The real Versace and Smithson, old friends from high school coaching days around Chicago, chided each other back and forth. On Wichita losing two of its previous three games and a virtual lock on the league title, Versace said, "I'm giving Gene a crate of apples to replace the ones which got stuck in his guys' throats." On Versace's use of multisyllabic words, Smithson said: "Sometimes what emits from Dick's oral cavity is nothing more than fecal material."
Addressing the coaches' appearance, league Commissioner David Price called the game "the battle of the hairdressers." But what it turned out to be was a showcase for the Shockers' brilliant corner tandem of Cliff Levingston, who controlled the boards, and Antoine Carr, who made nine of 11 shots and scored 20 points in Wichita's 70-57 going-away win. It was the visitors' 21st victory in 25 games and it halted a Bradley home-court winning streak of 30. More important, the victory gave the Shockers the MVC regular-season championship and what seems likely to be a schedule of four home games (three in the MVC playoffs, then a probable first-round bye followed by a second-round game in the NCAA tournament) en route to the Midwest Regional in New Orleans, "where we will get recognized and, ahem, established," quoth Levingston.
The Wichita-Bradley clash, along with those schools' bitter battles with revitalized, second-place Tulsa, has elicited as much nostalgia for the old days as excitement in the new. The Missouri Valley is one of the oldest conferences going, the first intercollegiate athletic organization west of the Mississippi when it was formed in 1907 by, among others, Dr. James Naismith, always a handy fellow to have around, his having invented basketball and all.
They used to call it "the valley of death, the place you went when you were on your way to somewhere else." And that is exactly where a lot of member schools have gone over the years. More than half a century ago some disgruntled state universities pulled out of the Valley. Their conference is now known as the Big Eight. Six years ago some other former members created the Metro Conference. Uncertainty, change, turmoil, ambivalence toward football; all these have contributed to the ebb and flow of tides in a league that's about as far away from real tides as a league can get. Twenty-nine different schools have been members of the Missouri Valley Conference over the years, including Oklahoma A&M and Cincinnati, both of which won back-to-back NCAA titles when they belonged.
Iowa (current leader in the Big Ten), Missouri and Kansas State (first and second in the Big Eight), Houston (a power in the Southwest Conference), Louisville (the defending national champion), Grinnell (Grinnell?)—all played in the Valley. In 36 NCAA tournaments, Valley teams have won their way to the final four 17 times.
Valley basketball fortunes declined in the '70s as other leagues began recruiting the Southern black athlete, who had been the backbone of the conference. In 1973 Memphis State reached the NCAA finals with Larry Kenon, then left the league. In 1975 Louisville made it to the final four with Junior Bridgeman and also departed. The Valley began its latest recovery three seasons ago when two strong basketball schools—Creighton and Indiana State—became eligible for conference play. With the Apke brothers (Tom coaching, Rick playing), Creighton immediately won the conference. The following season there were Larry Bird and Indiana State, and people discovered the Valley all over again.
Last season two more terrific players caused notice all by themselves. One of them was West Texas State's 5'9" transfer, Terry Adolph, who had established assist records at Portland State while feeding Freeman Williams, the two-time national scoring champion. Adolph came into his own, leading the nation in steals, according to unofficial statistics, and performing so impressively on the NIT's summer all-star tour that officials changed the eligibility rule so he could tour this year even if West Texas didn't make the tournament. Last December, after Adolph scored 25 points and added 10 assists against Nevada-Las Vegas, Rebel Coach Jerry Tarkanian called him "the best point guard in the country."
Drake's 6'6" Lewis Lloyd, who once said his goal was to be "a car mechanic," was hitting on all cylinders in 1979-80, finishing second in the country in both scoring and rebounding. Though hampered by a broken right leg early this season, Lloyd has recovered to rank fourth in scoring with a 26.1 average. He scored 37 of Drake's 59 points in regulation time—and 41 overall—against Creighton on Feb. 19, and two nights later he got 37 (while Pop Wright was popping baskets for 39 more) as Drake upset Tulsa 107-87. Secure in his talent, Lloyd once was introduced to President Jimmy Carter. "Hello," he said. "I'm Lewis Lloyd, the Magic Man."
The main reason folks don't know Adolph and Lloyd from Stiller and Meara is that the Missouri Valley operates without a conference television package. Breaking all nonappearance records, the Valley also has not once showed up on the cable sports network, ESPN, though this week's tournament will finally take care of that oversight.
Both Versace and Smithson arrived at their respective schools three years ago with controversial backgrounds and massive winning totals—not to mention quivering hair dryers—wagging behind them. Versace had been an Army brat, a college boxer, a streetwise hustler, a high school English teacher and a basketball coach at nearly all the levels. He quoted Ralph Waldo Emerson and listened to Jackie Wilson. His mother, the author Ter� Rios, sent him miniature dragons from all over the world. He called himself "the last of the pirates." His first Bradley team went 9-17.