AGAINST THE ODDS
Temple's sophomore point guard, Mark Macon, politely answered questions backstage at the Atlantic City Convention Hall after his Owls' surprising 95-78 loss Saturday to Kansas, which dropped Temple's record to 0-3, its worst start since 1913. This was the same Macon whom Owls coach John Chaney had ruled off-limits to the media at the start of preseason practice. But Chaney relented once the games got under way, meaning Macon was available to help explain such mysteries as how Temple could be so thoroughly whipped by a Danny Manning-less Kansas team that isn't being allowed to defend its national crown because of NCAA sanctions. "Danny wasn't the whole team," said Macon. "These guys are national champions and they're playing like champions."
The Jayhawks' 6-1 start—their only loss was to Seton Hall in the Great Alaska Shootout—is almost as shocking as was their improbable march to the NCAA title last spring. Kansas's biggest surprise is 6'9" sophomore forward Mark Randall, who had to sit out last season while recovering from jaw surgery to correct a breathing problem. Randall has a versatile game; against the Owls he scored 22 points, made 10 of 11 shots, pulled down a game-high 15 rebounds and had four assists.
The Jayhawks' main holdovers from last season—Milt Newton, Kevin Pritchard, Jeff Gueldner and Scooter Barry—are thriving under former North Carolina assistant Roy Williams, who replaced Larry Brown. While Brown tended to frown on players who shot three-pointers instead of looking for Manning, Williams has given his veterans the green light to fire at will. "The kids were down the first few days after the penalties were announced," he says, "but they've competed their buns off after that." The Jayhawks' season was further brightened last week when the Big Eight voted to let Kansas play in the postseason conference tournament.
The strange case of Francis Ezenwa, a 6'8" native of Nigeria who had hoped to play for Texas-El Paso this season, is only the latest example of why the NCAA needs to apply a little common sense in enforcing its rules. Here's a young man who is being penalized for going to class. No wonder UTEP coach Don Haskins is "mad as hell about it." according to the Miners' sports information director, Eddie Mullens.
It seems that when Ezenwa was in his early teens, before he had begun to play organized basketball, he took some college prep courses at the University of Ife, now Obafemi Awolowo University. Texas-El Paso even has a letter from the registrar of the Nigerian university stipulating that Ezenwa was never formally enrolled there as a college student.
After moving to the U.S. to pursue his education and his newfound interest in hoops, Ezenwa spent a year at New Mexico Military before transferring to UTEP, where he was admitted as a sophomore. Neither New Mexico Military nor UTEP gave him academic credit for any of the courses he had taken back home. But because of an NCAA rule that says an athlete's five years of eligibility begin from the time he takes his first college class, Ezenwa was declared ineligible.
Ezenwa, now 22, has already won fans at UTEP: Director of internal operations Maxine Neill-Johnson describes him as a serious student who never misses a class and spends virtually every evening in the tutoring hall. "He's a very special young man who's bothered by all this because he doesn't understand it," she says.
Nor does anyone else. But Ezenwa's case isn't closed yet. The NCAA has agreed to study documentation supplied by Texas-El Paso to determine if his situation will be reassessed.