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Ordinarily, a player must wait a while before he attains bumper-sticker status, but Worthy has made it before his first game. Indeed, he has done it even though he has yet to win a starting position. But that should not take too long because the 6'8" high school All-America from Gastonia, N.C. seems to have the inside scoring and rebounding skills the Tar Heels need. "Worthy has all the tools. He's ready to go," says senior Forward Mike O'Koren. "He fits in real well."
When Worthy showed up on campus he was not your typical freshman with a map in one hand and a guidebook in the other. He had already sipped water from the Old Well, heard the chimes of the Bell Tower and played on the hardwood of Carmichael Auditorium as a three-year veteran of Coach Dean Smith's summer basketball camp.
This does not mean, of course, that Worthy is exempt from chasing loose balls with the other freshmen or that he commands immediate seating at the newly opened Four Corners Restaurant. For that matter, Smith himself was turned away both the first and second times he tried, and he's the guy who invented the four corners offense.
Worthy can ease in gradually because the Tar Heels are loaded with experience. The only starter missing from last season's 23-6 team is defensive dynamo Dudley Bradley. O'Koren, an All-America, is the best player, and junior Swingman Al Wood, the leading scorer—17.8 points a game on 57% shooting—was an All-ACC first-team selection last spring. Senior Dave Colescott is on hand to run the offense, although he is being pressed in the backcourt by sophomore Jimmy Black. The center will probably be senior Rich Yonakor, who shared the position last season with Jeff Wolf and Pete Budko, who are still around, too. If that is not enough depth and talent, throw in last season's top reserve, senior John Virgil, and freshman Guard Jim Braddock. "I think we'll be very good." says Smith, who is never one to overstate his team's chances. "We're a legitimate contender for the NCAA championship."
Of course, the preseason outlook always seems bright at North Carolina. "When you're practicing, losing doesn't even cross your mind," says Wood. If the Tar Heels are genuine contenders, they will find out very early. A killer December schedule includes the Big Four tournament with Duke, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, non-conference games against Indiana and Detroit and an eight-team international tournament in London. If Carolina survives that transoceanic grind, the entire team might be worthy of a bumper sticker.
4 NOTRE DAME
The Irish have certainly had their moments during Coach Digger Phelps' eight seasons in South Bend. They've knocked off a 29-0 San Francisco team, stopped an 81-game Marquette home-court winning streak and done all sorts of mean things to UCLA. They have even made it to No. 1 a couple of times themselves. But while they've spent the better part of a decade cutting down nets, they've never won college basketball's greatest prize, an NCAA title. "It's all anybody ever asks me about anymore," says Phelps, "which is understandable, I guess, since it's the only thing we haven't won." Notre Dame seemed to have a real crack at the championship in 1975, but the NBA lured away John Shumate and Gary Brokaw just when it appeared they might team with Adrian Dantley to win it all. And ever since Shumate left, Notre Dame has been slow and mechanical in the pivot.
Things will be different this season because the center will be that notorious dunker Orlando Woolridge, a converted forward who is Willis Reed's cousin and who had better rebound like him if the Irish are to play run-and-shoot as often as Phelps would like them to. His forwards, Tracy Jackson and Kelly Tripucka, are only 6'6" but are capable of running off a string of points all by themselves. Despite what Phelps calls "a prolonged shooting slump" last February. Jackson still ended up hitting 51.5% of his tries from the field. At 230 pounds, Tripucka can maneuver for just about any kind of shot he wants. Notre Dame's starting guards. Rich Branning and Bill Hanzlik, are good at their roles: Branning's intelligence keeps the Irish under control, while Hanzlik's defensive forays wreak havoc among the opposition. Opponents will get even more confused when Stan Wilcox, a Nevada-Las Vegas-style freewheeler, comes off the bench.
Phelps has never had a regular from the state of Indiana, and none of this year's prize freshmen is a Hoosier either. Guard John Paxson, brother of Portland Trail Blazer Jim Paxson, is from Ohio; Forward Bill Varner is from Pennsylvania; and Tim Andree, another hulking Notre Dame-type center, hails from Michigan. All three were ranked among the country's top 25 high school seniors last season and. given Phelps' penchant for substitution, all three should see a fair amount of playing time. Last season Tripucka and Branning played the most, just under 28 minutes a game, while averaging 14.3 and 10.2 points, respectively.
With no superteam looming up on the horizon, Notre Dame's chances of winning the national championship are good. One key is Woolridge, who must play bigger than 6'9", which he did toward the end of last season when he scored 21 points against both Oklahoma City and La Salle and 22 against DePaul. The 6'3" Branning is up to 180 pounds, which should help his stamina. And Hanzlik should be better than ever, having improved both his offense and defense during trips to China, Argentina and Yugoslavia this past summer.