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THE INSIDE TRACK | PAGE TWO

McCoy, Cato First Spar With the Kid Gloves On

March 20, 1997|RANDY HARVEY

SAN ANTONIO — People here say they haven't heard such hype surrounding a matchup in the Alamodome since Pernell Whitaker fought Julio Cesar Chavez.

One notable difference, however, is that the two centers of attention, UCLA's Jelani McCoy and Iowa State's Kelvin Cato, boxed each other's ears with beautiful words on the eve of tonight's NCAA Midwest Regional semifinal.

"When the game starts, the compliments are going to have to stop," McCoy said Wednesday.

That's more like it.

The 6-foot-9 1/2 McCoy and the 6-11 Cato are their universities' all-time leaders in blocked shots. That isn't as impressive as it sounds because statistics for that category weren't considered official when Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton played, but opponents aren't contemplating such ancient history when tempted to drive on McCoy and Cato. They're impressed enough to think twice about it.

You know McCoy. He was a prep All-American in San Diego who has started all but four games in his two seasons at UCLA.

Cato? He didn't play high school basketball, moving so frequently in the Decatur, Ga., area that he never lived in the same district long enough to become eligible.

His play in AAU tournaments earned Cato a scholarship to South Alabama, but he didn't take to organized basketball and transferred as a walk-on to Iowa State. Coach Tim Floyd didn't take to him immediately, not until Cato had 18 rebounds last season in his first game for the Cyclones.

"That tends to make you more patient with a guy," Floyd said.

Marveling that Cato, a senior projected as a first-round draft choice, has improved so dramatically in only three full seasons in the sport, Floyd said, "He's got as great an upside as anyone I've ever coached. I think he'll play his best basketball after he leaves Iowa State."

Wishing Cato well, of course, McCoy would like to be the one to usher him out.

*

UCLA had an additional assistant coach during Wednesday's practice at the Alamodome. Cap Lavin tutored them in fundamentals. . . .

"He's the only edge I've got," UCLA Coach Steve Lavin said of his father, who played well enough for the University of San Francisco to be in the school's Hall of Fame. . . .

Lavin called on another former star, Magic Johnson, to speak to the Bruins before they left Los Angeles on Tuesday night. . . .

Baron Davis of Santa Monica Crossroads High, perhaps the country's best prep point guard, has narrowed his college choices to UCLA, Kansas, Duke, Georgia Tech and Michigan. He might not make an announcement until his birthday April 13. . . .

It's presumed the Bruins could have landed Austin Croshere from Crossroads four years ago. But when they waited to see where Avondre Jones would go, Croshere signed with Providence. He scored 39 in the Friars' first-round victory over Marquette. . . .

Another Friar with L.A. ties is Derrick Brown, a Brooklyn native who played for two seasons at L.A. City College. When Providence was in town in December to play Loyola Marymount, he attended the ceremony at L.A. City College to retire his number. . . .

Speaking of Loyola Marymount, school officials want someone with a name who has head coaching experience and knows Southern California to replace ousted John Olive. That's why they're talking to Larry Farmer. . . .

From the Sweet 16, you could put together a pretty good all-star team of former Southland preps, with Utah's Keith Van Horn (Diamond Bar), Kansas' Jacque Vaughn (Pasadena Muir) and Paul Pierce (Inglewood Morningside), UCLA's Charles O'Bannon (Lakewood Artesia) and Croshere. . . .

The second team: UCLA's Toby Bailey (Loyola) and Kris Johnson (Crenshaw), Arizona's Miles Simon (Santa Ana Mater Dei), California's Tony Gonzalez (Huntington Beach) and Iowa State's Shawn Bankhead (Cleveland). . . .

The honorary captain would be Cal's Ed Gray (Riverside North), who might play Friday against North Carolina despite what had been diagnosed as a season-ending injury. . . .

The Pacific 10 has four teams in the Sweet 16. So what? The Southeastern Conference has six teams in the final 16 of the NCAA women's tournament. . . .

Most impressive statistic from either tournament? Coach Pat Summitt has her Tennessee Volunteers in the final 16 for the 16th consecutive season. . . .

Did you know there's no choo-choo in Chattanooga?

*

While wondering why so many great Southern California players leave home, I was thinking: It would be good to have Farmer back on the sideline, UCLA will win tonight and advance against Minnesota, Lavin would have reason to sweat in a Final Four with Dean Smith, Roy Williams and Rick Pitino.

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