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St. Joseph's? "An aspirin company," thought Hawk star Boo Williams when he was first recruited. "Joe Bag o' Doughnuts" is how Recruiter Brad Greenberg characterizes the school. But such deprecation is quite out of place this year on Hawk Hill, and Williams and Greenberg are two of the main reasons. Greenberg helped St. Joe's pluck the two finest players out of Philadelphia high schools. One of them, last season's 6'10" Public League MVP Tony Costner, will let the 6'8" Williams, the Hawks' leading scorer and rebounder last season, move to power forward. The other, 6'5" Lonnie McFarlan, was Catholic League MVP and strengthens a backcourt already featuring Bryan Warrick, who won three games with last-second shots last year, and Jeffery Clark, who sat out last season to concentrate on his studies. Grant the Hawks, who were 21-9 last season, the East Coast Conference regular-season and Big Five titles, but don't be surprised if they take more.
In nine of the 12 games Wichita State lost last season, the Shockers were within a point of the opposition with a minute or less to play. They still managed to win 17, developing five underclass starters and a spate of colorful nicknames in the process. Back are the so-called Bookend Forwards, Cliff (Good News) Levingston and Antoine (Dr. Dunkenstein) Carr, who combined for 16 rebounds and nearly 31 points a game. "In the heat of a game I sometimes can't tell 'em apart myself," says Coach Gene Smithson, who was known as Radar Gene with a Built-In Screen during his playing days. Smithson will turn ball-handling chores over to his son, Sonar Randy, and Casper (Wyo.) junior-college transfer Tony Martin.
"People haven't respected us in recent years and they've been surprised," says Illinois star Eddie Johnson. "Louisville didn't last year and we blew them out." True enough. But it's hard to respect the Illini when they have the habit of starting seasons 15-0 and 11-3, only to end up 19-11 and 22-13, as they have in the last two seasons, respectively. Such schizophrenia of the past two years could be laid to inconsistent backcourt play, a shortcoming Coach Lou Henson hopes to have corrected by adding two guards, Coffeyville (Kans.) Community College transfer Craig Tucker and take-charge freshman Derek Harper. The frontcourt of the 1980 NIT semifinalists remains one of the nation's most potent, with Johnson, who averaged 17.4 points and 8.9 rebounds a game last season, and Mark Smith (15.3 and 6.1).
Arizona State could use some respect, too. If the national polls are correct about Oregon State and UCLA, the Sun Devils won't finish second in their conference, which is what they did last year when they were 22-7 overall. All Pac-10 Forward Kurt Nimphius is gone, so Coach Ned Wulk is doing some adjusting. Former sixth-man Johnny Nash will start at small forward and Sam Williams moves over to strong forward. Others figuring in Wulk's front-court plans are Swingman Paul Williams and newcomers Warren Everett—a more-than-respectable product of Dangerfield (Texas) High—and Walt Stone. Anchoring the middle will be seven-foot Alton Lister, more agile, aggressive and confident now that academic problems and a summer with the Olympic team are behind him. Guard Byron Scott, with a 13.6-point average last season, is the leading returning scorer.
"An NCAA berth would keep us right on schedule," says third-year Penn State Coach Dick Harter, who has four of five starters back from the 18-10 NIT team that led the nation in field-goal percentage defense. The Nittany Lions also picked up two Pennsylvania all-staters—the first time in 16 years that Penn State has lured any of that species. The new kids are Guard Brian Dean and Forward Dick Mumma. The willowy 6'10" Mumma will start alongside 6'8" Mike Lang and Center Frank Brickowski, whose touch belies his surname. This will give Penn State a big if somewhat slow lineup, but, Harter says, "For a change we'll have depth. We'll be able to go nine or 10 deep without any appreciable loss in talent."
Texas-El Paso Coach Don Haskins says the Miners' guard situation is so bad that "the buzzards are circling every day at practice." But Haskins, that noted doomsayer, is keeping uncharacteristically quiet about the Miners' burly front line, which helped UTEP go 20-8 and rank 10th in the nation in rebounding last season, and about how his backcourt shortcomings may be ameliorated by the arrival of prize recruit Anthony Bailey.
BYU, led by conference Player of the Year Danny Ainge, remains the WAC favorite despite the loss of three starters, including Forward Devin Durrant, who left school to do Mormon missionary work in Spain. But Wyoming, coming off its best season (18-10) in a decade, welcomes back Guard Charles (Tub) Bradley and has filled its biggest need with 7-foot Center Chris Engler, a transfer from Minnesota. The 6'5" Bradley, a 19.1-point-per-game scorer last season and younger brother of the Indiana Pacers' Dudley, is merely the Cowboys' best player ever. "Danny Vranes is the most consistent performer in the WAC, but Charles is the most explosive," says Wyoming Coach Jim Brandenburgh. Vranes, who had 15.2 points and 9.5 rebounds per game last season, is part of Utah's powerful front line. He and Karl Bankowski flank 6'10" Center Tom Chambers, who scored 17.2 points a game. Bankowski averaged 12.6 points and sank the winning basket in the Utes' 71-69 upset of Louisville. Bringing up the rear in the WAC will be scandal-scarred New Mexico, despite the presence of Kenny Page, the nation's fourth-leading scorer, with a 28.0-point average in 1979-80, and new inductee Air Force, which, alas, has a 6'8" height limit for cadets.
After Oregon State, UCLA and Arizona State, the Pac-10 is a scramble. Washington's 7'2" Icelandic center, Petur Gudmundsson, skipped to Argentina to play pro ball, leaving the Huskies short—literally. To compensate, they will press from end line to end line and go to a running game on offense. Although UCLA Coach Larry Brown says "Cal's a real sleeper," the rest of the conference looks to be just plain sleepy. The Golden Bears have Kevin Singleton, a 16.1-average scorer in 1978-79 and a redshirt last season.
Perennial Big Sky titlist Weber State will be lucky to crack the top three after saying goodby to all but one of its starters. Four regulars apiece return at Montana and Idaho, a pair of teams known for close-to-the-vest offense and tight defense. Either one of them or Montana State, strong in the frontcourt, should be Weber's successor. Idaho is looking up after finishing 17-10 in 1979-80, the Vandals' first .500-plus record in nine seasons. In predicting the WCAC race, Pepperdine Coach Jim Harrick says, "You start with USF. Second place should be a turkey shoot." Harrick's own team could be the best of the turkeys, thanks to a handful of good recruits that will ease the loss of Ricardo Brown and Tony Fuller, who averaged 19.5 points each last season. However, they won't be a match for San Francisco and 7-foot, 245-pound Wallace Bryant. Last season Bryant scored 13.3 points and grabbed 10.4 rebounds per game, and Guard Quintin Dailey added 13.6 points as the Dons won their fourth straight WCAC title. San Francisco missed the NCAA tournament, however, because it was on probation. Although that probationary period is over, the Dons are on probation again because of new violations the university discovered last spring. The school acted by replacing Coach Dan Belluomini with Peter Barry. Despite this new probation, USF is eligible for the NCAA title.