Forget Wilt Chamberlain for a minute. Forget George Mikan, and Bill Russell, and Alcindor-Jabbar, and Patrick Ewing.
Think of Bob Cousy, and two-handed set shots. Think of Gail Goodrich, and trajectories that returned the basketballs to Earth with frost on them. Think of long shots, and we don't mean underdogs.
This should be the year shooting comes back to college basketball. No more dunk-a-rama. No more four-corner passing until you can force the ball into the big fella for a finger-roll or a foul. No more wondering whether any of these players with high shooting percentages can actually shoot.
The new long-distance rates--three points for a shot that travels farther than 19 feet 9 inches--is designed to bring the lost art of shooting back to a game that was not designed for dudes as tall as Manute Bol. Had Dr. Naismith known how huge human beings would get, he would have nailed that peach basket to the top of a telephone pole. Assuming that, by then, Don Ameche had gotten around to inventing the telephone.
Dunking is all well and good, and nobody wants to outlaw it again. Guys like Darrell Griffith and Dominique Wilkins have brought new pizazz to college basketball with their high-wire acts, and Lorenzo Charles of North Carolina State even won a national championship game with a stuff that dreams were made of.
But unless somebody intends to hoist the hoop higher, or launch a Division B for players 6-4 and under, something has to be done to bring the shootists back, to save basketball for sons and daughters whose parents can stroll through a doorway without ducking.
In Jason Miller's play, "That Championship Season," Coach Delaney claims he cannot even stand watching anymore: "The game's changed. They shoot down at the basket now." Yes, they do.
But thanks to the new three-point law, college basketball should have more stop 'n' pop than at any time since dunking was licensed. And although some coaches and players are complaining that the three-point range is too close, they forget that that's the idea: To encourage them to shoot at will, rather than in desperation.
So, in the season that has just begun, we should get to see marksmen such as UCLA's Reggie Miller, Indiana's Steve Alford and Nevada Las Vegas' Freddie Banks fire when ready. And, of course, spectators won't have to file toward the door when a team leads by 15 points with 5 minutes to go. Some small, skinny kid on the bench might even enter the game at that point as designated shooter.
Is the distance too short?
Miller says 19-9 is "almost an underhand shot." According to Doug Altenberger of Illinois, "An eighth-grader could make that shot."
But when cocky shooters start shooting and missing under pressure, they will have to decide whether to risk the coach's wrath by going for broke. It could turn college ball into a playground game, or sort out the heads-up kids from the deadheads.
Other new developments in college basketball include the much-discussed Proposition 48, an academic crackdown that has cost some schools--Michigan, in particular--immediate help from hotly recruited freshmen. Many coaches--Indiana's Bob Knight, for one--subsequently have rid themselves of their disdain for junior college transfers, and will use them. As for the JC kids, they are still trying to rid themselves of the stereotype that a JC kid is not a smart kid.
There are new coaches all over the map, with USC, Iowa, Maryland, Ohio State, Houston, Memphis State, Stanford, Navy, Northwestern, Bradley, Boston College, Fresno State, Minnesota, Pittsburgh and Wichita State among those adjusting to new regimes.
Some left because they wanted to. Some didn't. Lefty Driesell left Maryland under a cloud. Dana Kirk left Memphis State under hot pursuit from the law. Dick Versace was told his new contract would be his last contract, due to impending NCAA sanctions, so he beat Bradley to the punch. Minnesota hired Clem Haskins to straighten out a program blighted by conduct unbecoming human beings.
From a talent standpoint, Louisville, winner of two of the last seven NCAA championships, could do it again, and maybe that would finally be enough to earn Denny Crum a national Coach of the Year honor. North Carolina will be very good--no kidding--and Georgia Tech's preseason No. 1 ranking last season might have been a season too soon. The Yellow Jackets should be good, even without Mark Price.
Watch out for Kansas with Danny Manning, Syracuse, Alabama, Oklahoma, Western Kentucky, UNLV and at least four Big Ten teams--and if you like sleepers, you'll like Pittsburgh. Navy has David (Top Gun) Robinson, but not enough else to win the whole shebang.