To a man, the players agree they're worth the expense. Says Emory sophomore forward Tim Garrett, who was raised in a housing project in East Rome, Ga., "I've always wanted to travel to real cities." The UAA circuit will take him to Chicago, Cleveland, New York, St. Louis, Pittsburgh, Rochester, Waltham, Mass., and Washington. D.C. Garrett intends to major in biology. On a typical day he might have classes from 10:00 to 2:00, practice from 3:45 until 6:00 and, after that, dinner. Then he's off to work for two or three hours at the microbiology lab. He wraps up the day by studying until two or three in the morning. "I don't have much time to waste," he says.
Varsity basketball is only two years old at Emory, yet league insiders see coach Lloyd Winston's team as a sleeper this season. Winston thinks conference games will put fannies in the seats at Emory's Woodruff P.E. Center. "Say we've got NYU at home Friday night," he says. "If I'm a student, maybe I've applied to NYU's law school, or I have a friend who goes there. It's not like coming out to see Kennesaw."
Each school will retain its longstanding rivalries wherever possible, but some traditional games will fall by the wayside. Chicago, for instance, will forsake its annual seven-hour bus trip to Grinnell, Iowa, during which the players would always sing the Goin' to Grinnell Blues. "I won't exactly miss that trip," says Maroons coach John Angelus.
On a recent morning Angelus was poring over Dave Bone's Cage Scope, a rating of the 50 or 60 top Chicago-area high school prospects. Of that group Angelus earmarked all of two as potential recruits. "Our standards are impregnable," says Angelus. He puts the Scope aside and bemoans a terrific prospect that got away: "Six-ten, nice touch from inside 12 feet, beautiful test scores. But he went to Harvard."
Chicago won a small measure of renown in 1979 with its Doctors of Dunk—a starting five that included four premed students. Doubts linger about whether all of them could dunk, or if it was just a clever promotion. "With a trampoline they could," says Angelus. Last year, Angelus had his ear operated on by one of his former players, Jimmy Stankowicz. Scalpel poised, Stankowicz stood over his old mentor and said, "You know, Coach, I never was happy with my playing time."
In the UAA travel time may be more meaningful than playing time. Says Rochester's Neer, "With all the frequent-flier miles, we can have the team banquet in Hawaii next year." More important, such traveling will make Rochester easier to sell to recruits. "Gifted basketball players don't simply walk in these doors," says Neer. "You've got to go find them."
Neer's star player is 6'6" forward Tyler Zachem. When he was a high school senior in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, Zachem says, he was looking for three things in a college: "A scholarship, travel and tons of free sneakers." Zachem visited Rochester on a whim, fell in love with the place and rejected numerous Division I offers. Today he is a poli sci-economics double major with a 3.53 grade point average, a member of the school's senior academic honor society and a Rhodes scholar candidate. He has no regrets, even though he only gets one pair of sneakers per season.
He does, however, have a gripe or two over what he calls the "widespread misperceptions" about Division III, as does almost everyone in the UAA—a conference with a (micro)chip on its shoulder. "Since there is no Division IV," Neer says, "people think anyone can play for Division III." Says Zachem, "I've played against guys who think multiple Roman numerals mean I'm going to just fall down in front of them. Guys like that, I love to kick their butts."
Three years ago Chicago even put a scare into Northwestern of the Big Ten, leading 18-8 before eventually succumbing. Angelus recently reviewed video from that game. "See that kid?" he says, pointing at a figure on the Northwestern bench. "I tried to tell him about our program. He wouldn't give me the time of day. So he goes there and sits on the bench. You may as well come here, get a nice degree and play. These kids know what the odds are to make it to the NBA. Nobody's going pro."
Says Carnegie Mellon coach Larry Anderson, "To us, going pro means going to PPG, Westinghouse, Gulf Oil...." "That's Chevron, Coach," says Hart Coleman, a senior forward and a managerial economics major. Anderson ignores him. It's tough enough keeping up on the latest defensive innovations, let alone corporate acquisitions.