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A turnabout in numbers supports Crum's theory. Last season, for the first time since the NCAA began keeping track of such trivia, the 20 top-ranked teams in field-goal percentage won more often than did the top 20 in field-goal-percentage defense or the leaders in any other statistical category except scoring margin—which is always tops because games are ultimately won or lost according to the point totals on the scoreboard.
At last count, experts had cited at least 47 different reasons for this surge in shooting accuracy. They include everything from rounder basketballs to videotape machines to shooting gloves. However, an old Bill Bradley quotation ("Practice...because when you don't somebody, somewhere, is, and when they play you, they will beat you") underlines the most important new element in the game—it has become a 12-month endeavor for everyone, coach or player, who wants to do more than just play out a schedule.
Example A: UNC-Charlotte hoped to clean up in recruiting while the memory of last season's fourth-place finish in the NCAA tournament was still fresh. So it scheduled a two-week trip to Argentina for October and told high school recruits that this was the kind of broadening experience they could expect if they decided to come to school in Charlotte. The tour also gave the 49ers' incoming freshmen nine games of international competition before they ever played a college game, thereby allowing UNCC to get a big jump on its opponents, who had to be content with six weeks of intrasquad scrimmages back home. The 49ers were not even playing hooky, because while they were competing in Argentina, they were also enrolled in Geography 402-H, a three-credit course taught by Dr. Jim Clay, a UNCC professor who went along in the back of the bus. To square things with the NCAA, there was even a final exam.
Example B: When Phil Ford was a sophomore at North Carolina, he started playing organized ball on Oct. 15, 1975, the day fall practice began. Counting UNC's 1975-76 season, the Olympic tryout camp, a summer tour of Europe, the Montreal Olympics, last fall's practice sessions and the 1976-77 season, Ford was scarcely off the court for 17 consecutive months.
But the single-mindedness with which players of all ages now dedicate themselves to basketball is not explanation enough for the shooting boom. Nor is the return to college games of the dunk, which was attempted so few times last season that it was a statistically insignificant factor in the rising shooting percentages. Because the dunk is too specialized to rehearse during all those workouts in gyms from Buena Park to Buenos Aires, the players practice a more useful shot, the game's ultimate weapon—the jumper. Curiously, no one seems to know from where it came. In fact, as often happens when basketball nuts congregate, the origin of the jump shot was the subject of heated debate in the Los Angeles Times ' city room only a few weeks ago.
"It was the day Bert Lance resigned," recalls Sports Deskman George Kiseda, "but somehow we all got involved in a squabble over who invented the jumper. We couldn't agree on one person, but whoever it was, he revolutionized basketball just as surely as Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball. The first answer you usually get is Hank Luisetti of Stanford, around 1936. But even Luisetti doesn't claim to have shot the ball the way kids do today. His was a running one-hand push. Chances are, the jump shot was developed by accident—like penicillin—but at least we know Sir Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin."
When SPORTS ILLUSTRATED conducted an informal survey, the answers seemed to depend on what player lived down the street from the person queried. It uncovered some names unfamiliar to those who, when they think of great college jump shooters, invariably begin with Oscar, then mention West, Mount and Carr on their way to the present. For the edification of those who think the jumper originated with Oscar Robertson at the University of Cincinnati in 1957, here is a random sampling of the responses to the SI poll: