"An analogy used a lot in sports is that of a catalyst," says Chad. "Add a catalyst to a reaction, and it increases the rate of the reaction." A team needs some sort of star, and if that star is a forward who can pass, otherwise ordinary teams can do extraordinary things. Witness Indiana State in 1979 with Larry Bird. Kansas in '88 with Danny Manning—an assemblage of Jayhawks that constituted probably only the third-most-talented team coach Larry Brown fielded in his five seasons in Lawrence—is another example.
Another unselfish forward, Ed O'Bannon, was classically catalytic as he led UCLA to the title last season. He was starkly different from the me-firsters who had populated Bruin rosters in recent years, and he had written a remarkable personal story by his senior season, coming back from a severe knee injury suffered during his freshman year. Further, at half-time of UCLA's embarrassing 1994 NCAA tournament loss to Tulsa, with the Bruins trailing by 25 points, he delivered a locker room philippic at odds with his usual demeanor. The title that UCLA would win the following spring could be traced to that moment, when O'Bannon let it be known how much he hated to lose.
This doesn't mean a team can't array other considerable talents around its star and still find good chemistry. "In chemical terms, it's a simple matter of an element that can give up electrons finding one that needs them," says Chad. "If that happens, they'll bond." In basketball terms, this phenomenon is called role-playing. Take Louisville's 1980 national champions, for example. Those Cards sent six players to the NBA, but they had superb rebounders (Wiley Brown and Derek Smith), deft passers (Jerry Eaves and Rodney McCray), even an off-the-bench defender (Roger Burkman), all willing to give the ball up to the acknowledged star, Darrell Griffith. Says Eaves, who played the point for Louisville, "Darrell was our main man, and he could have shot 50 times a game and no one would have had a problem. We were all underclassmen who knew this was Darrell's last chance."
A well-matched set of guards is often a critical component in creating good chemistry. Kansas coach Roy Williams is particularly high on his backcourt of Jerod Haase and Jacque Vaughn. "Jerod is a sort of reckless-abandon type, and Jacque takes a more intellectual approach," says Williams, "but when they agree on something, the rest of the team usually follows."
Chad sees this as absolutely logical. "Think of a guy who's really emotional and vocal as an acid," he says, "and a guy who just gets the job done as a base. If you have the right mix of the two, a team will be buffered. Its pH won't get out of whack."
Bonding often occurs in the crucible of adversity. When Boston College reached the final eight two seasons ago, beating North Carolina and Indiana along the way, the Eagles did so at the end of a season in which they had lost back-to-back games in overtime, made 81-58 disgraces of themselves against Georgetown in the first round of the Big East tournament and trailed Washington State by double digits at the half of their first NCAA game. But even before that, bad times had become familiar. BC's four senior starters played for a coach, Jim O'Brien, whose wife had suffered heart failure and died when they were freshmen and whose athletic director had made no secret of his desire to show O'Brien the door. "I never wanted to put my issues on them, because I didn't think it would be fair," O'Brien says. "But they read the papers. As it turned out, the seniors all responded the same way."
The NCAA often provides teams with just the adversity they're looking for. Jerry Tarkanian and UNLV were on the verge of being booked for sundry violations when the Runnin' Rebels put together two stellar seasons, winning a national title in 1990 and going to the Final Four in '91, Two of the most chemically balanced teams of recent years were Kansas and Kentucky during the seasons they spent on probation. Williams and Pitino, who had just taken over their respective programs, were able to titrate a sense of grievance about NCAA sanctions into an overachieving solution, despite scholarship limits. Part of the reason: Walk-ons tend to be unusually reactive elements.
Sometimes coaches create tribulation just for cohesion's sake. An example occurred at Oklahoma last season. No one expected the Sooners to go 23-9, least of all new coach Kelvin Sampson, who noticed soon after taking the job that his players didn't seem to like each other. So, beginning right after Labor Day, he had them running at 6:30 each morning. "I wanted these kids to suffer together, to have a common bond," he says. "Three or four kids didn't make it [and quit the team], but those who did had a newfound respect for each other." And Professor Sampson soon had three Coach of the Year citations on his mantel because his players had bonded so well.
II. Impurities Adversely Affect a Reaction
Radioactive elements can contaminate a coach's laboratory. Given the head-swelling whispers players hear from summer league coaches, hangers-on from the neighborhood and the star-making recruiting gurus, it's astonishing that any players put the team first. Long Beach State coach Seth Greenberg refers to "the three-headed monster" that can divide a team: girlfriends, agents and parents. Teammates can develop petty jealousies over girlfriends. Agents have become more brazen since the introduction of the option whereby a player can declare for the NBA draft, then renounce his draft eligibility and return to college. But it is parents, says UCLA assistant Lorenzo Romar, who can be the biggest pain. "Some want to live off their son's future earnings," he says. "Others simply complain their son isn't getting enough shots."