Carrick DeHart and the three-point shot arrived in NCAA basketball at the same time, and you could probably get an astrologer or three to tell you that the conjunction was not coincidental.
When DeHart, the UC Santa Barbara guard, launches a three-point attempt from beyond 19 feet, 9 inches, it's virtually a cinch to go in the basket--almost as if it had been written in the stars.
Last week, the 6-3 sophomore, a graduate of Santa Monica High School, made six of eight shots from three-point range and scored a career-high 28 points to lead the Gauchos to a 76-68 victory over Pepperdine.
At the start of the week, UC Santa Barbara had a 5-0 record, and DeHart has been a big factor in that unblemished beginning to the season. In the five games, he led his team with an average of 20.2 points a game and made an incredible 73.9% of his three-pointers (17 of 23).
He is not the only fine guard in Coach Jerry Pimm's three-guard offense. Seniors Brian Shaw and Brian Johnson are the other starters and also have contributed heavily, and junior Carlton Davenport, DeHart's teammate at Santa Monica High, is the first guard off the bench.
But DeHart is clearly the best outside shooter for the Gauchos and could wind up as the best in college basketball, not only for this year but also for his junior and senior seasons.
Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick, not exactly an unbiased observer after seeing what DeHart's long shots did to his team, thinks he already is the best.
When Harrick was asked to compare Santa Barbara's guards with others he has seen this season, he said that they were excellent but not in the same class with DePaul's Rod Strickland--except for DeHart.
"I tell you," he said, "There's not any player better than DeHart--anybody. "
Does DeHart think he's the best? Not yet, he said in an interview on the UC Santa Barbara campus, but he's working on it.
He has already improved from his first year with the Gauchos, which wasn't bad at all. He had an 11.5-point scoring average, the best ever for a freshman at the school, and was named freshman of the year in the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. The Gauchos finished with a 16-13 record, their most wins since the 1975-76 season, and were runners-up to champion Nevada Las Vegas in the PCAA.
Last year DeHart was only 35 of 93 (37.6%) on three-point attempts, and he has more than doubled that percentage so far this year.
"I've always been a shooter," he said, "but I really didn't think about it much last year. I'm more conscious of it this year, and it's just as easy to take a step back and go for three points as it is to try a two-point shot."
But though he is good with long shots, he said: "I still like to drive and shoot off the dribble. I like to be creative.
"The three-point shot opens the game up a great deal. If (opposing players) get too tight on me, I can drive, kick the ball out and get some of my teammates open."
Players guarding him have been playing him tight this year, sometimes banging into him with their bodies, hoping to wear him out so that he won't have enough strength left to keep putting the ball up from outside.
"The banging on me really doesn't bother me," he said. He added that his past coaches, Cliff Hunter at Santa Monica High School and Benny Davenport (Carlton's father) in youth basketball, taught him how to play a physical game.
"I take a few shots (to the body) and give a few. It doesn't surprise me or hamper me. As a matter of fact, it ignites me, sparks me up a little bit."
Because he stands 6 feet, 3 inches and weighs from 165 to 170 pounds, he said, "people look at me as if I'm weak. But I've done a lot of strength training since last year, and I surprise people with my strength. I don't believe in giving up."
He wants to increase his strength and improve on such things as ball handling and shooting. "My ultimate goal is to be an all-around perfect ball player. I don't think I'll ever be satisfied with myself as a performer. I have so many flaws I want to try to erase."
If he attains perfection in college, does he want to play in the National Basketball Assn., where the professionals have to be pluperfect?
"I'd kind of like to play it by ear. I live and die basketball, but I know all good things come to an end. I don't really look toward the end; I'd like for it never to stop. I just love being around basketball, but I'm prepared for it (an end to basketball).
"I really hope to get an opportunity to show what I have in the NBA, but I have so far to go. But I just want a fair shake."
He might be in a better place to be seen by NBA scouts if he had gone to the University of Kansas with Keith Harris, a former Santa Monica High teammate, two years ago.
DeHart and Harris had made verbal commitments to play for Coach Larry Brown and the high-powered Jayhawks, but Harris signed a letter of intent with Kansas and DeHart did not, signing instead with UC Santa Barbara.