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That week spent coming of age in the North Carolina pines seems to be the point at which the league's deep hatred for the Gamecocks—engendered by South Carolina's emergence as a power, by Roche's ability and attitude, and by the long-simmering dislike for McGuire around the ACC—came to full bloom. Total bitterness remains.
Both of Roche's Player of the Year awards are still contested by people in North Carolina who claim that "racism" on the part of ACC writers kept the Tar Heels' Charlie Scott from his due. Scott publicly agrees. Last season Roche's injury in the ACC tournament following on the heels of his remark that "it is all over for the North Carolina schools" brought forth dozens of late night crank phone calls and letters.
"I love it," says Roche. "The people must be maniacs, but they just make me play harder. This league is a bloodbath. That's what makes it so great. Nobody around the country ever heard of the ACC awards until Charlie complained. It just gave us more publicity."
Already this season Duke cheerleaders, after watching their team get mauled 98-78 in Columbia, have appealed to their own students for an extra effort against the Gamecocks when next their teams meet. Also, Roche has received a warning letter from a "George Karl" to the effect that "I am waiting for you." George Karl is a sophomore guard at North Carolina and a kamikaze of a defender. He denies knowledge of the letter, says it may be the work of friends and calls Roche "a great player." But at Columbia, they are waiting for Karl.
"We have our own animals," says South Carolina's Riker. "How about Ribock? He's insane."
The son of a retired Army mess sergeant and a onetime altar boy, Ribock has become the league's reigning butcher due largely to the efforts of Roche and Owens. On first meeting the New Yorkers as freshmen, Ribock, a Georgia native, said, "You know what I like to do when I go home? I like to sit in front of my TV with a big gallon of water and drink it all down." The Dead End sophisticates, Roche and Owens, went wild. They said to each other "Instant Savage" and proceeded to, in their words, "psych Ribock up for blasting guys" by telling him how tough his opponents were supposed to be.
Ribock once took on nine men in a local beer parlor, reducing it to "the bar-room in Shane," according to one witness. He also cleaned out an entire men's dormitory floor whose members had yelled obscenities at his girl friend. It was only later that he found out he had erased the wrong people.
Ribock's most fervid adventure came two weeks ago during a spectacular mass brawl that prematurely ended the South Carolina-Maryland game with 4:52 remaining. Early in the evening Maryland's Sparky Still had—injudiciously—punched Ribock in the back. No retaliation was forthcoming at that point, but when the fight broke out—involving both benches, spectators and numerous state and local police—Ribock pummeled another Terp player. Maryland Coach Lefty Driesell attempted to mediate, unwisely shouting at Ribock, "You're crazy, you're crazy." Ribock connected twice on Driesell's face, bruising his lip and cheek. After the game Driesell threatened retaliation when the teams meet at College Park and said that McGuire was "crazy" if his team "even sets foot in our state."
As ferocious as Ribock is, his teammates still consider Roche the meanest among them. "Let's step outside," is his standard line. "He has more than the average Irish temper," says Owens, remembering the time when Roche, a freshman, decked a classmate in the student union, whereupon his adversary pulled a gun. "You should have seen Owens scatter," laughs Roche. "I just told the guy, 'Well, O.K.' We didn't get along very well."
Another time Roche was reaching over a counter at The Big Bird, a campus eatery, to get some nuts for his ice-cream sundae when the counterman grabbed his arm. Roche spun, unloaded a beauty of a left hand and, says Owens, "gave the guy an unbelievably black eye. Opened up his face pretty good, too, I recall."