West Virginia could reduce the travel burdens on its players by staging its home games closer to Morgantown. That, however, would mean using smaller gymnasiums that are unsuitable for television, and the school doesn't want to lose revenue from TV and ticket sales. The gymnastics, volleyball and wrestling teams have also been uprooted by the closing of the Coliseum, but since revenue isn't an issue in those sports, those squads' meets and matches will be held in other on-campus facilities or at venues closer to home. No academic waiver will be requested for members of those teams. The Mountaineers' women basketball players are being included in the request to the NCAA, but that appears to be only to avoid sparking a gender-equity controversy. The women's basketball team is playing eight of its 12 home games at Morgantown High and just three in Charleston.
If Catlett wants to placate those nettlesome profs, he has one other option: He could practice less. But Catlett hasn't made a habit of trading Ws for A's and B's. In 1997 he signed an eight-man recruiting class, and according to published reports, six of the players failed to qualify academically. "If you don't win any games, do they fire the players or the president? No, they fire the coach," says Catlett. "No matter what comes up, the expectations here are pretty high."
Perhaps that's true. But academically they may be too low.
Florida State's 400-pounder
Beware of Big Jelly
Florida State freshman center Nigel Dixon broke the rim on the first dunk of his life. He was a 6'7", 300-pound eighth grader at the time, and Reggie Forbes, the dean of students at Howard Middle School in Orlando, might have been more upset about the damage had he not also been the school's basketball coach. Dixon had never played basketball before that year, but inspired by a chat with then Orlando Magic star Shaquille O'Neal when Shaq was filming a rap video at Howard, Dixon dedicated himself to the sport. By his senior season at Edgewater High he had become a player capable of bulling his way to 14.9 points and 11.1 rebounds per game.
Last summer Dixon arrived in Tallahassee at 6'10" and 424 pounds. He quickly became a favorite of the Seminoles' football line coaches, who joked with him about becoming the world's heftiest two-sport athlete. As for basketball, the skinny on the player known as Big Jelly is that he possesses soft hands, nimble feet and some natural post moves, but to play regularly he must drop at least 50 more pounds from a frame he has already shaved to 393. "Opponents have always come in assuming I'm too fat and slow to play at all, and they get a wake-up call real quick," Dixon says. "I like shocking people, watching their mouths drop."
For Florida State, whose starting center, senior Justin Mott, weighs 240 pounds and averaged 1.4 points per game last season, Dixon could be the ultimate space-filler by season's end. Seminoles coach Steve Robinson recalls a moment during a November intrasquad scrimmage when 6'3", 175-pound sophomore guard Emanuel Mathis dribbled down the lane and ran smack into Dixon, who had squared up his size 48 waist and size 20 shoes. Mathis bounced back to the top of the key in almost cartoonish fashion. "Sometimes I tell myself, If you can play at 390, imagine what you could do at 340," Dixon says. "Then I think, What if I had to guard myself at 340? That scares me."
Robinson has never been more optimistic about a freshman who played just 13 minutes and scored one basket in his first three college games. "You would never dream that a 400-pound guy could be a basketball player, but Nigel has a real chance if he commits long-term," Robinson says. "Look at Wilt Chamberlain, Charles Barkley, Robert Traylor, guys who proved you can succeed without the standard body. It's exciting to ask ourselves, Can we help shape Nigel into one of those guys who can change the game of basketball?"