Unlike many of his peers, New Mexico State coach Neil McCarthy isn't an early riser. When New Mexico governor Garrey E. Carruthers, a State graduate, called at 10:30 a.m. on Jan. 9, the day after the Aggies' 83-82 upset of Nevada-Las Vegas, McCarthy was still in the sack. That victory, however, made it obvious that New Mexico State might be a sleeper in the NCAA tournament.
To be sure, the Runnin' Rebels are the first team of consequence that New Mexico State has defeated. The win was no fluke, though, according to Aggie junior guard Randy Brown, a Chicago native who honed his game in summertime competition against the likes of Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan. " UNLV has talent, but I've seen much more on a [summer] team on a given night," says Brown. "They were just like we were. They just had UNLV on their shirts."
Brown is one of four Chicago-area products starting for the Aggies, even though McCarthy doesn't recruit in those precincts. (Austerity measures have cut his recruiting budget to S34,000, $20,000 less than when he took the job in 1985.) Brown and one of his high school teammates, Michael New, transferred from Howard County Junior College in Big Spring, Texas. Forward James Anderson and guard Reggie Jordan, both from Chicago suburbs, also arrived from the juco ranks. The fifth starter, senior Keith Hill of Houston, originally went to Michigan State but transferred because he didn't like the cold weather.
McCarthy makes no apologies for his seven juco players, arguing that they're often more motivated and mature than high school recruits. "They're different from freshmen," says McCarthy. "A high school player comes out with 25 offers. He thinks college is an extension of high school. A J.C. player says, 'Hey, I'm fortunate to get this opportunity.' "
An 88-75 victory at UC Irvine last Saturday left New Mexico State with a 14-1 record, its best start since the 1968-69 team coached by Lou Henson went 16-0. By Feb. 15, when the Aggies go to Vegas for their Big West conference rematch, the sleepers could easily be 21-1.
THE SOONERS KEEP ROLLING
After Oklahoma ran its home-court winning streak to 69 and its record to 12-0 with a 103-84 victory over highly regarded Texas, Longhorn coach Tom Penders said the Sooners deserved to be ranked No. 1 in the country. Perhaps, but Oklahoma may be no better than No. 3 in the Big Eight conference. The Big East. Big Ten and the ACC may be better, top to bottom, but no other league has three teams as good as Oklahoma, Kansas and Missouri, which were a combined 45-1 at week's end.
While Kansas will play at Missouri this Saturday, Oklahoma will get its toughest assignment to date when it travels to Tucson the same day to face Arizona, the preseason favorite in the Pac-10. Wildcat coach Lute Olson will not be pleased to hear that Penders thinks the Sooners are better than they were last season, despite losing Stacey King and Mookie Blaylock, both No. 1 picks in the NBA draft. "They've got more guys who can burn you now," says Penders.
Indeed, after the starters opened the game by connecting on only three of 14 shots, Sooner coach Billy Tubbs called on his subs. Terrence Muffins responded with a season-high 17 points, Jackie Jones blocked a school-record nine shots, and Smokey McCovery blended 17 points with seven assists.