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This is an area in which Toney's modesty could do him in. His school, USL, is in a section of the country hardly noted for basketball excellence on a national level; furthermore, it is often confused with other schools in the state. In addition to USL there is SLU, or Southeastern Louisiana University, which isn't to be confused with LSU ( Louisiana State University) or Northeast Louisiana-or Northwestern State (La.), for that matter.
According to Toney's coach, Bobby Paschal, USL should be set apart from the others by its "national schedule." "We're unique in that sense," Paschal says. "In recent years we've played five different Pac-10 schools and some in the Big 10. People around the country recognized us as the basketball school in the state before LSU, and those same people recognize good players, no matter where they come from."
USL's drive for national prominence began in the early '70s, when the Ragin' Cajuns were led by the high-scoring and flamboyant Lamar, who accounted for 3,493 points during his career. In those years USL made three NCAA tournaments. The Cajuns also were placed on NCAA probation in 1973 for more than 100 recruiting violations.
That probation was still in effect when Toney chose USL over the University of Alabama. "Of course I was concerned with the things that were going on at the time," he says. "I looked into it deeply because I wanted to do what was right, but the school wasn't really in trouble. There was a year of probation left, but it was obvious things were coming around."
Especially after Toney's freshman season, when he averaged 21 points a game and led USL to the Southland Conference championship.
Inevitably, Toney has been compared with Lamar, who does radio commentary for USL games. But as Lamar has said, "I was a shooter; he's a scorer." A more accurate comparison would be with Calvin Natt of the New Jersey Nets, who came to the pros unheralded from Northeast Louisiana last year but who has averaged almost 20 points a game in his rookie season. Natt is considerably more imposing physically but plays the same kind of smart, clean, unfancy game.
"I'd like to play pro ball," says Toney. "That's something I've worked for. I don't think being unknown hurt Natt, and I don't think it will hurt my chances, either. It's the performance that counts."
Unknown isn't quite the word for Toney, according to the scouts who have seen him play. "He's a definite first-round pick, with everything you look for," says Dick McGuire of the Knicks. "He's quick and can shoot. But it doesn't take a genius to figure this kid out. You could go up into the stands and ask anyone to pick out the best player on the floor, and they would choose him."
At first sight, though, Toney is hardly overwhelming. Weighing only 178 pounds, he looks frail and spindly. His jump shot is not a thing of beauty. Toney rises from the ground stiffly, as if he were being pushed against his will, and holds the ball close to his head while the upper half of his body almost jackknifes toward the defender. The shot looks as if it should be easy to block, but more often than not it is a basket, with Toney then going to the free-throw line to complete a three-point play.
Auburn can attest to that. In the finals of the Bayou Classic last month, Toney made six three-point plays en route to matching his career high of 46 points in a game for the second time. Even so, Paschal had to call Toney over to the bench twice to tell him to shoot more. True to form, Toney shrugged at the suggestion.