Nothing bothers Cardosi more than a player blowing off a tutorial appointment in favor of a shoot-around. "The coaches need to understand that these kids feel they have to be at practice," she says. "So they don't always hear the coaches tell them that they can't miss a class or a tutor appointment."
Cardosi considers Raveling an ally. "I like the way he deals with his kids," she says. "We just have different philosophies. To me, basketball is a game. To George, it's something bigger."
IT'S A CLASSIC SNOOP DOGGY Dogg-style rapper's voice: a sinewy, singsong tenor skating atop a languid rhythmic groove, joined by a whiny synthesizer that sounds like a snake charmer's flute.
The lyrics are half hoops patois, half hip-hop braggadocio. "When I'm upset, I'm strong as heck, like Popeye the sailor, I bank you and make you see All-Stars, like Chuck Taylor, a legend like Elgin Baylor, Elizabeth my Taylor, your girl is like a video game, I like to play her."
Avondre Jones is demonstrating his rap prowess, gyrating his spindly legs, towering over a mountain of sound equipment in his bedroom as he blasts demo tapes of his group 3Wayz's songs.
"We can go three ways," explains Jones, whose bedroom is decorated with pictures of Ice Cube, Charles Barkley, Malcolm X and Avondre himself, the last from a recent issue of Sports Illustrated heralding him as one of the country's most promising freshman players. "On the gangsta tip, the smooth stuff or something wild, that you'd play at a party."
Still wearing his No. 44 jersey and basketball shorts from a late-afternoon practice, Jones is trying to teach his roomie, fellow Fab 4 Freshman Claude Green, the art of rap deejaying.
"Is Claude Green in the house?" he playfully shouts as he hands the turntables over to his roommate, who nervously fumbles with the controls.
Jones is overcome with the giggles. "Amateur!" he shrieks gleefully. "They'd kill you out on the dance floor."
For now, Jones' rap career is sort of on hold, thanks to a stack of arcane NCAA rules about professional contracts. It's his basketball career everyone's worried about. While Jones' Artesia High teammate Charles O'Bannon has blossomed at cross-town rival UCLA, the highly touted Jones has been an enigma, playing sparingly, averaging less than five points a game.
Relations with Raveling were rocky, even before he gave Jones a one-game suspension. One week into the season, Jones and his parents had a closed-door meeting with the coach, unhappy over Jones' lack of playing time. Before the pivotal Arizona State game, Jones came to see Raveling in his office. They stepped out into the hall for a private chat--and within moments were shouting at each other.
Jones admits that his game isn't up to par yet. "I know I can play better," he says, fondling a huge ninja sword that he keeps by his bed. "I'm just not used to losing. And I'm not used to sitting. I'm used to being the go-to man. In high school, I was the star."
From Raveling's perspective, that's part of the problem. Ever since the University of Michigan nearly won the 1992 national championship with its heralded Fab Five, incoming freshman have had visions of overnight success on the basketball court.
"The Fab Five was one of the worst things that ever happened to college basketball," Raveling complains at one of his weekly lunches with local sportswriters. "These kids come in thinking they're gonna win right away. It's a problem--athletes live a life of illusion. What did Avondre say in that Sports Illustrated article? 'I want to be a point guard.' Come on!"
That earns a big laugh from the assembled writers, but Raveling seems genuinely troubled by the naivete of his freshman players. "These kids come out of an environment where everyone expects instant gratification," the coach says later. "That's what our society preaches every day--the quick fix."
On the record, Raveling is cautiously optimistic about Avondre's progress. But in private, the coach broods about his 19-year-old protege's work ethic and level of maturity. At practice, Raveling treats Jones with kid gloves, often whispering advice in his ear instead of shouting it out across the gym.
You get the feeling Raveling hasn't gotten his message across yet.
"I know basketball is going to pay off in the end," Jones says one night, sorting through his shelves, most of them filled with boxes of high-top sneakers. "But if you came to me with $5 million and said I could have a record contract and I could give up basketball . . . ."
Avondre is silent, staring up at the posters of his heroes, looking first at Barkley, then at Ice Cube. He wags his head. "Well, I don't know what I'd do."
ONE MORNING, RAVELING IS ON the phone with Duane Cooper, a talented three-point shooter at USC who's now a reserve guard for the Phoenix Suns. Raveling sounds excited. With several of the Suns' stars out with injuries, Cooper is getting more playing time.