The faculty of the University of Louisville School of Medicine, Department of Dunkology, includes such gifted young practitioners as Dr. Neck, Dr. Jab, Dr. Brain and, of course, the fabled Dr. Dunkenstein. By winter's end, however, the most valuable doctor of all may be a rotund, pipe-smoking fellow whose dunks are limited to dipping doughnuts in coffee cups. Dr. Stanley Frager, a psychologist and a professor of social work at the university, adores the basketball team so much that he plays a horn in the pep band. Recently he also has been using a form of hypnosis to cure what had seemed to be a terminal case of lousy defense afflicting Darrell (Dr. Dunkenstein) Griffith and Bobby (Dr. Neck) Turner. Frager's success is one reason the self-styled Doctors of Dunk have been transformed from a bunch of quacks into a solid bunch of operators who have a 19-3 record, a No. 5 ranking and serious NCAA title aspirations.
Frager, 38, came to Louisville seven years ago from the same school—UCLA—that spawned Cardinal Coach Denny Crum. He never thought much about using hypnosis as a coaching aid until his avid interest in sports led to his becoming an assistant baseball coach a couple of years ago. One day, while listening to Baseball Coach Jim Zerilla complain about how difficult it was to get his players to concentrate, it occurred to Frager that hypnosis might help. The results were gratifying, to say the least. The first athlete he helped, Pitcher Donnie Gatain, won 19 straight games when he learned to control his temper and concentrate on his motion. Two other members of the Cardinal pitching staff also showed marked improvement after seeing Frager, and slugger Nick Gagel broke out of a horrendous slump following a session in Frager's cluttered office.
When Louisville's football coach, Vince Gibson, heard what Frager had done with the baseball players, he asked the psychologist to help Kicker Matt Mager concentrate on not jerking his head up when his foot hit the ball. Once he broke the habit, Mager went on to break the school scoring record. Mere coincidence? Perhaps, but Crum had seen enough to ask Frager to help Griffith concentrate while playing defense.
A 6'4" junior guard with a vertical leap of 48", Griffith is the guy responsible for all the Doctors of Dunk hoopla. He calls Turner Dr. Neck because of his bullish neck, Guard Tony Branch Dr. Brain because of his good grades, Forward Larry Williams Dr. Jab because his high school nickname was Jabber, and so forth. Griffith himself is Dr. Dunkenstein because his dunks are so monstrous. Trouble was, Griffith seemed to be so preoccupied with devising new dunks and nicknames that he often forgot to guard anybody. The merest hint of a fake was enough to send a puzzled Griffith spinning this way and that in search of his man.
Just when Crum was looking for a tailor to make him a three-piece straitjacket, Frager worked a miracle with Griffith. Since beginning his sessions five weeks ago with Louisville's "concentration coach," which is what Crum calls Frager, Griffith has continued to dazzle everyone with his shooting and dunking. On a four-game road sweep of Maryland, Dayton, Cincinnati and Florida State in January, Griffith hit 60.5% of his shots from the field while scoring 30, 25, 23 and 24 points, respectively. But in two other January games his defensive work was at least as notable as his offense. He held Southwestern Louisiana's Andrew Toney, who was averaging 26 points, to only 12, and Marshall's Bunny Gibson, a 19.8-point scorer, to nine.
Not one to toot his own horn, except on game nights, Frager insists there is "no hocus-pocus" about his sessions with Griffith. Frager says he cannot make athletes transcend their physical limitations, but he can help them improve their performance through sharper concentration.
"In talking to coaches, I've learned that the biggest problems are mental mistakes, not physical ones," Frager says, "so what I do will help a player remember what he should do on certain plays, for example, or help him concentrate on free throws. The crux of it is relaxation and concentration. Basically, you're picturing yourself doing what you want to do. I'm not a psychiatrist, and Darrell is not undergoing therapy. He doesn't lie down on a couch or go into a trance. The three things that make up hypnosis are suggestion, concentration and relaxation. I create an atmosphere in which all three exist. No mantras are used, no medallions swung. We just sit and talk about what the player wants to accomplish and what Coach Crum wants him to accomplish. Sometimes when I ask Darrell to close his eyes and concentrate, you can even see beads of perspiration break out on his forehead. It's as if he's in a game."
While Frager has helped Griffith and, more recently, Turner, with their defense, Carlton (Scooter) McCray, a skinny 6'8" freshman from Mount Vernon, N.Y., has helped to bolster their offense. McCray, a citizen of the New York metropolitan area and a bit more worldly than his teammates, thinks all the Doctors of Dunk business is sort of silly. He simply calls himself Ice, as in cool. Nevertheless, his ability to cut open defenses with surgically precise passes has made better players out of everyone, especially the stocky forward Turner. "As long as Scooter's around, I've got a shot at the world record for layups," Turner says. "I consider myself happier than anybody about Scoo coming here. I always pay attention when Scoo has the ball, because he might bounce it off my head."
Turner compensates for his lack of size—he recently refused to get a haircut because he was afraid his true height might be revealed as 6'2", instead of the listed 6'4"—with quickness and the strongest hands on the team. When McCray has the ball on a high post, Turner roams the baseline. As soon as he flashes open, McCray fires the ball to him. And once Turner gets the ball, he is going to either score or get fouled, because nobody is going to knock it out of his mitts. To strengthen his hands, Turner does 50 fingertip push-ups every day.
McCray's contributions come as little surprise to Crum, because Scoo was one of the most widely recruited high school players in the nation last season, just as his 6'7" brother Rodney is now. What has been startling is the play of McCray's less heralded classmates, Derek Smith, Wiley Brown and Jerry Eaves. Smith, a 6'6" forward, would be among the nation's leaders in field-goal percentage—he has hit 66.9% of his shots—except that he has not attempted enough field goals to qualify. The 6'8" Brown, who is as muscular as McCray is skinny, fills in at center and strong forward. And the 6'4" Eaves has shared the guard spot opposite Griffith with Branch, the Cardinals' best playmaker, and Roger Burkman.