson. Freshman center Kevin Brown is SDSU's tallest player at 6-9.
"If you have a 7-footer to bring us," Gaines said, "I'd appreciate it."
The Aztecs advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in nine years last season when they won the Western Athletic Conference Tournament. They were 23-8 overall, their best record in Division 1.
However, Gaines lost his starting front line of Allen, Michael Kennedy and Andre Ross. They were the team's top three rebounders and second through fourth leading scorers.
Anthony Watson, last year's leading scorer, returns at guard. He averaged 17.5 points last year and is listed among the nation's top 20 off guards by The Sporting News.
Watson, the team's "big man" at 6-3, will carry a considerable amount of burden at the outset. He and his teammates will attempt to compensate for the lack of height in two ways--running and pressing.
"The thing about that is the way we like to run, we have to have rebounds," Gaines said. "If you can't rebound, it poses a problem. If Murray and Martens come back, we'll be all right. We still won't have any aircraft carriers."
The primary consideration in preseason practice is finding a big man to take over where last year's seniors left off. Johnson, who redshirted last season after transferring from Louisiana State, appears to be the best hope. Johnson averaged 20 points and 15 rebounds as a high school senior, but he didn't approach those statistics in three years at LSU.
"He never averaged more than five points a game at LSU," Gaines said. "It's not like I'm getting a superstar. If he is a superstar, he should have averaged more than five points a game at LSU."
The Aztecs still have Watson, a first-team All-WAC player in 1984-85. Creon Dorsey also returns at point guard, where he tied for the WAC assist lead last season.
The third guard will likely be from among returnees Bobby Owens and Mike Haupt and freshman Tracy Dildy. According to Gaines, Dildy was the top prep guard in Chicago last season.
In practice, Gaines has told the guards he expects them to control the tempo by running.
"I can sum it up in one way," Dorsey said. "If you come to one of our games, don't blink your eyes. You might miss something. We're small, but we're quick."
The Aztecs are also inexperienced. Seven of the 13 players are new to SDSU and six are freshmen.
Yet, there is still reason for optimism, according to Watson.
"Look at what happened last year," he said. "We were picked fourth and won the conference tournament. We may have lost three front-line players, but we played a three-guard offense half the time last year. People also seem to forget that Martens, and not Ross, started in the WAC Tournament. I think people overlook a lot of things."
Gaines, the WAC Coach of the Year in 1984-85, was given a three-year contract extension. Whether he can extend the Aztec season into another NCAA playoff berth is debatable.
"Because of my reputation as a winner, people always have high expectations for us," Gaines said. "We need 15 wins for a winning season. Hopefully, we can do it. I don't know about that right now."