Walker, who's from the two-stoplight hamlet of Roberta, Ga., chose not to attend Georgia because he feared he would have to play the pivot. "I feel real natural at forward," he says. "But if I had to play center, I would." Last season he was a center in everything but name, scoring most of his 22.9 points per game in the paint, eschewing the baseline and rarely—also wisely, for the Wildcats had no other scorer close to his caliber—passing. Walker, who describes himself as "wiry strong," also led Kentucky in rebounds (10.2 per game) and minutes played. "He's such a great athlete at 6'8½"," says Eddie Sutton, the new Cat coach, "that he has the skills to be a better center than somebody 7'2"."
With Dreiling and Ron Kellogg joining Manning in Kansas's frontcourt, the 6'11" sophomore will have more support than Walker. Larry Brown wants his young star to be "more efficient" and to avoid the silly fouls that helped disqualify him from seven games last season. "I like to roam the floor," says Manning, who led the Jayhawks in steals last year while playing mostly at big forward. And that's fine with at least one Big Eight coach, who says, "You can run him all over the court, and guard him there. But get him around the goal and he'll jump-hook the ball in. He gets under the goal and it's over."
Tarpley was obscure as a high school player, partly because he was a relatively ordinary 6'6", 180-pounder before his senior year, and partly because he split his residence among the homes of relatives in New York City, Detroit and Mobile, Ala. Now he's grown to 6'11" and 230 pounds and feels quite at home in Ann Arbor, where he stepped into the middle last season after Tim McCormick's early departure to the NBA. "The big guys, they think it's an easy job to check me because I'm slim," Tarpley says. "But I'm quick." Says Marquette coach Rick Majerus, "He has the whole package. He can block shots, rebound and go out on the elbow and beat you with 15-footers."
Salley, who like Tarpley came late to his long-limbed form, answers to the nickname Spider but would prefer to be called Sir John. It's part of a more respectable profile that Salley, a 7-footer from the Canarsie section of Brooklyn, has adopted as he replaces the departed Yvon Joseph at center. Salley has added some extra bulk, which should take him up to a playing weight of 240. But the Rambling Wreck would most like to see Salley break his habit of taking midgame siestas. "I've heard people talk about my 10-minute slumps," he says. "This year I hope to put out every minute. I have no choice." Salley may be referring to the possibility that he'll be the top pick in next spring's NBA draft. "That's more pressure," he allows. "But I don't mind. Like I say these days, 'Pressure makes diamonds.' "
And diamonds—as in diamond styluses—are what make music come pouring forth from those inert stacks of wax. Cue up the new season. By March, one of those things with a hole in its middle will turn out to be solid gold.