As the high pass floated downcourt, it seemed certain that John Long (above) the lead man in the University of Detroit fast-break drill, would be unable to reach the ball. But somehow, a split second later, Long had it in his hands, and he finished off his spectacular grab with a twisting, banked layup that evoked a raucous slapping of palms among his teammates. Was Coach Dick Vitale pleased? "What kind of bleeping shot was that, John?" he shouted. "You keep doing that stuff, and you'll be in the Ceciliaville Rec League next year instead of the NBA." Vitale appreciated Long's artistry but felt it necessary to remind his star that fundamentally sound basketball was the reason for last season's 25-4 record, the best ever for Detroit.
The Titans won 21 straight, including victories over the NCAA ( Marquette) and NIT (St. Bonaventure) champs, and earned an NCAA bid. Vitale, Long and Terry Tyler, Detroit's other star, have given themselves a tough act to follow, but they seem up to the task. Their main incentive will be the hope of returning to the NCAA tournament, where they lost 86-81 to Michigan in the most-watched televised sports event in the state's history.
For the fourth consecutive season, Detroit's fortunes rest primarily on Long, a mobile 6'5" forward, and Tyler, the 6'1" center whom Vitale exhorts to "go talk to the Lord" whenever the Titans need a crucial rebound. "Terry jumps higher than anyone," says Vitale, "so I guess that means he is closer to The Man Upstairs." Long is the more prolific scorer, having led Detroit in each of the last three seasons while amassing 1,545 points.
"I must admit that when I first saw John play at Romulus [ Mich.] High, I thought he was not my kind of player," Vitale says. "I recruit athletes who play with intensity, and he is so relaxed out there that he appears lazy. Was I ever wrong."
Long is a purist on the court, and he excels in pressure games. He scored 25 against Michigan and 20 against Marquette last season. He has also been more than willing to share the spotlight with Tyler. They tied for high scorer in last season's opener, and thereafter Long led Detroit in scoring 14 times and Tyler nine.
The two stars and a dependable supporting cast should be enough to insure the Titans an excellent record, but a pair of knee cases may determine how far they go in postseason play. If Kevin Kaseta, a 6'8" forward, makes a comeback and if blue-chip freshman Kevin Smith is sound enough to run the offense, Detroit should get high TV ratings outside Michigan.