There will be more time on the floor this season for Russell, who had a sensational freshmen campaign in which he averaged 10.6 points and 5.3 rebounds a game and was named MVP of the ECAC Holiday Festival tournament, the first freshman to be so honored.
The ebullient Redding, who scored 8.9 points a game in a part-time role last season, will start at one guard. He may be quick with a quip, but his opponents will find his roughhouse defense and outside shooting touch no laughing matter. He'll be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Billy Goodwin, a junior-college All-America in his only season at San Jacinto (Texas) J.C. Before going to the Southwest, Goodwin was a high school star in the Bronx. "We're going to be a better team at the end of the season," says Carnesecca, who obviously knows good king-dong-bing-bongs when he sees them.
19 South Alabama
Here they come, bursting onto the floor of Mobile's Municipal Auditorium in their red-white-and-blue warmups with the letters USA emblazoned across the front, their entrance heralded by the best of the Louis Brothers Odyssey LTD Band. Let's hear it for the University of South Alabama Jaguars!
Seldom able to recruit top-quality Alabama high school players because of the preeminence of the Crimson Tide and Auburn, South Alabama has pulled in talented kids from nearby states and gone to work on its image problem. That's why Coach Cliff Ellis hired the LTD Band; he didn't think the USA school band had enough firepower to psych up the fans. For lack of a better campaign slogan, he has dubbed South Alabama "the Iona of the South." But Ellis' most important accomplishments have come in the all-important W column.
The Jags finished 23-6 last season, won the Sun Belt regular season title and had enough clout to lose the conference tournament and still qualify for the NCAAs. South Alabama had played a two-point game against eventual champion Louisville in its season opener—at Louisville. And the Jags went on to win those 23 games without former Sunbelt Player of the Year, 6'8" Rory White, who went down with a knee injury in the first half of the 75-73 loss to the Cardinals.
Everybody who counts is back, including White, whose knee and keen outside shooting touch appear to be intact. Last season's leading scorer was Ed Rains, who plays one of the wings in South Alabama's 1-4 offense. Rains not only had 18.8 points a game himself, but he also consistently put the clamps on the man he guarded. He outscored Darrell Griffith 26 to 15 and held Jacksonville's all-league center, James Ray, without a basket for an entire half. As good as Rains was, his flair for the dramatic didn't approach Point Guard Herb Andrew's. Herb's last-second baskets saved three games—against Jacksonville, UNC Charlotte and Alabama-Birmingham.
South Alabama didn't score a great many points—76.4 per game—but the Jags finished third nationally in scoring margin because of their defense (64.5). At the low post, 6'9" John May is a fierce intimidator, and Scott Williams, a wing man and third-year starter, is another gutsy defensive specialist.
Because South Alabama hasn't lost a conference road game in two years, it isn't the most popular team in the Sun Belt. Nor is Ellis, a brilliant 35-year-old tactician, the most beloved coach. He feels it's O.K. "to verbally and mentally harass your opponents. I'm not that kind of guy away from the court, but I do play to win," he says. "When I came here the administration was talking about dropping down to Division II. Now we're consistently drawing 7,000 fans a night, and the press is beginning to annoy Alabama and Auburn with questions about why they won't schedule us. That's what I call progress." That's what USA's opponents call "trouble."