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Two who can fill it up
Bruce Newman
February 23, 1981
Kevin Magee and Mike Ferrara have this in common: they can score by the score
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February 23, 1981

Two Who Can Fill It Up

Kevin Magee and Mike Ferrara have this in common: they can score by the score

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The two leading scorers in Division I for most of this season are as unalike as two people could possibly be, but in a very real sense only 1.1 points separate them. Kevin Magee, the No. 1 scorer at 28.7 points per game, is a muscular 6'8" center for the University of California-Irvine Anteaters; Mike Ferrara, who is averaging 27.6 points and has been the No. 2 scorer in five of the NCAA's nine weekly listings, is a 6'4" guard who plays at Colgate in the snowfields of upstate New York. Magee, who is black, comes from Gary, Ind. by way of Magnolia, Miss. Ferrara, who is white and of Italian extraction, grew up in New York City and, when he was a ninth-grader, moved to McAfee, N.J. It's peculiar that while both grew up in big cities, where basketball is the preeminent playground game, neither took to hoops until his family relocated in an isolated rural area. Says Ferrara, "I didn't really have much to do and basketball was the only thing I could practice by myself."

For all their dissimilarities, Ferrara and Magee have a great deal in common. Both have been migrant workers, so to speak—Ferrara is on his second school, Magee his fourth. And some critics consider their big point totals to be slightly tainted. Ferrara put on such a show while scoring 26 points in a 77-58 loss at Ohio State in December that Buckeye fans gave him a standing ovation when he left the game. But Ohio State Coach Eldon Miller was unconvinced. "He's not better than the people we see in our league," ho-hummed Miller. "You put a lot of those [ Big Ten] players on his team, and they'd be able to score the way he does."

Magee gets slightly less verbal abuse than Ferrara, partly because UC-Irvine plays a tougher schedule than Colgate and also because Magee was recruited by powerhouses like Marquette, Houston and Nevada-Las Vegas. As a matter of fact, Magee was recruited by a lot of schools, and by and by he enrolled at most of them. It got to be a problem. His first school was Southeast Louisiana, but that didn't last very long. "I didn't like it too good," he says, "so I quit." He spent three months working in a steel mill in Amite, La., but, he says, "then I got tired of working so I went back to school." He thought he would give Houston a whirl. "I didn't like it down there, either," he says, "so I quit."

Already a mass matriculant, Magee hit 20. That's years, not points. Where to turn? Jack Holley suggested The College of Ozarks in Clarksville, Ark. Holley is the coach at The College of Ozarks. "This guy kept calling my house," says Magee, "so my mother said, 'Go check it out.' I went and checked it out, and I didn't like it." Holley suggested that Magee call Holley's friend Bill Mulligan at Saddleback College, a J.C. in Mission Viejo, Calif. "I called Coach Mulligan," Magee says, "and he said, 'Why don't you come check it out?' So I went and checked it out. And I liked it."

Mulligan is a short, round Irishman from Chicago with blue eyes and great gray thickets for eyebrows. When he and Bob Newhart were in high school together in Chicago, everybody thought Mulligan would become the comedian. "In four years I never heard him say one funny thing," says Mulligan of New-hart. Magee liked Mulligan's unaffected style—the coach wore scuffed saddle oxfords on the bench when UCLA's stylish Larry Brown was still in Hush Puppies. In Magee's sophomore season, Saddleback was 34-1 and he averaged 29.3 points and 13.2 rebounds a game.

At Saddleback, Magee became friendly with Mulligan's son, Billy, who suffers from cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair. "When Kevin came here," says Coach Mulligan, "he didn't talk much. Getting him out of his shell was a gradual process." As sports editor of the school paper, Billy Mulligan began to hound Magee for interviews. But because Billy's cerebral palsy made normal speech nearly impossible, Magee had to work extra hard at holding up his end of the conversation. "He always wanted to do stories about me," Magee says. "At first it was kind of frightening because he'd be trying to say something and I couldn't understand. But after a while it was cool. I took him to one of our parties after a game. He drinks his beer through a straw, but he likes to party."

When Coach Mulligan accepted the UC-Irvine job at the end of last season, Magee decided to go with him. No package deal, just loyalty. In three seasons of Division I play UC-Irvine had a miserable 22-56 record. Its arena was known on campus as The Library because the Anteaters' home games were always a nice quiet place to go and study. Since Magee and Mulligan arrived, UC-Irvine is 15-7 overall and tied for second in the PCAL. Moreover, the Anteaters lead the nation in scoring, at 88.9 points per game. As the Anteaters break from a huddle during time-outs, they stack their hands one on top of another and all yell "Zot!" You know, Zot!

Magee hasn't taken a shot from more than 10 feet from the basket since the last time he transferred, which explains why he was shooting 68.7% at week's end, second in the division. (He's also one of the leading major-college rebounders, with a 13.1 average.) "He can really shoot from outside," says Mulligan, "but I'd have to be the alltime dummy to let him be popping from out there."

Mulligan is even trying to get his star pupil to show more interest in classwork. At Mulligan's behest, Magee is now rooming with Point Guard Jason Works, because Works is a devoutly religious fellow who spends his spare time studying Scripture. The coach hopes that his good Works will be an inspiration to Magee and his teammates, a group not noted for exemplary study habits. Magee, however, has already shrewdly sized up the situation and shown Mulligan the error of his ways. "You think Jason is smart because he reads the Bible," Magee told Mulligan recently. "But he's as dumb as we is."

Ferrara, a senior playing in the media vacuum that is Hamilton, N.Y., takes the business of promoting himself very seriously. When he feels a cheerful handwritten note to a sportswriter will bring him what is only his due, he finds the time to compose the letter. "We're stuck out here in the middle of nowhere," Ferrara says plaintively, "and all anybody here cares about is football and hockey. I'm supposed to be a sleeper, and so far I'm doing a pretty good job of sleeping."

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