Bulldogs with a Tark
If it were simply a matter of providing an old alum with a safe landing, Fresno State's decision last week to hire Jerry Tarkanian, class of '55, as its basketball coach might be hailed as an act of charity. But altruism is in short supply among captains of the college-sports industry, and the self-interest of Fresno State's move quickly became apparent. Even before Tarkanian, the former UNLV coach, agreed to take over the Bulldogs, rumormongers at the Final Four had all but conceded him a national championship. According to the scuttlebutt, this was the scenario: Don Marbury Jr., the brother of Brooklyn high school point guard sensation Stephon Marbury, would be hired as a Fresno State assistant coach, and Stephon would renege on his oral commitment to Georgia Tech and follow Don to the San Joaquin Valley; and Stephon's buddy Kevin Garnett, the 6'10" schoolboy star from Chicago's Farragut High with abysmal test scores but skills so sublime that some NBA executives predict he'll be a first-round pick in the June draft, would join them.
The rumors turned out to be far from pie-in-the-sky. Georgia Tech coach Bobby Cremins rushed to New York last week, apparently to reaffirm Marbury's commitment, and Tark was indeed on the phone with Garnett's high school coach, trying to arrange for Garnett to visit Fresno last weekend. (Alas, Garnett had to take the ACTs last Saturday.) Meanwhile, last Friday, the New York Post quoted an unnamed source who described Tarkanian as asking about Richie Parker, the Manhattan schoolboy guard who pleaded guilty to first-degree sexual abuse earlier this year; guard Rafer Alston, a chronic truant from Queens, N.Y., who's now at junior college; and 7-foot Mark Blount, a discipline case who, after drifting through six high schools, committed orally to Massachusetts last August, thus making him, in the words of one recruiting guru, "the first kid in history to pick a college before he picked a high school [SI, Oct. 31]."
Lousy grades, a sex-offense conviction and the sanctity of one's word are minor impediments in the anything-goes world of player procurement. "What—I'm not supposed to recruit good players?" Tarkanian told USA Today last week. "I didn't come here to go 15-15 and go eat some Armenian food after the game."
Given Tark's run-ins with the NCAA at Las Vegas and, before that, Long Beach State—and given that Fresno State received a hire-Tark-or-else telephone threat from an anonymous fan before introducing him as its new coach—the school must have had an inkling of what it was getting into. At UNLV, Tarkanian demonstrated the kind of proclivity for trouble that would ordinarily give a university president serious pause. But inferiority complexes can lead people and institutions down dubious roads. At the press conference to announce Tarkanian's hiring, Fresno State president John D. Welty seemed to embrace the curious goal of providing "quality sports entertainment for the community."
It's not yet clear what it will take to lure players to the city that consistently places poorly in Rand McNally's livability rankings, and to a school with two winning seasons in the last 10. Whatever it takes, however, the towel-teething one will surely do it. Then Fresno State can decide whether taking a place atop another set of rankings was worth the price.
Larry Holmes put up a gallant fight in losing a unanimous decision to WBC heavyweight champion Oliver McCall last Saturday in Las Vegas, earning every cent of the $350,000 he was paid. "Time to give it up," the 45-year-old ex-champ said afterward. Reminding the media that he owns a building housing a federal court and a jail in his hometown of Easton, Pa., Holmes said, "As long as there are bad guys, I'll always have money."
Officials in charge of the equestrian events at next summer's Atlanta Olympics set the competition schedule to spare horses from having to perform during the hottest parts of what are sure to be some very hot Georgia days. Unfortunately officials overseeing two-legged Olympic runners aren't showing as much horse sense. The track and field schedule, which was finalized last week, conforms to the wishes of Juan Antonio Samaranch, the International Olympic Committee president, and Primo Nebiolo, the head of the International Amateur Athletic Federation, the world governing body for track and field, by slotting the men's marathon to begin at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 4, so it will end in front of a huge crowd just before the Games' closing ceremonies.
While this arrangement may make for an attractive and lucrative television package, it also forces athletes to race during the early evening—a distinctly unappealing prospect to competitors and a horrifying one to many track officials. The average temperature in Atlanta at 7 p.m. in early August is 80�, while the humidity is typically 65%—figures that argue, in the name of both safety and performance, for an early-morning start.