AIA is coached by Bill Oates, who had a fine record at Santa Ana ( Calif.) Junior College. He favors the racehorse game—fast breaks and full-court presses the whole game. Fast breaks are easy to start, of course, when you have Forrests, Drollingers and Halls to get the ball off the defensive backboard.
Oates has all kinds of talent. Forrest was the MVP in the NAIA tournament, where he led Grand Canyon to the 1975 title. Hoffman, a little guy (5'10") with a barely discernible blond mustache, was captain at North Carolina, an All-East Regional selection. Blade was a fourth-round NBA draft pick, as was Scott Thompson of Iowa.
It is Irvin Kiffin, though, who has the best story to tell at halftime. He grew up in Queens, N.Y. and made the mistake of running around with "the cool guys instead of the creeps. I was strung out on drugs for five years of my life." Somehow he got the needle out of his arm long enough to play one season of basketball at Springfield Gardens High and win a basketball grant to Virginia Union. His heroin problem went along and he didn't last. Then he got married and switched to Oklahoma Baptist in Shawnee, Okla., where "we both found the Lord together." He had two good seasons and was disappointed that no pro team drafted him.
"Now I just thank God He didn't let me get drafted," he says. "The uniqueness of this team is there are no individuals. We're all playing for a common bond for Jesus Christ."
What they are obviously not playing for is money. Each team member is paid from $7,000 to $10,000, depending on his number of dependents. When they're not practicing or playing games, they are kept busy speaking about their salvation. The word is further spread by AIA's newspaper and radio-TV network (ex- UCLA Coach John Wooden is doing the TV color for the second year).
There are bigger things ahead. More televised games. More home games in Anaheim Convention Center. And perhaps a world title. "Our goal is to represent the United States in the World Games in 1978 in the Philippines," says Oates. "That's one of the things we're shooting for. We need to pick up two or three more outstanding players."