- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
The copper casket is wheeled onto the court through a somber honor guard, while a throbbing organ plays I Need Thee Every Hour. "Mercy!" a voice cries out. Mercy, indeed. When the cheerleaders start pounding their palms on the lid, swaying to a sudden infusion of soul saxophones with a disco beat, the casket almost falls off its dolly.
"I had nothing to do with it," Wesley Boyd tells the fans behind the scorer's table. "I didn't have nothing to do with it." Then he bends over and cackles, showing all his teeth.
Although he is telling the truth—the Paul Quinn College athletic director made the arrangements—nobody believes him. After all, Coach Boyd, who is in his third year at the school, is a licensed mortician, operating funeral parlors in his hometown, Houston, and in Waco, not far from the Paul Quinn campus. He's known as "Undertaker" Boyd—Taker, for short—and indeed his Tigers usually bury their small-college opponents. Last year this band of happy pallbearers led the NAIA in scoring with a 100.9 average, finished 32-10, and represented District 8 in the national tournament. At the end of last week the little (enrollment: 400) black school across the Brazos River from big Baylor University had an 8-1 record.
The Paul Quinn record is much more impressive than the Paul Quinn roster. Fifteen of the players are from Houston, most of them juniors, and they all seem to come from the factory at 6'5" and 180 pounds. "People ask, 'Who's your center?' " Boyd says. "We ain't got one. 'What about your forwards?' They're all forwards. 'What about your guards?' They're all guards."
Lacking a center, a genuine ball-handling guard and a power forward, Boyd has adopted a style of play that exploits his players' quickness and jumping ability. A swarming zone press has defenders guessing, gambling, leaping and lunging all over the backcourt, smothering passes, filching errant dribbles, and generally making basketball look like a game of hot potato played with a live grenade. Most every steal results in a basket-rattling dunk off the fast break. "If we ever get real hot," warns Leonard VanDuring (standing, second from right in picture on page 59), "we might score 180 points." Their high is 159 points last year.
Unfortunately, when the Paul Quinn press fails to steal the ball, it exposes one of the leakiest half-court defenses in the country. The Paul Quinn zone can't contend with tall teams that work the baseline, and although his players are great leapers, Boyd bemoans their tendency on defense to rest arms overtired from shooting. Big leads melt away as fast as they grow. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. "They don't have the killer instinct yet," Boyd says. "They jump on you, let you back up and then jump on you again."
Boyd's most intriguing jumper is All-Interregional Conference Forward Lorenza ( Frog) Scott (standing, second from left), who is the closest thing basketball has to a designated shooter. As the ball is pushed upcourt, he goes to a spot near either corner, plants his left foot and imploringly looks for the ball. Once he has it, he launches himself into the air and fires at the basket, falling to the floor and skidding out of bounds on the seat of his pants. When he's hot, he's unstoppable; against Arkansas Baptist College on Nov. 15, he sank a 17-footer with his left leg pointed straight at the ceiling. But when he's cold, he becomes a zombie, drifting around the court with a forlorn look and heavy arms. "Who you jiving?" Boyd scolded in an early game, benching Scott for about 10 seconds. "Come on, Frog, stop pouting." As Scott trudged back on the court, Boyd turned to his bench. "I can't let him alone," he said. "I want to leave him alone, but I can't." He stared down the bench. "Should I leave him alone?" Several players nodded. Boyd shrugged and sat down. A minute later, Scott had buried two improbable long shots, taken a charge, stolen two passes, and was bouncing up and down the court like a kid on Christmas morning.
"I don't think boys have to be dogged to perform," Boyd says. Of course, drill-sergeant tactics are pointless at Paul Quinn; Boyd's players give him gifts on Father's Day, and his prize possession is a trophy engraved FROM YOUR SONS.
The roots of Paul Quinn's familial feeling go deeper than a couple of years of college coaching. Most of Boyd's team played for or against him in Houston's junior high schools, and even Athletic Director Joe Fonteneaux pitched for him in Pony League baseball, jouncing around with Boyd in an old pickup with holes in the bottom.
"I'm from a funeral-home family," Boyd says, pondering his lapses from funereal dignity. "But I didn't want to be another mortician." Instead, he came out of the Army to teach sixth grade in Houston, pitting his P.E. classes against other sixth-grade teams. But he couldn't avoid moonlighting as a mortician. "When you're making $3,204 as a teacher and coach," he says, "you need the money."