Fresno State harasses opponents with an ever-shifting assortment of man-to-mans, matchup zones and straight zones. The Bulldogs always attack the ball, and they are forever sticking their hands in the passing lanes. They are forcing 18 turnovers a game and allowing an average of just 40 shots.
The man who made the Bulldogs so stingy is Grant. "We worship his words," says Scheidt, mopping his brow. After each home game, the school band plays two songs: Jesus Christ Superstar for Grant, Another One Bites the Dust for the opposition.
"I sell defense every day," says Grant. "Once you experience it, you wouldn't want to play any other way. It's like the difference between giving and taking." Perhaps the best indication of how seriously Grant takes defense can be seen before games. Instead of beginning warmups with a layup routine as other teams do, Fresno State starts with one-on-one defensive drills.
Ironically, when he coached J.C. ball from 1974-75 through 1976-77 at the College of Southern Idaho, where he won a national title and 49 straight games, Grant's teams were among the highest-scoring clubs in the country, averaging between 85 and 90 points a game. But at Fresno State, where his deliberate offense is scoring 59.8 points a game, he makes do with less gifted players than the competition has. The Bulldogs are mostly high school leftovers and recycled talent. Barmore is playing for his third team in four years. Higgins, Fresno State's leading scorer (14.5 points a game) and rebounder (6.5), weighed only 175 pounds in high school outside Chicago—even though he stood 6'7". For most of his freshman season Higgins didn't have the endurance to play an entire game. Now he weighs 200 pounds, and several NBA scouts consider him one of the top half-dozen forwards in this year's senior class.
Though the Bulldogs seem to lack the manpower needed to win consistently, last week their tenacious defense once again proved to be too much for the opposition. In Thursday night's defeat of UC-Santa Barbara, Higgins scored 17 points. But on Saturday there were grim faces all around as Fresno State prepared for Fullerton. The night before, Higgins, floor leader Tyrone Bradley and reserve Guard Omel Nieves didn't return to the team's hotel until half an hour after Grant's 11 p.m. curfew. "I'm no dictator, but a rule is a rule," said Grant. He benched the three, and they were on the sidelines leading the cheers.
Later, outside the locker room, Dan Steinhauer, a Red Wave member, was all smiles. He had obtained Higgins' autograph for his 8-year-old daughter, Marie. "I drove all the way down here just to get it," said Steinhauer. Someone asked why he simply hadn't waited until the team returned home. Steinhauer was incredulous. "Have you ever tried to get his autograph in Fresno?" he said.
Then he and the rest of the Red Wave climbed into their buses and automobiles for the five-hour trip back to raisin country, knowing they had a retort to their least favorite question: Where's Fresno? Why, in the Top 20 and moving up.