Bradley's second-year coach, has heard it a thousand times: The Valley is a
coach's league. Albeck, who was formerly a mentor in the NBA (Cavs, Spurs, Nets
and Bulls) doesn't deny it. He just wonders if it's something to brag about.
"Most college coaches are dictators," Albeck says. "Everything has
to be by the numbers. If things aren't by the numbers, they get frustrated and
Last year Albeck
introduced a fast-paced pro style to the Valley, and even if it wasn't
by-the-numbers college basketball. Bradley's numbers worried the other coaches.
The Braves led the conference in scoring, blocked shots, assists, steals and
field goal percentage. Says Albeck, "We're considered rebels because we're
not going to sit on the basketball. We're gonna shoot it with 42 left on the
That's how Billy Tubbs talked a few years back when he brought his run-and-gun
style to Oklahoma. The moribund Big Eight shuddered at first but gradually
accepted the crowd-pleasing style of play, and it emerged stronger for it. Now
the MVC faces the same challenge: Pick up the pace or fall back in the
will argue, "Don't change. This is the conference that gave us Oscar
Robertson and Larry Bird; it doesn't need artificial stimulation." But
citing the Valley's great basketball past won't change the current reality.
Last spring, when other conferences were holding their tournaments on weekends,
the MVC played its finals on a Wednesday night to get national coverage by
ESPN. This season—again to accommodate ESPN—the Valley will crown its
tournament champion on a Tuesday night in Peoria. However necessary the
arrangement may be, it gives the MVC a second-tier image. And, as Tulsa coach
J.D. Barnett admits, "Image is a major factor in our industry."
Winning some NCAA
tournament games would help. Tulsa and Wichita State lost in the first round
last year, and no Valley team has made it past the second round since 1981.
Bradley could break that string of futility this season. In Hersey Hawkins (see
box), the top returning scorer in Division I, with a 27.2 average, the Braves
have an explosive shooting guard who can jump, rebound, pass and work
tirelessly without the ball—in short; the best Valley player since Bird. Point
guard Anthony Manuel averaged 8.8 assists per game last year after recovering
from an early-season fat attack. Senior forward Donald Powell missed 11 games
with a broken wrist but still led the league in blocked shots and the team in
rebounding. Eight returning players averaged double figures in playing minutes,
and practically all of them will launch the ball from long range—Bradley took
428 three-pointers last season, hitting 160. The transition game? Says Wichita
State coach Eddie Fogler, "There's nobody in the league that runs like
with the most experienced lineup is Illinois State, which returns 10 players
from the team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the NIT. Guard Jeff Harris
is the best three-point shooter in the conference (48.9% on 190 attempts), and
forward-center Tony Holifield led the league in field goal percentage
The prospects at
Wichita State suffered this summer when a 6'9" Yugoslavian driving a
Yugo—what else?—on a rain-slicked road in Yugoslavia—where else?—lost control
and crashed. The driver was WSU junior Sasha Radunovich. The big forward-center
required elbow surgery and won't be ready until late November. Meanwhile, the
Shockers will pick up the pace a bit to make up for a weak inside game.
figures to play faster to take advantage of improved rebounding. But the Golden
Hurricane loses three starters from last year's regular-season Valley
champions. A year away.
will lead the Valley's second division—if the Salukis get fouled enough. Last
season they led the league in free-throw percentage for the second straight
year while finishing 12-17. Drake, after four straight losing seasons, has been
in the black two years in a row now, and last year's 17-14 record included wins
over four NCAA tournament teams and two NIT teams. Because three of the
Bulldogs' top four scorers are gone, coach Gary Garner will need a return to
form by 6'10" junior Bart Friedrick, the Valley's Outstanding Freshman two
essentially one senior guard, Rod Mason, surrounded by eager underclassmen
trying to impress. Coach Tony Barone, dismayed by his team's poor rebounding,
says, "We are committed to being one of the top two rebounding teams in the
conference." For that to happen, a lot of tall freshmen will have to come
through. And at Indiana State, which hasn't had a winning season since 1979-80,
the attention focuses on Eddie Bird, Larry's little brother. Eddie passed up
basketball as a freshman to get his bearings academically, but the 6'6"
swingman did break his brother's scoring records at Springs Valley High in
French Lick, Ind.