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Getting privy to such information is a pretty good trick outside the Wasatch Range, which is beautiful country but, unfortunately, just as dim in the national consciousness as Weber State and the Big Sky Conference. Nevertheless, conference teams are capable of holding their own and occasionally springing an upset against the UCLAs and Long Beach States in tournament play. Indeed, the Big Sky has come a long way. All eight conference teams used to play in cramped, poorly lit pits, but three of them now boast recently built domed arenas.
Former Big Sky coaches like the Washington Bullets' Dick Motta, Michigan State's Jud Heathcote and Chicago Bulls Assistant Coach Phil Johnson have made a go of it on much larger stages. Next to move on and up may be McCarthy, a gregarious smoothie whose choice in liquid refreshment (Hi C) fits the area's Mormon life-style. But McCarthy is at ease with his more acclaimed and flamboyant colleagues.
"We don't have that big reputation in the East or Midwest, but you better believe it's just as tough to win on the road in the Big Sky as it is for teams in the ACC or Big Ten," McCarthy says. "The people in this area just go crazy. There's tremendous fan interest. I mean, what else are you going to do in Missoula. Mont.? You're gonna go down to the gym and get behind your team."
McCarthy warms to his subject. "People think of Top 20 teams as a bunch of big, physical studs, all of 'em high school All-Americas," he says. "We get the kids that the others have missed on. Collins is from Wyoming. Now, how many people are going to want to go recruiting in Wyoming in the middle of winter?
"But we're pretty to watch. Nobody in the United States plays together better than we do. You see some of these teams, and it's two passes, then wham-bam slams and jams. Then the coaches sit back and moan about passing. 'Where has all the passing gone? No one passes anymore.' "
Passing just happens to be an integral part of Weber State's game, and no one does it better than the Wildcats' floor general, Mark Mattos, who is averaging 7.5 assists a game.
The words used most often to describe the senior pre-med student are "cocky" and "arrogant." Those not as friendly with Mark say other things, but Mattos just shrugs off the talk.
"I don't need to be nice to anybody," he says, which could be true if you have an I.Q. of 150 and a 3.8 grade-point average, as he does. "I'd rather have people not like me and go crazy everywhere we go. People want me to do bad and see the team lose, but when things like that are against us, it makes us band together. We have a common goal of shutting those people up."
Mattos has been greeted the most strenuously at Idaho State. In his freshman year he brashly predicted a win (the Wildcats did) and a big night by Mattos (it was). From that point on, a Weber trip into Pocatello has taken on a circus atmosphere—Mattos on the high wire without a net.
Although spectators in the ISU Minidome are separated from the floor by a banked track, there is room around the court for about 200 fans. Ostensibly, admission is granted on a first-come, first-served basis, but in reality, preference is given to those with the leatheriest lungs.