"The freshman rule that prevents red-shirting has made many kids look more carefully before they sign," says University of San Francisco Coach Dan Belluomini. "They want to play, or at least have a shot at playing, right away. You know, these kids may seem immature but they know their recent basketball history. They know that Moses Malone, Bill Willoughby and Darryl Dawkins all went directly from high school to the pros. They feel, some of them, that they're on the border of playing pro ball and they don't want to delay their chances of moving up."
Over each of the last four seasons one tall freshman center has arrived—Gminski at Duke (1976-77), Jeff Ruland at Iona (1977-78), Rudy Woods at Texas A&M (1978-79) and Ralph Sampson at Virginia (1979-80)—to completely turn the program around at his school. And this season, at least six teams have been propelled to the top of their conferences by freshmen, while a seventh has charged to the top of the country by the same means.
Specifically, where would Indiana and Ohio State be without Isiah Thomas and Clark Kellogg? Whither Kentucky and LSU without Sam Bowie and Howard Carter? What about Louisville without Rodney McCray? Missouri without Steve Stipanovich? Or DePaul without Terry Cummings and Teddy Grubbs?
In addition, Ruland, Woods, Sampson, Carter, Stipanovich, Cummings and Grubbs all are examples of another significant new trend: good players are staying home. They're turning down the allure of faraway places with neat-sounding names to attend the college just around the corner.
Not that the freshman rule has resulted in less mobility. To the contrary, with four years to work with, transferring is the easy way out for a player who's unhappy. Kyle Macy left Purdue for Kentucky. Bob Bender went from Indiana to Duke. Reggie Carter, Bernard Rencher and Curtis Redding came home from Hawaii, Notre Dame and Kansas State, respectively, to play at St. John's. Steve Krafcisin exited from North Carolina and wound up at Iowa.
On the other hand, it was only after Maryland's Lefty Driesell rid himself of an entire benchful of despondents—Brian Magid transferred to George Washington, Billy Bryant to Western Kentucky, Turk Tillman to Eastern Kentucky and JoJo Hunter to Colorado, where he has made a more smashing impact than Ralphie the Buffalo—that Driesell and the Terps could start roaring to their best season in years. What Driesell had done, what John Wooden used to do at UCLA, what Joe Hall and Digger Phelps, to a certain extent, can still do at Kentucky and Notre Dame, is called—as in preparation for nuclear war—stockpiling. On occasion, as it was in Driesell's case, the pile of stock discovers there is not enough playing time to go around. Usually, however, a coach would find a big stockpile to be the next-best thing to owning his own ref.
Well, stockpiling has all but ended, because of the players' increasing reluctance to sit and because of another rule, now in its third year on the books. Once the NCAA had no limit on the number of basketball scholarships a school could give. Then it restricted a team to a total of 25. The limit then was lowered to 20, to 18 and, starting in the 1977-78 season, to 15. While Wooden, for one, insists he never had more than 15 scholarship players in school at the same time—when more were permitted—there's good reason to believe that famous schools routinely enrolled bluechippers as bench-warming insurance.
"UCLA used to recruit some kids just to keep them away from schools like ours," says George Raveling of Washington State, who will never forget Swen Nater, among others.
That can't happen anymore, and, thus, the national player pool will be more evenly distributed. "The UCLAs, the Kentuckys, North Carolinas and Marquettes—people like that—are still going to get top kids," says Texas A&M Coach Shelby Metcalf, "but when they can only take 15 instead of 18 or 25, they're cutting some good people loose."
Some teams have struck a mother lode lately without going after the phenoms. The 6'11" plant lover, Roosevelt Bouie, came over the snowdrifts to Syracuse from tiny Kendall, N.Y. Slithery Billy Williams—the best guard in the ACC—quietly arrived at Clemson from Raleigh, N.C. by way of Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla. And if you can name the nationally unknown, two best players in the Pac-10 and Southwest conferences, respectively, you win an all-expenses-paid trip to Pullman, Wash, and Waco, Texas. That is where Don Collins of Washington State and Terry Teagle of Baylor do their stuff.