Along with the Dantley experiment, the key to Utah's upturn has been the improved play of Eaton, who at one time was the tallest goalie in the history of the Westminster ( Calif.) High water polo team. In high school, Eaton, then a mere 7-footer, preferred aquatics to hoops and after graduation actually gave up basketball for three years, going to a trade school and working in a tire store. It was there, in 1978, that Tom Lubin, an assistant coach at Cypress Junior College in Orange County, found Eaton and lured him back into the game.
After two years at Cypress and two more of near invisibility at UCLA, Eaton's thoughts upon entering the NBA last season were focused on "how I was going to survive." But in Layden's mind Eaton came into the league with one very large plus: size. "He's so big that the NBA will only allow us to carry 11 men," Layden says. "We have to count him twice."
Now, although Eaton is still more than a little mechanical in his play, he effectively clogs up the middle. And the other aspects of his play have developed to the point where after last week's win over Houston, he was asked by a group of reporters to hold court. "Perhaps I am getting somewhere," Eaton said to no one in particular. "Before, no one even asked me anything; now someone wants to talk to me about Ralph Sampson." And even about himself.