The Cougars' sudden popularity doesn't end there. "With the combination of Clyde's draw and our 9-and-20 record last year, everyone wants to play us," says Gettys. "They even want to play us on TV! Hopefully we won't be so popular next year."
They might be. Though Houston can't get much worse, it might need a while to get much better. The Cougars will enter this year's Conference USA campaign with a quick but undersized lineup (their tallest players are listed at 6'8"). "You always want to be the last team playing [in the NCAA tournament]," says Drexler, who plans to run an up-tempo, pro-set offense. "But that's pretty unlikely this year."
Drexler was never on an NBA team mat failed to make the playoffs, and no one is sure how he will handle losing. Also unknown: How will an unpretentious superstar who never traveled with a personal entourage deal with 17-year-olds who do?
"The adjustment is tougher than you'd think," says USC coach Henry Bibby, who followed a nine-year NBA playing career with 13 years as a coach in the CBA and as an assistant in the college game before taking over the Trojans in 1996. "As a player in the NBA, your focus is just on you. As a college coach, you have to focus on the 13 guys on your team, a few walk-ons, four assistant coaches, an office staff. Taking care of all these people is incredibly time-consuming."
"Only about 25 percent of this job is coaching," adds South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler. "The other 75 percent is running a staff, recruiting, scheduling, media obligations, alumni functions, speaking engagements, putting out fires. If a high school kid screws up, the parents are called. If an NBA player screws up, the police are called. If a college player screws up, it's the coach who takes the heat."
The heat is on already. With all the talent in Denton scoped, Gettys urges Drexler out of the air-conditioned gym and into the infernal 104° Texas weather. If they leave Denton right now, they can make it back to Houston in time to see a summer team's practice late this afternoon. It's a good plan, but it doesn't account for one roadblock. Drexler hasn't made it halfway to the parking lot before the first group of players starts following him. "Clyyyyyyyyde!" they trill. Drexler turns, friendly and unflinching. He shakes the high schoolers' hands and, ignoring Gettys's suggestion that he sign his name COACH CLYDE DREXLER, signs each proffered T-shirt CLYDE DREXLER #22. Four months ago, these kids would have been just fans. Now every one of them is an NCAA violation waiting to happen. "During the evaluation period, Clyde's not supposed to have contact with potential recruits beyond what the NCAA calls 'ordinary civility,' " says Gettys. "But what's he supposed to do? Does signing autographs constitute 'ordinary civility'? For Clyde Drexler it does."
Although Gettys admits he is far less patient than Drexler is with the hordes of autograph-seekers—which at recent tournament stops have included other college coaches—he knows that Drexler's celebrity and NBA credentials will be a huge advantage in recruiting. "I can go into a home and say, 'My boss will know when you're ready to go to the NBA,' " says Gettys.
Drexler and Gettys, who both grew up in Houston, plan to recruit nationally, but they are particularly interested in keeping at home their city's best players. One big reason the Cougars' fortunes slipped over the last 11 years was their failure to sign local players such as Bobby Crawford (Rice), Lucious Jackson (Syracuse), Ansu Sesay (Mississippi), LaBradford Smith (Louisville) and Jake Voskuhl (Michigan). The two top recruits Houston welcomes this fall are from Texas, and they're the rare teenagers who aren't dazzled by Drexler's NBA aura—understandable, considering that they are Moses Malone Jr. and George Gervin Jr. Malone, a 6'5" guard from Friendswood whom Brooks signed last November, decided to honor his commitment after Drexler was hired. Gervin, a San Antonian who played a season at Arizona State before transferring to San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena, was sold on the Cougars only after Drexler came on board. "With his knowledge, he can help me a lot," says Gervin, a 6'2" point guard. "I'm really excited about playing for him."
So are Houston's still somewhat flabbergasted returning players. After a day at Drexler's basketball camp a few weeks ago, sophomore guard Chad Hendrick boldly suggested that Drexler, who was hanging around the court in slacks and shoes, had lost his stuff. Drexler smiled, picked up a ball and swiftly deposited a few windmill jams and 360-degree dunks.
"Man, he's really cool," says Hendrick. "It's a great honor to get to play for him. I get more excited every day, just thinking about the possibilities—sellout crowds, the Phi Slamma Jamma atmosphere. It's going to be fun. All we've got to do is win."