Mack is the one who was missed last year. She suffered a severe concussion in the second game, sat out a month and then suffered another concussion in her first game back. She didn't play the rest of the season—teammates took to calling her Coach Mack because she got so involved in practices—but has now been pronounced ready to go.
Enthusiasm is sky-high at Purdue thanks to freshman aviation major Stephanie White, who, when she isn't flying a plane, will pilot the Boilermakers from the point-guard position. Season-ticket sales are up 67%, to an alltime high of 4,209, and folks from White's hometown of West Lebanon, Ind., are the reason. "The people who have followed her career don't want to just come to the games," coach Lin Dunn says. "They want a good seat." Dunn hopes they're in for a good show. Four of Purdue's 10 players are freshmen, but they're considered by many observers to be the best incoming class in the country. They'll help replace Leslie Johnson, the nation's premier freshman two years ago, and Danielle McCulley, who both transferred to Western Kentucky.
North Carolina State sophomore Chasity Melvin led the Wolfpack in scoring and rebounding last season, earning conference rookie of the year honors. "She's something special," coach Kay Yow says.
After last season's 21-10 performance, Yow thinks her team might be special too. N.C. State made the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1991 and ran all the way to the Sweet 16. Besides Melvin, the Wolfpack keeps forward Umeki Webb (who, at 5'11", is four inches taller than her cousin Spud) and junior point guard Jennifer Howard in the starting lineup. Howard averaged 12.9 points in 1994-95, nothing to be ashamed of but nothing close to her performance in the classroom, where she carries a 4.0 in communications. On a break from more scholarly pursuits, she recently figured out how to access her E-mail and found some messages that people had sent her during last season. One was from a recent convert to women's hoops, a man who wrote: "I used to think women's basketball was bad, but now I love it."
It appears he's not the only one.