Another national championship is a distinct possibility for Louisville, even without Darrell Griffith, the master dunker who led the Cardinals to last season's title. Six of the top seven players are back—frontcourt men Derek Smith, Rodney McCray and Wiley Brown, Guard Jerry Eaves and supersubs Roger Burkman and Poncho Wright. In addition, Rodney's older brother, Scooter, who was redshirted after an early-season knee injury in 1979-80, is on hand and trying to give the Cardinals a 6'9" guard in the mold of Magic Johnson.
There are also a couple of promising freshmen—Forward Charles Jones and Guard/Forward Lancaster Gordon—whom Coach Denny Crum plucked out of Mississippi. Jones, in particular, could help right now. "He's the best tipper I've ever seen, and he tips with either hand," says Crum, referring to Jones' work on the rebounding machine, not at a restaurant. Jones also throws a strong outlet pass and does an excellent job of being the last line of defense in the 1-2-1 full-court zone press.
Louisville's most nettlesome preseason problem has been finding the right combination of players. If Crum starts Jones, he would have to bench Scooter McCray or one of the starters from last season's championship team. He likes to have Scooter on the floor because he's the team's best passer and anticipates well in the zone press.
Regardless of who starts, the Cardinals' all-out, hurry-up style will assure that all 10 top players will get plenty of court time. None of them will be more important than Smith who must provide some of the scoring and leadership that Griffith gave. "I'm going to score more points than the 14.6 I averaged last season, but only because the ball will come my way more," he says. "I'm going to do the same things I did last year, but do them harder. Not making the Olympic team last summer changed me more than winning the NCAAs."
Smith and Rodney McCray—who made the U.S. squad but didn't play as much as he wanted to during the team's exhibition tour—are plotting revenge. Their plotting began in the preseason when they would meet at the school running track at 10 p.m. and run a couple of miles in the dark. Now that the season is starting, they are anxious to meet the players who were rated ahead of them by the Olympic coaches—DePaul's Mark Aguirre, Maryland's Buck Williams, Utah's Danny Vranes, North Carolina's Al Wood, Kansas State's Rolando Blackman. Their teams are all on Louisville's schedule, and Smith and McCray undoubtedly also will want to do their best against Providence, where Olympic Coach Dave Gavitt is the athletic director. "Yeah, we play 'em all," Smith says. "That's good."
Smith and McCray lost their first revenge game last Saturday to DePaul, 86-80—that's bad—but they shouldn't lose many more.
With his campaign for reelection to the U.S. Senate going poorly, Birch Bayh played his trump card: he got his friend, Indiana Coach Bobby Knight, to do a television commercial for him. Knight was asked why he lined up for Bayh, a liberal Democrat (and an eventual loser), when it's well known that Knight's politics put him to the right of Ronald Reagan. He said, "Aw, he [Bayh] has helped me a lot." Then he grinned. "Besides, I just wanted to let people know that I'm not a puppet of the Republicans."
That's not the only surprise Knight has popped recently. At preseason practices, for example, he was busy putting in a carefully retooled offense and defense so that the Hoosiers might take better advantage of sophomore Guard Isiah Thomas' myriad talents. Thomas does certain things so well and is so much better a player than the other Hoosiers, except Randy Wittman and Ray Tolbert, that Knight felt it would be wise to install some subtle changes in his intricate "motion" offense.