In a small, shut-in community near the southern border of Illinois dwells a remarkable basketball player who can with equal proficiency shred a net with a jump shot and solve a linear equation. His name is Mike Glenn and he is the greatest thing to hit Carbondale since Walt Frazier.
While the Rickey Greens and Phil Fords get all the ink, Glenn plays in comparative obscurity at Southern Illinois University. One reason is that Glenn was a player without a conference until SIU was admitted to the Missouri Valley last year. SIU finished second in the standings, but Glenn was named the Valley's Player of the Year.
Glenn's jump shot may be the best in the country; as a sophomore he sank 61% of his field-goal attempts to lead the nation's guards, and he is just as adept in the classroom. A math major, he has a 3.45 grade average. In his spare time, Glenn, who knows sign language, does volunteer work with deaf children.
Carbondale is a small rural town with a population that just about matches the university enrollment of 24,000 students, and there is a certain amount of enmity between a populace dressed in overalls and a school where the all-night party was a required course. In fact, years ago, when coal mining was the principal occupation, Carbondale was a stronghold of the Ku Klux Klan. Says a farmer dressed in baggy pants, a thermal jacket and a yellow baseball cap, "It used to be that people thought the only good black folks 'round here were whites with coal dust on their faces." Says SIU Coach Paul Lambert, "I think there used to be a racist element."
Nowadays, Glenn is a kind of folk hero. Mostly he keeps to himself, sometimes spending as much as four hours a day in the school library. But whenever he is about the town, he is certain to be approached by a fan who wants to talk basketball or ask for an autograph. He has the kind of charisma that inspired one agent to suggest he skip his senior year and enter the NBA hardship draft, promising him a movie contract as part of the deal.
When Lambert recruited Glenn, a high school coach at Atlanta told him, "Get excited. You've just signed the best shooter in the country." "I didn't get excited then," says Lambert, "but since then I have. People say he has a Jerry West-type jump shot. I know he has refined shooting to an art. A lot of guys have the physical ability to be great shooters, but where he has the edge is in his shot selection, probably because of his science and math background. He is a very calculating type of person and he can analyze the defense."
The notable thing about Glenn is not that he is averaging 21 points a game or shooting 58% from the floor this year, but that he is doing it mostly from long range. He rarely drives, and consequently is fouled so little that he did not shoot enough times to qualify for the national free-throw title last year (Glenn sank 49 of 54 free throws, a percentage of .907; the Division I leader made 71 of 80 for a .888 percentage). Most of his shots come from 20 feet. "It leaves his hand and you're surprised when it doesn't go in," says Pat Williams, general manager of the Philadelphia 76ers. "Many scouts say, 'All the guy can do is shoot.' Hey, that's really the name of the game." Former NBA player Jim King, now the coach at the University of Tulsa, agrees. "As far as I'm concerned," says King, "Mike's the greatest shooter in the country."
"Mike takes shots you are normally glad to see an opposing player take," says Joe Stowell, the coach at Bradley. "Only he hits them." So much so that Lambert constantly has to prod his other players not to turn and head downcourt whistling the school fight song as Glenn cuts loose. "Mike'll hit five in a row and his man will stop and look at him," says Mel Hughlett, a senior forward. "Then he'll hit five more and the guy'll just give up. He'll quit."
Glenn's shooting touch was acquired as a child growing up in Cave Spring, Ga., near Rome. His father taught at the Georgia School for the Deaf and coached the basketball team; Mike spent most of his time in the gym. At home he played every day against his older brother, Charles, on a goal set up in the backyard, and cried when he lost. At night he would practice, then the next day again challenge his brother. Finally he beat him. Finally he beat everybody. "I'd be disappointed if I couldn't shoot after all that work and effort," says Glenn. "Every summer, it'd be 90� outside and I'd be in that gym playing mind games. I guess I beat Walt Frazier at least 100,000 times one-on-one with last-second shots. First I started with books on shooting. Then I practiced without the ball, just getting the form down and strengthening my wrist. I can't tell you the nights I lay in bed just flicking my wrist at the ceiling. Right now I think I'm about at the maximum. I just try to keep my touch because I don't think I can get much better at it."
In the last eight years Glenn can remember losing only one game of "horse," the universal game of shooting, and that was in high school. "I can't find a reason to drive," he shrugs. "If you get a step you can shoot the jumper, so I wind up shooting the jumper. I've heard that pro scouts don't think I have the speed. I'm not worried. I think I can play with any guard in the NBA right now. I'm confident."