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Versace raged in the papers at home, charged the stands' at Tulsa and once issued a warning about a longtime fan (who wore a swallowtail coat) at Drake: "If that undertaker comes near my huddle, he'll need a coffin for himself."
On another memorable occasion, Versace was slapped by a female coach for his abusive language. Another woman, in a lounge, was more gentle. "She walked over to the bar and said she'd always wanted to do two things," Versace remembers. "Touch my hair and let me know I was a horse's ass."
Last season Versace showed his true colors. He often dressed completely in black, got a perm clip, notified everyone it was "silver hair, not gray" and brought in "the Sheriff," David Third-kill, along with a passel of other junior college transfers to help his marvelous scorer, Mitchell Anderson, take the Braves to their first outright conference championship in 30 years.
When the stocky Versace—long a, soft c, silent e—("Dixie to my friends; Al McGuire calls me that.") and his associate coach, Tony Barone, a swarthy, squat chap who used to be a batboy for the Cubs, come swaggering and sneering into Valley arenas, it looks like The Godfather III is about to begin. Unfortunately, the 18-8 Braves haven't played up to last season and Versace's self-described "capers" have been confined to Bradley's split decisions with Tulsa.
At home Versace got into a verbal tussle with first-year Golden Hurricane Coach Nolan Richardson, who is given to doffing his jacket and flexing his considerable biceps. "No black bleeper bleeper shows his muscle and tells an Italian to go any bleeping place in his own bleeping house," says Versace. "I called Nolan a bleeper bleeping rookie." In the rematch at Tulsa, some of the students tried to emulate Versace by powdering their hair and wearing suits similar to his. It seemed that everybody but the scorekeeper was on him all night. The scorekeeper was cooling it; earlier in the season he had nearly come to blows with West Texas Coach Ken Edwards. With less than four minutes to go and his team behind by 16 points, Versace blew up at the refs and got himself heaved. "I thought I'd get shot," he said. "I wanted out real bad."
Two nights earlier Wichita State had administered an 87-65 pounding to Bradley—Carr and Levingston having combined for 38 points and 20 rebounds—and the Valley race seemed over. But suddenly the Shockers lay down and relaxed, losing two two-point games, to Tulsa and New Mexico State, and setting up last week's dramatic confrontation. A defeat at Bradley would have dropped them into a probable tie for the championship.
Smithson, however, had recruited too many horses for that, and his team had too much MTXE. This had been Smithson's slogan at Illinois State, where he won 66 games in three years and remained uninvited to the NCAA tournament. He still uses it at Wichita State. It stands for "mental toughness xtra effort," and Smithson has emblazoned it on pennants, towels, buttons and the team uniforms. He even had it copyrighted. In New York a wag saw Smithson's button and asked, "What's this idiot running for?" and in his first season at Wichita a local writer mocked Smithson's initials as "more turnovers xtra errors."
But then came the flood tide—last year's recruiting coup of Carr, the hometown phenom, and Californians Levingston and Center Ozell Jones—and Smithson was chuckling into his bushy mustache. Nonetheless, a year ago the Shockers were too young to make a move, and they finished in a three-way tie for second place, with a 17-12 overall record. But excessive youth was not the only handicap. The coach's son, Randy, slow and limited in everything but brains and guile, had too much responsibility in the backcourt. And Carr and Levingston competed against each other.
"It was all individualism to see who was the better player," says the 6'8" Levingston.
"I tried to stand out, make all the dunks, block every shot. I didn't want to share any of the limelight," says Carr, who stands an inch taller than his teammate.