Basketball fans in the Mississippi State gym at Starkville a few weeks ago were puzzled to see University of Texas Guard Jim Krivacs begin the game by approaching the free-throw line backwards to shoot a technical foul that had been called against the home team for dunking the ball during the warmup.
Granted, Texas had not been famous for the excellence of its basketball program. But surely Krivacs, raised in Indiana, knew which way to face. In the stands, people waited for someone—possibly the coach—to shout a reminder from the Texas bench: "No, no, Krivacs! Turn around, lad! You're confused!"
Instead, the Texas coach was urging Krivacs to take the shot backwards. Krivacs bounced the ball a couple of times and flung it back over his head in the direction of the basket. He missed. The Texas coach nodded in satisfaction.
That was how Abe Lemons, who took over at Texas this season, chose to protest the dunk rule.
"The rule that you can dunk the ball in a game but not in a warmup is just plain silly," Lemons said later. "When the technical was called, I asked our guys for volunteers to shoot the foul backwards. They all volunteered. I picked Krivacs because he's the smallest."
The fact that Mississippi State—one of the top teams in the powerful South- eastern Conference—went on to beat the lowly Longhorns by only two points did not shake Lemons' belief that he and Krivacs had done the right thing.
Giving away a point to protest a rule would be odd behavior for most coaches. But a great many things Abe Lemons does are so peculiar that his peers often speak of him with a kind of amused wonderment, telling stories about him far into the night.
There is one thing Lemons does, though, that prevents him from being regarded as nuts. He wins.
Back in November, a few hours before his debut as the head basketball coach at the University of Texas, A. (for nothing) E. (for nothing) Lemons confessed that on the previous day he had been visited by despair. Despair, as it turned out, looked like a tall man in his early 50s, wearing boots, a brown plaid suit with leather trim, and a purple necktie—exactly like Abe Lemons, in other words. Abe said he had wrestled with this mirror of despair, and then he woke up this morning and looked life in the eye and decided to keep on playing the game anyhow.
Abe had been hired to transform the Texas basketball team into the sort of exciting, high-scoring teams he had coached at Oklahoma City University and Pan American for the past 26 years.