Although it's tough to hide a guy who's 7 feet and 265 pounds, Felton Spencer nevertheless spent most of his first three seasons at Louisville in the shadow of Pervis Ellison, last year's No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. But now, with Ellison gone to Sacramento—where he's known as "Out-of-Service Pervis" because of a foot injury—Spencer has emerged as the force around which the deep, talented Cardinals may funk and dunk their way to the Final Four.
Spencer, who was such a gentle giant at Louisville's Eastern High School that he took a stuffed animal to games, has recently toughened his image with a Wilt Chamberlain goatee. More important, he has learned to intimidate defensively, throw the outlet pass to start the break and score inside by using agility as well as brute strength.
He showed all those talents last Saturday when he outplayed New Mexico's 7'2" center, Luc Longley, a native of Australia who has drawn more than passing interest from the pro scouts, though he's only a junior.
Early on in the Louisville game, Longley looked as if he might dominate, and the Lobos enjoyed a surprising 31-29 halftime lead. But Cardinals coach Denny Crum used the intermission to challenge Spencer to D up on Longley on the high post and to keep the ball away from him as much as possible. Spencer did, and the Cards blitzed the visitors 38-7 early in the second half on the way to a 78-49 win, their seventh in eight starts.
In the end, Spencer outscored Longley 14-10, outrebounded him 20-11 and blocked six shots to Longley's four. The rebounds and blocks were career highs for Spencer, while Longley's point total was only half his average. Said Spencer, "I didn't look at it as having anything to prove. Everybody knows by now that I can play. I just wanted to have a good time and help us win."
Spencer has never expressed much of an interest in the NBA—he's a strong B student working toward a career in business—but he looks more and more like a first-rounder, maybe even a lottery pick. First, though, he and his Louisville teammates have to tend to the business of making a run at the Final Four.
Tyrone Hill, a 6'10" center for Xavier University in Cincinnati, has the killer instinct that great rebounders need. He even keeps killer fish to remind him of the attitude he has to have when he's hitting the glass.
Last season Hill pulled down an average of 12.2 rebounds per game, second only to the 13.7 of Loyola Marymount's Hank Gathers. But after the season, Hill thought some changes had to be made. "I looked at my aquarium, and I saw these goldfish swimming around," he says. "I thought, That's not an aggressive fish for a re bounder. So I bought eight piranhas and put them in the tank. Bye-bye, goldfish."