" Mike Miller averaged [a team-leading] 14.1 points his sophomore year, and we made the Final Four," says Florida coach Billy Donovan. "If he'd averaged 25 points a game, we would never have gotten that far. If you rely on one player so much, he can be stopped against a good team."
But fans who remember Maravich's end-to-end dashes or the freewheeling Neumann pulling the trigger from 35 feet surely miss the spectacular performances of players who could score from anywhere in the gym. "You've got guys today who can dunk it every which way," says Williams, who now lives in Los Angeles, where he gives shooting lessons. "You have to keep an eye on them when they get near the basket. But guys like us? You had to watch us from the time we stepped off the bus."
Those days--and the gunners who made them so entertaining--are gone, and sadly, they're not coming back. Here are some of the reasons:
THE LURE OF THE NBA
Maravich averaged 43.8 points in his first varsity season, as a sophomore. (Freshmen were ineligible at the time.) Had he done that in 1997-98 instead of 1967-68, he probably would have entered the NBA draft by the time his last jumper hit the bottom of the net--if, that is, he had bothered to play college ball at all. Today the lure of riches from pro contracts and endorsement deals draws potential gunners out of the college ranks before they get a chance to pile up prolific numbers. There is, for instance, a certain teenager who might have taken a run at Maravich's records, but "he's playing for the Cleveland Cavaliers right now," says Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.
If that wunderkind, LeBron James, who jumped straight from St. Vincent--St. Mary High in Akron to the NBA, and the Denver Nuggets' Carmelo Anthony, who left Syracuse after averaging 22.2 points in his one collegiate season, had played in an earlier era, they might be battling each other for the NCAA scoring title this season. "If Carmelo Anthony had stayed in school for four years, he would have averaged 30 as a sophomore, 40 as a junior and 50 as a senior," says former Nuggets coach (and current consultant) Doug Moe. James and Anthony aren't the only NBA stars who might have done wondrous things had they had long college careers. "Anybody who thinks Kobe Bryant or Amare Stoudemire or Tracy McGrady couldn't have averaged 35 or 40 points in college ball isn't paying attention," says Dallas Mavericks assistant coach Del Harris.
But the college exodus doesn't completely explain the disappearance of the gunner. Many of the pro stars who skipped or shortened their college careers during the last 15 years are big men, the type of players who rarely have the kind of diversified, inside-outside game that characterized the high scorers of the past. As dominating an inside player as Shaquille O'Neal was during his two seasons at LSU, his top average was 27.6 a game as a sophomore, and he left early in part because he was tired of being swarmed by collapsing college zones. The demise of the gunner has more to do with those who stay than those who leave.
DEFENSES THAT NEVER REST
The black-and-white footage of Selvy's 100-point game reveals a sleek, skilled player scoring almost at will, without so much as a defender's hand extended toward him. He drives to the hoop, weaving around Newberry players as though they're orange traffic cones. On one possession he beats his man off the dribble and goes past a second defender, whose back is turned to him, the kind of defensive lapse that would get a seventh-grader benched these days. "When I was playing, defenses weren't as aggressive, and they didn't do as many things," says Selvy, now 72 and living in Simpsonville, S.C. "I would drive to the basket and put up a shot without having to worry about somebody blocking it."
He also didn't have to worry about box-and-ones, matchup zones, half-court traps and the other defensive variations that today's top guns face. Defenses of the '50s, '60s and even '70s were almost primitive compared with today's alignments. Defenses these days are aided by advances in technology that allow teams to study opposing offenses in minute detail. "In the old days I would imagine most of the scouting preparation would be to call a coach you know, ask him what he did against a guy, study the stat sheets and a few box scores and play the game," says Ball State coach Tim Buckley. "But if you were defending Maravich today, for example, you'd have film of all his tendencies. You'd know which guys on LSU you could leave to double-team him. You'd know how he reacted when you doubled him, whether he liked to dribble through it or to pass to his right or his left. You'd know what would happen if you got physical with him. The preparation part of the game is just so different."