19 UNC CHARLOTTE
They stole your heart while almost winning the NIT last March, and now those Cinderellas in knee socks are back again. You remember them: Cornbread and Machine Gun Lew and the coach with the cotton top. And if anybody doubts that UNCC can do it all again, Cornbread says, "We're going to prove we weren't snowballs in the pan."
As Cedric (Cornbread) Maxwell might also say, the 49ers have come along faster than greased thunder. Eleven years ago the University of North Carolina at Charlotte became a four-year school. Six years ago the 49ers played their first major-college basketball schedule. Last season they won more than 20 games (for the third straight year) and received a grudging invitation to the NIT. In rapid order UNCC showed it belonged by beating San Francisco, Oregon and North Carolina State before losing to Kentucky 71-67 in the finals.
With four starters back, including NIT MVP Maxwell and leading scorer Lew Massey, the 49ers will be even better. And everybody knows it, too. They can no longer creep into Vanderbilt, win by 17 points and have people call it an upset. "For the first time," says Coach Lee Rose, "the teams will be pointing to beat us." That unfamiliar prospect has added a few more white hairs to his 40-year-old head.
The four best teams on this year's schedule, Tennessee, Wake Forest, Florida State and Creighton, could well be caught—but not caught napping. Even the cautious Rose admits his team has the talent to play anybody. What UNCC does not have, though, is size or depth. Nonetheless, while building a 24-6 record last year the Mean Green never allowed more than 80 points and averaged 84 themselves.
Maxwell, the 6'8" senior center, and Massey provide most of the offense. Massey is a 6'4" forward who shoots well and often from the outside. He averaged 22.5 points per game last season for a school record total of 677. His uncle, Walter Davis, the Olympian who plays down the road in Chapel Hill, did not come close to these numbers. Maxwell averaged 20 points and 12 rebounds by floating to and around the basket. His odd habit of practicing his free-throw form before every foul shot helped make him an 82% shooter from the line. But then Maxwell is unusual in other ways, too. Take his nickname, Cornbread. You can have it, he says, because he cannot stand the stuff. He even insists he is "not crazy about basketball" and prefers to be called "the best chess player in college basketball." But he showed all the moves while becoming king of the NIT.
The other starters are Forward Kevin King, Guard Melvin Watkins, both 50% field-goal shooters, and Guard Chad Kinch, a freshman playmaker of fine promise. If everyone stays healthy, the 49ers will strike gold again.
"When I was in the ninth grade I decided I wanted to be a basketball coach," says Chuck Daly, who has no cause to regret that decision. In the five years Daly has coached at Penn, the Quakers have gone 107-30 and have won four Ivy League titles. Daly had hopes his team would earn a fifth championship last season. In September of 1975 his squad played five games in a tournament in Italy, where one of its two victories was against a team named Varese.
"As we got on our bus after that game, the players from the Real Madrid team from Spain applauded us," Daly recalls. "It was their way of congratulating us. We didn't realize it at the time, but that loss for Varese was only its second at home in seven years."