1 North Carolina
As always, there is somebody else. Bob McAdoo leaves, Bobby Jones steps in. Jones leaves, Walter Davis steps in. Davis leaves, Mike O'Koren steps in. O'Koren leaves, Al Wood steps in. Now Wood has left, and James Worthy is stepping in. Always there is somebody else, another model on the long assembly line of superior forwards that have kept Coach Dean Smith and his Tar Heels nationally prominent and this year make them the choice for No. 1.
Worthy, a junior, will be surrounded by the other members of what Smith privately calls possibly his best starting five ever. (The four veterans are on the cover: Sam Perkins, Matt Doherty, Jimmy Black and Worthy.) Smith says this despite the loss of starters Al Wood and Guard Mike Pepper from last year's 29-8 team that lost 63-50 to Indiana in the NCAA finals.
Smith has a long list of teams that should be No. 1 instead of North Carolina, but even he hasn't tried to dampen the preseason gushing about Worthy, who last year averaged 14.2 points and led North Carolina in rebounding. "James is a great, great player," says Smith.
Worthy's strength and quickness around the basket and superior passing ability, among other things, will make Perkins, a sophomore center, even more effective. Perkins was the ACC's 1980-81 rookie of the year after scoring 14.9 points a game on 62.6% shooting. If he improves his rebounding—he averaged a respectable 7.8 last year—he could be the best center North Carolina ever produced.
The third mainstay back, senior Point Guard Black, averaged more than five assists and seven points a game in 1980-81. Add sophomore Swingman Doherty and freshman Michael Jordan, another player who can do it inside or out, and these Tar Heels could be a match for the 1975-76 starting five of future NBA players Davis, Mitch Kupchak, Tommy LaGarde, Phil Ford and John Kuester. Smith is worried, with some reason, about his depth, but Guard Buzz Peterson and Center Forward John Brownlee, both freshmen, should be ready to lend a hand by tournament time.
If anyone knows how treacherous the road to No. 1 is, it's Smith. He has been to the Final Four six times and the final game three times, but he has never finished first. This year he should.
The last time UCLA welcomed a new center with a shock of unruly hair, a pale face and a hearty hi-yo outlet pass, the Bruins went on a rampage through college basketball that included two undefeated national championship seasons. Who was that masked man? Gig Sims? Guess again. Though the Bruins' 7-foot, 235-pound freshman Stuart Gray doesn't resemble Bill Walton in much more than height and potential, opponents won't have a difficult time recognizing him. The Bruins didn't lose a player from their 20-7 crew of last winter and are now two deep at every position. By moving into the middle, Gray sends the platoon of Kenny Fields and Cliff Pruitt over to strong forward, which shifts Mike (Slew) Sanders across to small forward, where he should have been all along.
The 6'6" Sanders, a wondrous thoroughbred—Slew as in Seattle Slew—came a long way from Louisiana to become a star as a sophomore center, showing the Bruins the way to the NCAA finals. Last season, again playing out of position, Sanders led UCLA in minutes (30.1 per game), points per game (15.4), rebounds (6.6) and blocked shots (28 in the season). "If Slew isn't among the top 10 guys in the country, I don't know who is," says Assistant Coach Kevin O'Connor.