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COLLEGE REPORT
William F. Reed
February 05, 1990
THE HOUSE THAT ROARED
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February 05, 1990

College Report

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THE HOUSE THAT ROARED

Adolph Rupp probably would not have been thrilled, but last week Clarence (Bighouse) Gaines of Division II Winston-Salem State, a predominantly black school, joined him as the only other member of the 800-victory club. Rupp, who won 875 games in 41 seasons at Kentucky, balked in the mid-1960s when John W. Oswald, the university's president at the time, ordered him to begin recruiting black players. It wasn't until 1969, three years before his retirement, that Rupp signed his one and only black player, Tom Payne.

Gaines, who grew up in Paducah, Ky., is well aware of Rupp's reputation as a racist. "I don't think Rupp even had a black dog in his house," says Gaines. As a coach, though, Gaines profited in an ironic way from the fact that the SEC and ACC didn't fully commit to integration until the mid-'70s. Until then, many of the best black players opted to stay home and play for the black colleges. In recent years, however, Gaines has found it more difficult to get top players, and the Rams haven't had a 20-win season since 1983-84. Last season they dropped all the way to 6-18, the worst record of Gaines's 45-year career.

But Gaines rejects the notion that black players owe a debt to black schools. "This is a bunch of crap about blacks saving black colleges," he said after the Rams beat Livingstone College 79-70 on Jan. 24 for victory No. 800. "Division I players are selecting Division I schools, that's all. If I was a Division I player, I would, too. Some people don't realize that last year, out of the top 200 high school kids in the country, not one went to a Division II school. It's not a black-white thing."

Gaines, 66, has an outside chance of surpassing Rupp's victory total but doesn't much care whether he does or not. " Rupp had a heck of a record," says Gaines, "but who else was recruiting players in the SEC besides him all those years? No one. They need to put an asterisk beside Rupp's name. It's pretty easy to dominate when no one else is offering much competition."

A LAME FEELING

Penn State coach Bruce Parkhill is trying to keep his players focused on landing the school's first NCAA tournament bid since 1965. The Nittany Lions are an independent in football but belong to the Atlantic-10 in basketball. When the Big Ten announced in December that Penn State would become a member of the conference by the mid-1990s, the Atlantic-10 reacted like a jilted lover, saying it wanted the Lions to drop out as quickly as possible. "The Atlantic-10 wants us out, and the Big Ten isn't ready for us," says Parkhill. "Limbo is a great way to describe our situation."

Until Parkhill became coach in 1983, basketball was just another of Penn State's 28 varsity sports. By last season, though, the Lions were good enough to go to the NIT, with a 20-12 record, their first 20-win season since 1964-65. After last Saturday's 77-69 win over George Washington, Penn State was 6-3 in Atlantic-10 play and 12-5 overall. An NCAA berth now seems possible. "We're pretty young," says Parkhill, "but we've found some different guys to put the ball in the hoop."

Parkhill's up-tempo style has caught on so well that Penn State now averages 4,730 fans in 6,846-seat Rec Hall, up 30% over last season. But as Parkhill understands better than anyone, Penn State basketball isn't nearly as ready for the Big Ten as Penn State football. The Lions will have to get much stronger to avoid replacing Northwestern as the league's cellar-dweller. Money will have to be shaken loose for recruiting and to begin construction on a 15,000-seat arena, which is still on the drawing board.

The immediate concern for the Lions, however, is their schedule for the next few years if the Atlantic-10 boots them out after this season. "I don't know exactly what's going to happen," says Parkhill. "The league has made it clear that it doesn't want a lame-duck team. The Big Ten will be great down the road, but right now there are a lot of questions that need answering."

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