Talk about a dramatic reversal of fortunes. In 1971 DePaul had no full-time assistant coaches, no recruiting budget, no stars culled from the talent-rich Chicago public high school league and seemingly no future in big-time college basketball. The Blue Demons were in the midst of what would become a 10-year absence from postseason play, and there were rumblings in the school's administration about a need for new, younger blood in the head coaching position. Ray Meyer was 57 then, and after practice one night he told his family, "I seriously wonder whether I can do it anymore."
Eight years later, it's DePaul's beleaguered opponents who are worrying about how much longer old man Meyer can do it, because he and the Blue Demons now have everything going their way. In a 21-day span last season, DePaul beat Marquette twice, and Notre Dame and UCLA en route to a 26-6 record and a third-place finish in the NCAA tournament. And despite the loss of two key starters, the Blue Demons should be even better in 1979-80.
The big man in the DePaul attack will again be Mark ("Don't ask me about my weight!") Aguirre, the wide-bottomed forward who led the nation's freshmen in scoring last season with 24.1 points a game. Aguirre, who tips the scales at roughly 235 pounds, was the best player in the Chicago public league his senior year in high school, and when he signed on with the Blue Demons it became fashionable for others of his ability to follow. Two of last season's best, Teddy Grubbs and Terry Cummings, will start with Aguirre to give DePaul the best young frontcourt in college basketball.
Grubbs is a finesse player who can shoot the lights out, while the 6'9" Cummings will rule the backboards against much taller opponents. The two, like Aguirre, are excellent rebounders, something that Dave Corzine and other recent DePaul standouts definitely were not. Or as one Blue Demon assistant coach—there are three such fellows these days—was heard to exclaim at a recent scrimmage: "Isn't it nice to see some hands above the rim for a change!"
Rounding out the Blue Demons' starting five will be their cool-headed floor leader, Clyde Bradshaw, a lefty, and probably Skip Dillard, a junior-college transfer who went to high school with Aguirre. So did Swingman Bernard Randolph, a freshman who scored 50 points in one game at Westinghouse High. Jim Mitchem, a senior, has already been drafted by the NBA's Golden State Warriors. He may start early in the season to take some heat off Grubbs.
Having won somebody's Coach of the Year award each of the past two seasons, the 66-year-old Meyer has no plans to retire. Meyer having been out of the limelight for so long, DePaul's revival is like a second childhood for him. "Now that I've had another taste of success," he says with typical restraint, "I like it."
University Hall in Charlottesville, built in 1965, is a strange-looking edifice loosely based on one of the many designs of Thomas (Dr. J) Jefferson, the school's founder and a great guy in a high post. Around campus the arena is fondly referred to as "the Pregnant Clam." This season the Clam will have a 7'4" pearl inside named Ralph Sampson. On May 31 Sampson finally announced that he was going to the University of Virginia, and so ended one of the most exciting chases in the history of recruiting.
Sampson may be the biggest thing—literally and figuratively—to hit Charlottesville since The Rotunda, another of Jefferson's buildings, but so far he's been given a lukewarm reception by his schoolmates. An editorial in one of the college's papers complained that in the midst of a campus housing shortage, Sampson was being given—gasp!—a room to himself. Well, if he lives up to only 3'8" of his potential, the students may be clamoring to give him a whole dorm next year. Sampson averaged 30 points and 20 rebounds a game at nearby Harrisonburg High last year and had college scouts comparing him to the young Lew Alcindor, and we all know who he grew up to be.
Sampson's adjustment to college ball will be relatively smooth because Coach Terry Holland has some other pearls to string along with him, including 6'6" junior Jeff Lamp, the All-ACC guard who led the conference, as well as the country's sophomores, in scoring last season with 22.9 points a game. "Jeff's only problem is that he's so critical of himself," says Holland. "He can be his own worst enemy. He can't accept anything less than the best from Jeff Lamp." Holland spent a good part of the off-season fretting over his two jewels. First Sampson went to Puerto Rico with the U.S. Pan-Am Games team and lost 15 pounds off his bobby-pin frame. Then Lamp caught pneumonia. Fortunately, Sampson is back up to 207, and Lamp is again driving himself crazy.