Coley's diverse skills make him an avatar for the balanced strength of the No. 19-ranked Golden Hurricane, which, at 14-1 through Sunday, is the biggest surprise of the first half of the season. He's unconventional, efficient and tough—just like his team. He will likely finish his career as Tulsa's alltime leader in steals. Through Sunday he was the Golden Hurricane's top re-bounder (6.5 average) and fifth-leading scorer (11.8) this season, and he fell just two steals short of a quadruple double during a Dec. 4 win over UAB. "He can dominate a game without scoring," says Tulsa coach Bill Self, who knows a rising star when he sees one. When Self was on the basketball team at Oklahoma State in the early 1980s, he befriended a javelin thrower on the Cowboys' track team named Garth Brooks, and for six years they played on the same summer softball team. "We'd go every Wednesday night to Willie's Saloon to hear him play," Self says. "One year as a joke the softball team made up T-shirts that said GARTH BROOKS WORLD TOUR Now who's laughing?"
This was supposed to be a retooling year for Tulsa after it lost 6'8" senior Michael Ruffin, a second-round draft pick of the Bulls, from a team that went 23-10 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. The Golden Hurricane hasn't missed a beat, though. "The real reason for our success is that we share the ball," says Self, whose players have earned six of their 14 wins against teams that made the NCAA tournament last year, the most prominent having been Tennessee, which Tulsa beat by 20. The Hurricane has benefited from improvements by its returning players—most notably 6'10" senior center Brandon Kurtz—as well as an infusion of talent led by sixth man David Shelton, a 6'6" transfer from Independence ( Kans.) Community College, who through Sunday led Tulsa in scoring with a 13.9 average. "Nobody on our team is great," Self says, "but everybody is good."
Though the champion of the scaled-down WAC—it now has just eight teams—no longer earns an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, the Golden Hurricane's strong nonconference record should make it a shoo-in if it performs well during league play. That might be a mixed blessing for Tulsa, which could once again become a springboard for a successful coach. Nolan Richardson, Steve Robinson and Tubby Smith all coached the Hurricane before moving on to higher-profile positions, and last spring Self received overtures from at least four schools regarding their vacancies. Still, there appears to be plenty of good basketball ahead this season. If it does rum out to be Self's last ride with Tulsa, there are worse ways to head off into the sunset.
Healing at Oral Roberts
Rebuilding a Shooter's Touch
Nathan Binam, a 6'4" southpaw guard for Oral Roberts, faced a tough choice in late September 1998. The index finger on his shooting hand had been mangled in a car accident, and one option was to insert a steel rod into the finger, leaving Binam with a normal-looking digit that wouldn't bend. The other option was to have the top half of the finger amputated, which would give him the chance to play basketball again. The choice was easy. "Basketball has always been a huge part of my life," Binam says. "I just wasn't ready to give it up yet."
Fifteen months have passed since the finger was amputated just below the knuckle, and Binam, a fifth-year senior who took a medical redshirt year last season, has started all 14 games this year and is third on the Golden Eagles in scoring with an average of 12.4 points per game. Though he must do without the inch and three quarters most critical to a shooter's touch, he has converted 35.8% of his three-point shots, and on Dec. 11 he made Oral Roberts's biggest shot of the season, an off-balance trey with six seconds remaining in a 60-59 win over Tulsa, handing the Golden Hurricane its only loss. "If you had told me two years ago that Nathan would come back and play like this, I would've had a hard time believing it," says Golden Eagles coach Scott Sutton, whose team was 6-8 at week's end. "He's our most consistent shooter, by far."
At first Binam had his own doubts about whether he would be able to make it back. He had trouble just dribbling the ball when he first returned, and shooting required a significant adjustment, since he relied on the index finger to guide the ball. Last summer he hoisted some 500 shots a day and learned to compensate for his loss by relying more heavily on his middle finger and releasing the ball closer to his body. Both he and Sutton say that he's a better player than he was before, in large part because he spent last season studying the game as an unofficial assistant coach.
Of course, Binam would prefer to have the use of a full finger, but he acknowledges that he has reaped some benefits from his injury. "I wouldn't exactly say it's been fun, but it has been a challenge," he says. "I met that challenge, and I overcame it. I feel good about myself for doing that."
Living and Dying With the Trey
In this season of the ubiquitous upset, the difference between winning and losing has often come down to three-point shooting. Case in point: Missouri. The Tigers lead the Big 12 in three-pointers made and attempted, and in the second half of a Dec. 21 win over then No. 15 Illinois the Tigers shot 80% from behind the arc. Conversely, they were 0 for 14 during the first half of a 51-46 upset loss to Winthrop on Jan. 4....