LAST SEASON: 32-7; won NCAA championship.
GOODBYE TO: Forward Billy Thompson, guards Milt Wagner and Jeff Hall: 51% of the Cardinals' '85-86 scoring, 35% of their rebounding, 60% of their assists.
SUPPORTING CAST: Guard Kevin Walls; utility man Herb Crook; scorers Kenny Payne and Tony Kimbro.
INTRODUCING: Freshmen 7'1" Felton Spencer and guard Keith Williams.
SEE YOU IN THE SUPERDOME IF: Ellison maintains his cool.
I play all right, I guess." Pervis Ellison III, better known as Never Nervous Pervis, crosses his long legs and laconically acknowledges his basketball gifts. Just now, in Louisville's Freedom Hall, the 6'9" professor Ellison is conducting class—and likely will be for three more years, including the next Olympic one—in a course entitled Never Nervous Applications of the Knack. His students are teammates Herb Crook, a smooth 6'7" junior forward; Kenny Payne, a sweet-shooting 6'8" sophomore forward; plus three enraptured assistant coaches. The videotape rolls. "Footwork is basic to the game," says Ellison as the monitor shows some of his highlights from last season. "I learned all that in high school in Savannah. Heck, my three sisters know that. They play better than some guys I know. I had to cover smaller, quicker guys out on the floor, so I had to be quick. I try to visualize where everybody should be, according to Coach [Denny] Crum's plan and the game. So [as a play from a Memphis State game comes up], in this case, I knew Jeff would be there."
The screen shows Jeff Hall in the corner, where Ellison feeds him a blind, over-the-shoulder pass that Hall converts with a short bank shot. "That was a 10," says assistant Jerry Jones.
Say, did the next sequence show Pervis saving a ball from going out of bounds by throwing it back between his legs? "Pervis does what's necessary," says assistant Wade Houston. "He's nonexistent until the team needs him. Then he explodes." What about this crunch-time blocked shot against Auburn in the NCAA West final that leads to the 'Ville's game-clinching layup? "Pervis can back off you, let you release it, then go get the block," says assistant coach Bobby Dotson. In fact, Ellison blocked more shots (92) last season than did all of Louisville's opponents against the Cardinals.
Players with the court presence and talent of Ellison earn nicknames, and Never Nervous Pervis is one of the great ones, right up there with Stilt and Pearl and Dream and Kangaroo Kid and Dr. Dunkenstein. Only Never Nervous Pervis had his confirmed when he was still a freshman.
The '86 NCAA title game was in its closing seconds when Ellison was high in the air and everyone else was staring. But it wasn't just that he rescued Hall's air ball and put it in the bucket and made sure that Louisville beat Duke, 72-69. Never Nervous had lived up to his nickname all night. He finished that game with 25 points, 11 rebounds and two blocked shots.