SI Vault
 
Now for the all-star wars
Barry McDermott
July 11, 1977
With the discipline of college ball just around the corner, a bunch of post-prep hotshots used an AAU youth tournament in Florida as a showcase for showing off
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
July 11, 1977

Now For The All-star Wars

With the discipline of college ball just around the corner, a bunch of post-prep hotshots used an AAU youth tournament in Florida as a showcase for showing off

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue
1 2

A few teams traveled overland to the tournament, but most of them raised enough money to fly. "If we don't fly, I'm not here," said New Jersey's Kelly Tripucka, the 6'6" forward from a family of athletes. His father, Frank, was a quarterback at Notre Dame and later played in three professional football leagues—the NFL, AFL and CFL. Four of Kelly's brothers played college sports, and a basketball-playing sister, Heather, scored 61 points in a game. After Tripucka was hampered with fouls in the opening game, he scored 30 and 41 points the next two nights.

Joining Florida Gold Coast in the semifinals were Detroit, Seattle and North Florida, a club with three prep All-Americas: Oliver Lee, Guard Wilmore Fowler ( Kansas) and Center Reggie Hannah ( Florida). Notable in the team's effort was an early-round 140-69 smashing of Dayton.

Detroit considered itself the tournament favorite, an arrogance to be sure, but befitting the team personality. The Motowners brought a tape player to the bench and listened to music whenever the action got boring. When Reserve Guard Edgar Merchant began mailing in jump shots from so far away that they needed zip codes, he paused while running back upcourt to slap the palms of each of his teammates on the bench. Coach Watkins said he did not believe in curfews and had his team under a "control situation," explaining that when they stayed out until 4 a.m. at local discos, it was perfectly all right because they were with him.

The Boca Raton fans took to calling Earvin Johnson " Windex," because of the way he cleaned the glass. True, Johnson sometimes plays like he attended the Campanella Russell School of Defense, but offensively he can do what he wants. In the opening semifinal game against Florida Gold Coast Saturday evening, the graceful 6'8" forward dribbled the ball upcourt through a maze of players like Bobby Orr, shot well from the outside and scored 36 points as Detroit roared to a 132-113 victory.

In the other semifinal, Seattle found that North Florida had too much brawn and brains, the latter exemplified by the fact that they held team meetings. Seattle's 7'3" center, Petur Gudmundsson ( Washington), who was discovered in Iceland by Husky Coach Marv Harshman, was opposed by Hannah and James (Popcorn) George ( University of North Carolina, Charlotte), who explained that he gave himself his nickname because "I pop and sizzle." About the most spectacular thing Gudmundsson accomplished was banging his nose against the backboard in the second half. North Florida won as Ruben Cotton came off the bench with 27 points for a 110-97 victory.

Detroit approached the final game as if it were going to take place on a playground. The team went disco dancing till close to Sunday's dawn, then boogied past North Florida 96-90 in the afternoon. Earvin Johnson scored 25 points, was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and hit the road for the circuit's next stop.

1 2