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Beginning with a midnight workout on the first official day of practice and continuing through two grueling weeks of twice-daily drills, the first one starting at 6:30 a.m., new Georgia Coach Hugh Durham has been trying to transform the perennially talented but usually abysmal Bulldogs from a stodgy, zone-oriented, slowdown team into the kind of speed demons that he won with at Florida State. In Walter Daniels, Durham inherits one of the two best guards in the SEC. He also has a big man in 6'10" Lavon Mercer and a sometime star in 6'9" Lucius Foster. Pressure for playing time from freshman Eric Marbury should force Foster to produce more regularly. The Bulldogs have also gotten incentive from the faculty. Last year they shot .630 from the free-throw line, and Durham recently received a letter that read, "Last Christmastime I beat my son and grandson in foul-shooting contests with an average of around 75%. If by my 70th birthday the Georgia team is not shooting 75%, I am inclined to come down there as an old man and challenge them." The letter was signed by former Secretary of State Dean Rusk, now a professor in the Georgia School of Law.
While a state court tries to decide whether his high school grades were good enough for him to merit an athletic scholarship, senior Edgar Jones is getting a degree in basketball at Nevada-Reno. Last season, the 6'10" center was inconsistent, fouled too much and still averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds. If Jones decides to go full bore, the Wolf Pack might beat San Francisco for the WCAC title. Defenses can scarcely sag on him, because guards Johnny High and Mike Gray were both 17-point scorers, while Forward Mike Stallings had 11.5 rebounds a game.
Ohio State isn't about to make anyone forget the days of Jerry Lucas and John Havlicek, but the Buckeyes were strong enough after going 16-11 last season that Coach Eldon Miller could afford to lose obstreperous Guard Kenny Page, a 12.3 scorer who transferred to New Mexico after Miller put him on a one-year probation. Kelvin Ransey, a junior who started with four freshmen last year, has already made All-Big Ten and gives Miller an outside threat to go with superior sophomore Center Herb Williams, the 6'10" Columbus native who was occasionally lackadaisical last season, but now seems ready to play.
Virginia Tech has won 59 games in the last three years but was tired of being lost in the shuffle of independents with gaudy records and no NCAA tournament bids. So Tech moved to the Metro 7, where by league tournament time the Gobblers could give Louisville a battle. It isn't that double-figure scorers Wayne Robinson, Tic Price, Les Henson and Marshall Ashford need seasoning. But freshman Dale Solomon, a 6'8�" 230-pounder, may need a little time to settle down and give Tech an edge on the boards, where it was overmatched in 18 of 27 games last year.
Iowa State has been taking on the look of a Kentucky team since former Wildcat assistant Lynn Nance arrived as head coach in Ames two years ago. Patrolling the middle for Nance is 6'11" Center Dean Uthoff, who was the nation's third-leading rebounder a year ago. Guard Andrew Parker was the Big Eight's leading scorer, averaging 22.4 points, and Forward Bob Fowler, who followed Nance from Kentucky to Iowa State, scored 15.9 a game in conference play. Nance also brought in several flashy freshmen, including Jo Jo White's cousin Chuckie White and Chicagoan Eric Davis—"a Kentucky-type shooter," says Nance—who once scored 61 points in a high school game.
The race in the ACC should be, as ever, nerve-racking, unpredictable and fairly solid evidence of the conference's overall strength. Should Duke or North Carolina State falter, Maryland, Virginia, Wake Forest, Clemson and North Carolina are waiting to pounce. The Terps, in particular, have an abundance of talent, what with four 50% or better shooters back from last season's 15-13 team. Forwards Albert King and Ernest Graham are capable of scoring almost at will, and Center Larry Gibson may be the most improved player in the league. Maryland is almost as flush in the backcourt and on the bench. In fact, this team may have as much ability as any in the country, save Duke. But all those good bodies may not do Coach Lefty Driesell much good if, like last season, they are equipped with bad heads. The Terps seldom played a brainy brand of ball, and their offcourt activities ran to locker-room shouting matches, a libel suit against a Washington newspaper and, ultimately, the dismissal of one player from the team and the transfer of another. Maryland may not be in such dire disarray this season, but it has far to go before it can fully regroup.
Virginia has one of last season's outstanding ACC freshmen in Guard Jeff Lamp, who scored 17.3 points a game despite a succession of injuries. The Cavaliers are missing only one regular from the 20-8 squad of 1977-78, and Coach Terry Holland went out and got freshman Jeff Jones to run with Lamp in the backcourt. Wake Forest lost Rod Griffin and his 21.5-point average but it has one of the best freshman groups in the country to complement 6'11" Larry Harrison and 6'2" Frank Johnson. Clemson is so deep that it has nine players whom Coach Bill Foster considers equally talented, and North Carolina retains two imposing assets, the stylish playing of Forward Mike O'Koren and the astute coaching of Dean Smith.
Last year Rutgers Coach Tom Young sometimes worried that Center James Bailey was going to launch himself for one of his majestic dunks and not come down until he had reached the NBA. After a brief flirtation with the pros, the 6'9" Bailey, now a senior and one of the two or three best big men in college, is back to try to duplicate last season's numbers: 116 dunks, 72 blocked shots, 56 steals and 58.5% shooting. If Abdel Anderson pitches in 15 points a game, as expected, and if JC transfer Daryl Strickland, a 6'5�" leaper, does likewise, Rutgers could be very good.