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Star Search
Alexander Wolff
November 23, 1992
Join us on our quest to chart the luminous bodies and fading stars in the ever-changing universe of the college game
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November 23, 1992

Star Search

Join us on our quest to chart the luminous bodies and fading stars in the ever-changing universe of the college game

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If we were to enter a brief history of college basketball into Captain Kirk's log, it might go something like this: In the beginning, the paleo-coaches, Adolph Rupp at Kentucky, Hank Iba at Oklahoma State and Phog Allen at Kansas, roamed their respective planets and ruled them as they wished. Then came the reign of the interplanetary emperors, who subjugated all other life-forms—NCAA executive director Walter Byers off the court and UCLA coach John Wooden on it. The game entered new dimensions of time and space during the 1980s. NCAA rulesmaster Ed Steitz introduced the shot clock and the three-pointer, and the omnipotent one, Big East founder and NCAA Basketball Committee chairman Dave Gavitt, skillfully disseminated that improved product throughout our universe.

But now Steitz is dead, and Gavitt has moved on to the NBA. And in the aftermath of what an earthling named Ross Perot might call "a giant sucking sound," a lot of jockeying has commenced to fill the power vacuum.

The NCAA Presidents Commission is attempting to lead a Great Reformation of the sport. So far that has meant a later start to the season (this year practice began on Nov. 1 instead of Oct. 15), stricter limits on recruiting (coaches' trips have been cut back, and players must meet stiffer academic standards) and fewer coaches on the benches (staffs have been docked one assistant each). Needless to say, many in the coaching fraternity are not pleased.

The TV networks have also been busy, locking up exclusive deals with conferences. The leagues themselves are discovering a new pecking order; no longer does the Big East seem a threat to send three teams to the Final Four, as it did in 1985, while the Great Midwest Conference, which came into existence only a year ago with six members, suddenly looks like it might be a late-March regular.

In other words, the college basketball universe is changing, as all things inevitably must. To tip off the 1992-93 season, we've attempted to chart those heavens on the pages that follow, and here direct your attention to 20 of the most powerful forces in that firmament.

(As you get out your telescopes, please note that some celestial bodies, in apparent defiance of physical law, appear in several places at once. In our universe that's perfectly possible—if you don't like it, make up your own universe.)

Indiana's Bob Knight, North Carolina's Dean Smith and Georgetown's John Thompson are still the dominant figures in the three strongest leagues, the Big Ten, the ACC and the Big East, respectively. Each can make or break a would-be coach's candidacy with a single phone call, and their opinions count in the debate on any issue pertaining to college athletics. So why do we get the sense that none is as influential as before? Perhaps because all three seem to have lost a step: Knight spent much of this fall's recruiting season on a hunting trip in Montana; Smith still appears at times to be feeling the strain of losing top assistants Roy Williams (to Kansas) and Eddie Fogler (to Vanderbilt) in recent years; and only Thompson's last-minute signing of Othella Harrington in May temporarily eased the criticism that he has been a lollygagger of late on the recruiting trail. Further, each has recently had top players leave after a season or less. In Knight's case, Lawrence Funderburke bolted after six games; in Smith's, Clifford Rozier made it through one year; and in Thompson's, a parade of signees dating back to Michael Graham—Anthony Tucker, John Turner, David Edwards, Charles Harrison—have departed the Hilltop in a hurry.

Some of this is attributable to these coaches' undiminished backbone—none is willing to kowtow to today's overflattered recruit. But Bob Gibbons, the scout whose ratings of high school players are respected by coaches and fans alike, poses another theory to explain those defections: "In every instance it was a case of a round peg and a square hole. The new recruiting rules allow fewer contacts between coaches and recruits, and with fewer contacts neither party is going to know whether someone is a truly good fit."

And, of course, as Gibbons points out, when coaches are limited to fewer contacts, some become more reliant upon middlemen. That creates an opening for undesirables, including all manner of summer coaches and street agents. New York City's Rob Johnson rates particular mention as a power broker because dealings with him landed both Syracuse and Texas A&M on probation in the space of 11 months.

Tom Odjakjian, Jim Haney and Tom Jernstedt are as obscure as Johnson is notorious—yet they're just as powerful. Odjakjian, an ESPN programming executive who has a hand in the scheduling of almost every game you see on the cable network, gets coaches the exposure they need to attract the players they need to win the games they need to get the exposure they need. It's NCAA deputy executive director Jernstedt, not boss Dick Schultz, who shapes the character of each season's tournament as a standing member of the men's basketball committee, which selects and seeds the field. As for Haney, the new executive director of the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), he's making it clear that his group will henceforth do much more than throw brunches at the Final Four. He has moved the NABC headquarters to Overland Park, Kans., just down the road from the NCAA offices, so that his organization can lobby more effectively on behalf of coaches, whose jobs are forever in jeopardy because of fickle university administrators.

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