Sometimes friction develops along class lines. Last season Georgetown introduced a freshman element, point guard Allen Iverson, and the Hoyas suffered—not because of dissension, but because Iverson's style so overwhelmed the rest of the Hoyas that center Othella Harrington, as prized a recruit two years earlier as Iverson was in his own class, became almost irrelevant.
The Michigan teams of a few years ago had good chemistry because of the sheer numbers of their Fab Five freshmen; a couple of upperclassmen accepted bit roles, and one player transferred out. But there's no better example of what class factionalism can do to a team than the 1993-94 North Carolina Tar Heels. Their problems stood out all the more against the backdrop of the Heels' NCAA title of a year earlier, during which eight different players logged at least 500 minutes without giving off so much as a whiff of noxious attitude. Then along came the highly touted freshman class of Jeff McInnis, Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace in '93, and North Carolina was being hailed as perhaps the best team of all time. But by February two seniors in particular, Brian Reese and Kevin Salvadori, had been eclipsed by Stackhouse and Wallace. "It was like two different teams out there at times," Stackhouse says. "It was sometimes like [the freshmen] were playing two opponents—whatever team we were playing and our first team."
Smith insists that by tournament time those Tar Heels had found their chemistry, and it was merely their fate to run up against a hot BC team. But Sampson, then the coach at Washington State, and his Cougars were playing at the same first-round site as the Heels that spring, and Sampson remembers the atmosphere at one Carolina practice. "Coach Smith is a hero of mine," he says, "but that team was divided. There was no enthusiasm, no emotion, nobody pulling for each other."
If good chemistry can be distilled to one thing, it would be pulling for each other—in scientific terms, electromagnetic attraction. When Wiley Brown lost his prosthetic thumb on the day of the 1980 title game against UCLA, everyone on the Louisville team felt down a digit. "The chemistry on that team is something that will never go away," says Eaves. "The next year wasn't the same. We were looking for a leader, and we were thinking about our individual stats and the NBA. The chemistry wasn't what it was during that championship season."
Ah, that championship season. Who will someday refer that way to the year to come? Which team will find gold among the PCBs and other pollutants of the Meadowlands? As an answer of sorts we offer a staple of every freshman chem lab: the iodine clock. You take an iodized salt and stir it into a beaker with a little bit of starch, water and a few reactants. Then you take a front-row seat. A little time must pass, but if you've dissolved just the right proportions of each component, suddenly, miraculously, this perfectly clear solution turns a deep, rich blue.
We say that it's Jayhawk blue.