The cardboard box behind the desk of Troy (Ala.) State coach Don Maestri is overflowing with saucer-sized lapel pins emblazoned with 258—BELIEVE IT! Two hundred and fifty-eight. That is the number of points his Trojans scored in a single game last season against Atlanta's DeVry Institute—obliterating the NCAA mark of 187 they had set just a year earlier against DeVry.
In becoming the first NCAA team to reach 200, much less 250, points in a game, Troy State took 109 three-pointers (breaking the Division II mark of 70, set by the University of Wisconsin-Parkside) and made 51 (the record was 25, set by three different teams, including Troy State). Substitute guard Brian Simpson played only 15 minutes but still got off 26 treys while scoring 37 points. The game featured one made basket every 14 seconds, including 28 dunks. And when the season was over, the 258 points—the scoreboard read 58 points because it only goes up to 199 before turning over—had helped push the Trojans' scoring average to 121.1 points a game, which led all of basketball last season.
"We wanted to put Troy State on the map," says senior forward Terry McCord. "We needed to get notorized."
You mean noticed?
Noticed? For heaven's sake, until last season just finding Troy State required a wayward odyssey. The school of about 5,000 students, once a teachers' college, is located in little Troy (pop. 13,051), some 50 miles southeast of Montgomery. Upperclassmen unabashedly greet visitors with signs reading WELCOME TO UCLA- UNKNOWN COLLEGE IN LOWER ALABAMA. Occasionally even locals tire of town attractions such as the National Band Masters Hall of Fame and roam the highways in search of excitement. One recent outing saw assistant basketball coach Jerry Hester bolt for Niceville, Fla., to attend the Annual Mullet Festival.
The irony of sleepy Troy's breeding a style of basketball that looks like it's played on a hot plate isn't lost on Maestri. "Innovators don't follow the norm," he says. "You have to keep an open mind." Which is exactly what Maestri did one evening in early 1989 as he sat watching TV with his assistant, David Felix. Darting across the screen like amphetamine-charged goldfish were Loyola Mary-mount players in their high-octane offense. Rather suddenly, Maestri announced, "We should play like this."
And why not? The Trojans, who had finished the 1987-88 season with a trip to the NCAA Division II Final Four, were going to lose seven of their top eight scorers. Their tallest returnee was barely 6'5". So, over the ensuing six months, Maestri mailed blank VCR tapes to Loyola Mary-mount coach Paul Westhead, and West-head returned a copy of the complete Lion video oeuvre. Soon Maestri had viewed each cassette nearly 10 times and had memorized Westhead's offense.
For the Troy State players, though, the system took some getting used to. The first few games of the 1989-90 season saw the Trojans routinely launching passes high into the bleachers. It wasn't until the next season, when they came back from a 20-point halftime deficit against Southeast Missouri to tie the game seven minutes into the second half, that Maestri's troops became believers. And though they lost that game, the Trojans have gone 44-12 since.
In a nutshell Maestri's strategy is to allow opponents to score—as long as they score quickly. The Trojans will try for steals relentlessly, but if they miss they'll willingly give up the open basket, knowing that eventually their opponents will tire and fall off their game. More than anything, the men of Troy rely on being physically fit to win. Their practices often resemble track meets, with players repeatedly running 50- and 100-yard intervals.