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Just how good will depend largely upon how consistently the Cavaliers are able to blend their many formidable talents into a single force. "We went through a lot last season that I'm sure will help us now," says 6'6" senior Guard Jeff Lamp. "A lot of the expectations last year—all the hype that was around us—was for a team nobody had ever seen play." Adds senior Forward Lee Raker, "Having a new player as important as Ralph took some getting used to. We got away from the things we do best and tried to do too many other things. We know each other a lot better this year."
Lamp, who led the ACC in scoring as a sophomore, will give Virginia outside punch, and Jeff Jones, the conference's top assist man the past two seasons, will see to it that Sampson gets the ball in low. Virginia often suffered at the hands of small, quick guards last season, so Holland's only recruits this year were 5'10" Ricky Stokes and 6-foot Othell Wilson. "They give us a dimension we didn't have last year," Holland says. "When other teams threw small guards at us we could not change our offensive style to offset their quickness. One of those two will be playing a lot for us." Now the Wahoos will be able to pick up the tempo on nights when Sampson is vacuuming the ball off the boards.
Sampson set an ACC record last season by blocking 157 shots, but his 14.9 points a game and 11.2 rebounds were good, not great. His stats should improve this time around. And Raker, a 6'5" bruiser with a nice outside touch, is healthy again after last season's separated shoulder. Terry Gates, a senior forward, is the team's defensive mainstay and will usually draw the ACC's Albert King and Al Wood types.
The Cavaliers are not deep, but they are so strong up front that it may not matter. If Sampson has the kind of year that causes the NBA to start throwing large sums of money at him again, Virginia fans could find themselves in Philadelphia in March chanting, "Wahooooooo!"
9 Notre Dame
It'll be a long and dangerous road for the Irish. Notre Dame will encounter Wildcats, Warriors, Terrapins, Cavaliers and Blue Demons along the way, not to mention a home game against Indiana and home-and-home series with UCLA and San Francisco. All of which adds up to a prepackaged excuse for a poor season, except that Coach Digger Phelps doesn't see it this way. "Play some tough games, get used to hostile crowds, find out what's wrong and prepare for the NCAAs," is his philosophy. But couldn't Notre Dame, 22-6 in 1979-80, lose too often to qualify for postseason play? "Are you kidding?" Phelps says. "Forty-eight teams go to the tournament this season. We'll be there."
Ever the iconoclast, Phelps also ridicules the homage paid to "dominant centers." In fact, Phelps is taking 6'9" Orlando Woolridge, who shot 58.5% in the pivot, and returning him to his natural forward position. Notre Dame's starter in the middle will be a freshman, Joe Kleine, with sophomore Tim Andree and senior Gil Salinas in relief. Kleine is an imposing (6'11", 240) fellow with a surprisingly deft outside touch, and Andree and Salinas have lettered, but none of the three matches up with a Ralph Sampson. No matter, says Phelps. "The importance of a single, overwhelming center is overrated. We made the final four in 1978 by alternating centers."
Many coaches still hesitate to use more than one or two freshmen. Phelps will make generous use of four: Kleine, Forward Cecil Rucker and swingmen Barry Spencer and Tom Sluby, all of whom averaged between 21.2 and 31.3 points and 13.0 and 20.1 rebounds a game as high school seniors. And so what if Phelps uses more offensive and defensive alignments than the Joint Chiefs of Staff? "Our kids are special," he says. "They can do it. If you have the athletes, play them."
Oh, does he have the athletes. The most notable among them is Forward Kelly Tripucka, who scored 18 points a game for the season and 21.8 over his last 14 outings. Having lost 18 pounds and worked over the summer to improve his already impressive 55.6% shooting, he could be even quicker and surer. And thanks to Phelps' penchant for shuttling in players—no one played more than 32 minutes per game last year—Tripucka shouldn't wear out. Just in case, top sub Bill Varner is coming off an excellent showing in preseason practices.
There's a potential problem at guard, where graduation spirited away Rich Branning to Athletes in Action and Bill Hanzlik to the Seattle SuperSonics. Ball-hawking (51 steals in 1979-80), streak-shooting Tracy Jackson will move from forward to guard to work alongside sophomore playmaker John Paxson, who must take full control of the offense.