John Updike's Rabbit Angstrom, that scoring champ of letters, was a flaccid adult. Yet whenever he picked up a basketball, he felt rejuvenated. "That old stretched-leather feeling makes his whole body go taut, gives his arms wings," Updike wrote in Rabbit, Run. "It feels like he's reaching down through years to touch this tautness."
Reach down, if you will, to 1970, when Pete Maravich averaged 44.5 points a game for Louisiana State. No collegian had ever scored so many points in a single season, and none has since. The '70 national scoring title, Maravich's third in a row, prefigured the impact he would have on the pros. But no college scoring champ after Pistol Pete left a mark on the NBA until 1985, when Wichita State's Xavier McDaniel, with the Seattle SuperSonics, made the All-Rookie team.
The dozen shooters who led the land over the 14 seasons between the Pistol and the X-Man make up college basketball's lost generation. Each is but an esoteric footnote to the NBA's draft list or record book, yet together they span an era in which the college game metamorphosed from a quaint regional pastime into today's cabled, coast-to-coast obsession.
Some of the former champions have names that befit scorers: Freeman Williams, Marshall Rogers, Zam Fredrick. Others have felicitous nicknames: William (Bird) Averitt, Dwight (Bo) Lamar, Harry (Machine Gun) Kelly, Johnny (Reb) Neumann. The rest defy recollection. Who outscored David Thompson, Adrian Dantley, Larry Bird, Mark Aguirre and Michael Jordan? The answers are, respectively, Larry Fogle, Bob McCurdy, Lawrence Butler, Tony Murphy and Joe Jakubick.
Few played for big-time schools, and those who did were at places with no basketball tradition, or at least a dormant one. Most found pro camps too constraining: "I never got a chance to show what I could do" is a common complaint. And a handful thrived in the shoot-'em-up ABA, only to run up against the tougher standards and crueler numbers games that prevailed in the NBA. (To be sure, Williams scored in double figures for several seasons—with the Clippers. As we said, none made it with an NBA team.)
Today, some are ashamed not to be found in pro ball, Kelly so much so that he preferred not to be photographed for this story. By contrast, Murphy, a contemporary of Kelly's, counts himself lucky to be driving a United Parcel Service truck and making $17 an hour.
Others have chosen the expatriate life. Year after year Williams found his peculiar notion of a good shot—"If I had to watch Freeman Williams play 82 games," an NBA general manager once said, "I'd open a vein"—in demand everywhere from San Diego to Manila to Istanbul. Fredrick has gone back to Europe for each of the past eight seasons. "I didn't even know they played basketball in Europe when I left college," says Zam, whose mom fancied Efrem Zimbalist Jr., star of TV's The FBI
. Today Zam knows better and speaks fluent Italian.
One of the earliest of these Sultans of Scoring, Fogle, found that his dimensions and inside skills lent themselves best to the downsized CBA, where he put in a few fine seasons only to struggle to find a life for himself after basketball. The last of these champions, Jakubick—whom the University of Akron's sports-information office flogged for All-America honors by distributing a hastily arranged photograph of him with Rodney Dangerfield—is still lighting it up, as a marketing representative for Ohio Edison.
The other half-dozen, plus Kelly, are profiled below. When they die, each should be lowered into the grave in a box-and-one. But until then, their lives pose this question: What happens to a man who on the cusp of adulthood can perform the most esteemed act in his sport better than anybody else and then suddenly isn't asked to do it anymore?
What happens, it turns out, is many different things. EVERY TWO WEEKS THE OTHER BIRD ON the Boston Celtics' payroll visits his lawyer near his parents' home in Hopkinsville, Ky., and collects a check for about $1,500. Checks have greeted William (Bird) Averitt, 37, every fortnight since that day in 1978 when the NBA waived him goodbye. They will keep coming until he's 53.