A year ago at this time, before a publicist gave the nickname Rocky Mountain High to Joe Barry Carroll (above), he was just a typical homesick freshman moping around the Purdue campus. Well, maybe not exactly typical, what with Carroll standing about seven feet and being the first player with three first names that Purdue had ever recruited from Colorado. Yet even in practice, where he should have felt at home, Carroll behaved as though his mind and body were elsewhere. He passed up two-on-two games to go off and shoot by himself, and, oh my, he was sensitive about being called a seven-footer. "I'm 6'11"," he would say, and that was about all he would say. "I think we'll be pretty good" was his equivalent of the Gettysburg Address.
The Boilermakers were pretty good last season, winning 19 games and making the NCAAs. And they did it even though Coach Fred Schaus kept the pressure off Carroll by playing him only about 20 minutes a game and never starting him. Carroll still averaged nearly eight points and eight rebounds and was usually on the floor when Schaus thought it mattered most.
What Schaus appears to have gotten in return for his patience is Purdue's first dominating center since Stretch Murphy, who played with John Wooden back in 1930, and the country's scariest defensive player, who swatted away 82 shots as a part-timer. He could block 200 this season and still have plenty of energy left to shoot his all but unstoppable flip-hook.
Schaus also got a changed Carroll. This fall, after glancing at a list of team heights and weights, Carroll said, "Coach, this is wrong. I'm 7'1", 240 pounds." With that pronouncement, Carroll immediately laid to rest the fears Schaus had harbored over the summer when rumors filtered back from Denver that Carroll was thinking of transferring to a school closer to home.
Purdue's starting five probably stacked up as the best in the Big Ten even before Michigan's Phil Hubbard went down with a knee injury and the NCAA probation of Minnesota and its superb Center Mychal Thompson was reaffirmed. Now Walter Jordan, Wayne Walls, Eugene Parker, Jerry Sichting and Carroll are heavy conference favorites, though there is little bench strength to back them up over the expanded 18-game league schedule.
The shame for Big Ten fans is that two superb centers like Hubbard and Thompson will be unable or ineligible to take on Joe Barry for the conference's spot in the NCAAs. Schaus may have to worry again about Carroll losing interest.