As for David Thompson, 18, the youngest of 11 children from a poor black family in Shelby, N.C., he only hopes people aren't expecting too much. "I'm not sure what they want," he says, preferring to play his game unobtrusively, listen to soul music and go to school. It was not so long ago that the big kids in his neighborhood came to his house, took his ball, used his goal and refused to let him play. "I would go off and hide so they wouldn't see me cry," he says.
These, then, are a few of the truths concerning David Thompson. They will be obscured and enlarged upon if he is the player people believe him to be or forgotten if he is something less, which is not very likely.
Should there be even slight slippage in the Thompson image, Sloan and the Wolfpack will not cancel the schedule. There is 7'4" Tommy Burleson, the top rebounder and second-leading scorer in the ACC last year who is doing everything better. There is Joe Cafferky, an excellent shooter who has gladly changed positions to let in 5'7" Monte Towe, a "playmaking buzz saw" according to Sloan. And there are enough forward candidates to fill two lineups. Returnee Rick Holdt may start early but Tim Stoddard or Steve Nuce could fit Sloan's plans better. Those plans will include running, shooting and pressure defense, but mostly David Thompson.
LONG BEACH STATE
To the surprise of many, including themselves. Coach Jerry Tarkanian and his star, Ed Ratleff, have returned for another year at the sprawling campus on the banks of the California oil slicks. After their team won 25 games and a third straight Pacific Coast Athletic Association championship, the friendly Armenian received another flock of coaching bids while Ratleff was a first-round draft of the Indiana Pacers. Fortunately their loyalty to school and each other plus the usual pleasing prospects at Long Beach made it easy enough to turn down all the offers. In gratitude the school gave Tarkanian a full professorship and his own office while Ratleff was guaranteed another winterful of joy watching 7' teammate Nate Stephens go one-on-one with Rip Van Winkle.
The 49ers for sure need a wide-awake big man because much of their inside depth (namely Chuck Terry, Eric McWilliams and Bob Lynn) has graduated. Last year Tarkanian could withstand the uncoordinated defense and shooting lapses of Stephens and mammoth (6'8", 240-pound) Leonard Gray because he had so many other people. Now the two are the ones. Tarkanian says Stephens "has changed his life pattern" and is working hard (Big Nate hits the sack early these days since the coach convinced him "inhaling midnight air is poisonous") but his concentration span still is suspect, say, after it passes the 15-second mark.
Long Beach will run more, play its scratchy 1-2-2 zone and try to get the ball anywhere on the floor to the marvelous Ratleff. The rest of the 49er backcourt previously looked more like old Oscar Mayer (heh, heh—weiners) but that may be remedied by the arrival of Ernie Douse from Boys High in New York and the change in attitude of Lamont King. Douse is a sleek 6'6" sophomore who can fly, score and deliver an exciting array of shots. Moreover, he is cooperative and coachable, which is an upset of sorts at Long Beach. King was to be last year's playmaker before he flopped, was surly and created dissension with sniping criticism of Ratleff; now he is a changed man, sacrificing his shooting, smiling at everybody and quietly becoming the finest defensive player on the team. "I'm not letting anyone down this year," he says. King is backed up by JC transfer Rick Aberegg, who passes with flair, and veteran Tom Motley, while Douse will alternate at one wing with Glenn McDonald.
Up front Gray, who has lost 10 pounds (he actually played at 250 before) and Stephens should scare enough people to enable blond Phil Hicks (late of Loyola of New Orleans) to get in some hot licks. Also expected to help the cause is walk-on Kyle Jackson, who lacks experience but may be the best shooter-jumper the 49ers have. Long Beach has toughened the schedule, moved its home games from a tiny campus gym to the 12,000-seat downtown arena and contracted to play in four tournaments before the New Year. Hopefully all will end sometime before midnight; Stephens has to get in out of that air.
It has been a long time since notes of optimism were heard along historic Beale Street in Memphis, the Mississippi port that contributed so much to jazz, but the Memphis State Tigers lately have made their fans so lyrical that they have plagiarized a song to extol their chances. It's called: "Meet Me in St. Louis, Wooden."