At home the telephone rings in Apartment 211, McCabe Hall. As always, Terry Cummings answers with this greeting: "Praise the Lord." On the basketball court for the DePaul Blue Demons, Cummings, as always, sets up along the foul lane, holds his position steady as an oak, receives the pass and turns to shoot. Mark it down: two. In brief, the DePaul story this year is that Terry Cummings praises the Lord, and his teammates pass him the ammunition.
An ordained Pentecostal minister of the fundamentalist Church of God In Christ, Cummings has spread a new kind of gospel for 20-1 DePaul this winter in the form of dignity and serenity, not to mention points, rebounds and virtual domination of nearly all he has surveyed. The result is that his team has not merely endured the departure of All-America Mark Aguirre; it has rallied, prospered and, after two close, pulsating victories last week over St. Joseph's, 46-44 in overtime, and Marquette, 67-66, it seemed to be, why, born again as well.
"Now Terry's not perfect, understand; he's not an apostle or anything," says DePaul freshman Walter Downing, a Cummings basketball disciple. Yet Cummings has contrived to fashion about as perfect a season as anybody could want. A 22.2 points-per-game average and 11.7 rebounds. Team leadership in steals. A shooting percentage of 56.7. Moreover, Cummings is the absolute ruler of a team that would be undefeated and most certainly No. 1 were it not for an early California breakdown when the Blue Demons lost track of Cummings and lost a game to UCLA 87-75. It is his inopportune fortune that the path to glory and player-of-the-year honors for this 6'9", 223-pound forward/center Christian/gladiator should be overcast by the shadow of another Biblical (if in near name only) personage, Ralph Sampson of Virginia. For, verily, Cummings hath wrought a finer campaign.
It is one thing to be 7'4" or 7'8" or whatever the wondrous Sampson may be and to perform spectacularly on national TV while sometimes cruising in lesser games. It is quite another to work one's rear off, as well as everyone else's, oft-times playing out of natural position, and at the same time attempt to make over the attitude and image of an entire team. Sampson is the supreme college star; Cummings is both star and evangelist.
Who would have believed, for example, that cheeky, insolent DePaul, so long in the thrall of the loafing, whining pudge, Aguirre, would turn into a hustling, striving crew of joyful contributors? Who would have figured that the slothful, long-pampered Blue Demons would work diligently, respond to orders and get their act together? That they would be imbued with a sense of respect for the opponent? Who in his right mind would have imagined that Bernard (Dolph) Randolph—who is greeted at the Rosemont Horizon arena by the theme song from Flipper—would take off his woollen knit cap and Walkman earphones long enough to listen to Coach Ray Meyer at shooting practice?
If anyone honestly presumed that without Aguirre (now of the Dallas Mavericks) or the backcourt generalship of Clyde Bradshaw (briefly with Atlanta), DePaul would be once-beaten and ranked No. 2 in the SI poll and would have accomplished all this with grace and conscientiousness, let him take a bow. Overnight the distinguished Rev. Cummings. who is alone responsible for the change, has transformed the DePaul character from Fat Albert to Prince Albert. "I owe Terry a lot. He makes practice interesting and coaching fun," says Meyer. "Terry Cummings has made us a college team again."
DePaul may be an even better team than the previous two editions, which struggled to stay interested during 26-1 and 27-1 regular seasons only to flop in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Asked to evaluate Cummings' abilities vis-�-vis Aguirre's, an NBA scout said last week that as terrific a player as Aguirre was and will be—he has been out of the Maverick lineup for two months, having broken the little toe on his right foot—Cummings makes a team just as good "and a lot happier."
Only recently Cummings himself suggested to Aguirre that his older friend had wasted a year, that he should have turned pro after his sophomore season. "All the players complained because Mark was dominating the ball," Cummings says, "but he was just getting shots that were his anyway because it was so easy for him. He outgrew the game, there was no competition for him. This wasn't a coachable atmosphere. I know it was a waste of my time. I was confused about my position and my place, more depressed than anything. It's hard for me to be anything but a leader."
A leader? The face is the tip-off. Cummings is stern, elegant, proud. The high cheekbones, strong jaw and slit eyes in an expressionless countenance give him the look of some magnificent Indian warrior—Tecumseh, perhaps.
Cummings is married and the father of Robert Tyrell Cummings II; his wife, Vonnie, is a receptionist in the DePaul athletic offices. Cummings teaches a Bible class at DePaul. Some Sunday nights he preaches at the Starks Temple on Chicago's South Side. In the off-season he holds revival meetings replete with charismatic healing.