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The Oral Roberts University campus in Tulsa is an ecclesiastical Disneyland. There's the 200-foot Prayer Tower rising out of the Oklahoma countryside like some relic of a forgotten World's Fair; a shiny, golden, fine-arts auditorium that suggests an evangelist's tent; and a saucer-shaped bookstore right out of Futura, hometown of the Jetsons. In one corner of this fortress of righteousness is a huge basketball arena that seems to have been modeled after a Reese's peanut-butter cup. How big is the locker room? Big enough to cover three Acres: Dick and his sons Mark and Jeff.
Dick is the Titan coach. Mark and Jeff are seniors and the team's starting center and forward, respectively. Despite the fact that Mark, 22, is 6'11" and 225 pounds and Jeff, 24, is 6'9" and 210, they're known as God's Little Acres. In 1983-84, Dick's first full season as Oral Roberts coach, the 21-10 Titans won the Midwestern City Conference and made the NCAA tournament for only the second time in their 19-year history. This season, with basically the same squad, Oral Roberts has lost to Tulsa, LSU and Texas A & M by a total of eight points. And North Carolina's 87-65 rout last Saturday in Chapel Hill must have rattled even the Acres' faith. God might not be dead, but He seems to be forgetting the 1-4 Titans.
Then again, the Lord moves in mysterious ways. And Oral Roberts' success is often not measured in wins or losses but in Acreage. Mark and Jeff are the Titans' salvation, fundamentalists who know their fundamentals. Mark, whom some coaches compare favorably with the Indiana Pacers' Steve Stipanovich, is a two-time Midwestern City co-player of the year. He averaged 20.8 points, 10.5 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game in 1983-84, leading the conference in the latter two categories. The scrawnier Jeff punched in with averages of 15.0 points and 7.5 rebounds per game. This year, it has been the other way around: Through last week Jeff had scored at an 18.8 points per game pace on 71% shooting, and Mark was averaging 15.6 points on 47% shooting.
EXPECT A MIRACLE is the slogan painted on each side of the court at the Mabee Center, which once served as a studio for the TV sermons of Oral Roberts himself. Here on the buckle of the Bible Belt, Roberts, the faith healer and college president, has an abiding faith in the power of the holy hoop. He believes that the game can be an instrument in spreading the Good News. He played a little hoops himself back home in Ada, Okla. until he collapsed on the court one day when he was 16. Doctors said it was tuberculosis. After Roberts had undergone six months of ineffectual treatment, his sister packed him off to a faith healer. He came home cured and imbued with a desire to become a healer himself.
The Big O helped recruit Mark and had a hand in luring Pa Acres away from Carson High in Los Angeles two years ago to become an assistant to Ken Hayes, then the Titans' coach. Roberts also gave the O.K. when Hayes was replaced by Acres nine games into the 1982-83 season. Acres became the Titans' fifth coach since '73-74, the last season they made the NCAAs. None of the others had been up to the task of leading ORU into the Promised Land of the Final Four. There wasn't much excitement in Mabee. Even the fans became Oral retentive. "They can be overly polite," Mark explains.
If a cantaloupe could sprout eyebrows, it might resemble Mark's face. His laconic nature has earned him the nicknames Brainwave, Waldork and Space Ghost. "Mark had 35 points against Texas A & M last year, but on the film, you wouldn't see more than 20," says teammate Brian Miles. "He does things in slow motion, but he gets them done."
Jeff is perkier. And what he lacks in bulk and menace, he makes up for with versatility. In his five years at Oral Roberts, Jeff has played every position on the floor. Tonsillitis and knee surgery cut short his 1982-83 season and gave him an extra year of eligibility.
As a child, Jeff would sit with his mother in the Carson High bleachers and watch Dad coach. Mark was indifferent to the game. He'd poke around among the supports beneath the stands looking for loose nickels. "I found plenty," Mark says. "That's what kept me coming back."
Dick put an adjustable backboard in the driveway of the family's house and painted 36 white numbers on various spots on the asphalt. "Number one was the lefthanded hook," he says. "That's how the boys learned to use' their off hand." One day Jeff challenged the Carson High players Pa brought home to a game of Around the World. They were amazed to be outshot by a sixth-grader.
Jeff was too good for Mark, too. They'd play Around the World for baseball cards, and Jeff usually wound up with the bigger pile. "I remember a few fistfights over a Reggie Jackson 3-D card we got out of a box of raisin bran," says Jeff. "I think that's why Mark wound up bigger than I. All that beating up on him made him grow faster."