Although Phelps is a master of the pregame psych job, he isn't sure what gems he will come up with this year. But he is certain of one thing: "When you have the kind of players I do, you feel like you've got to get lucky one of these times."
At Brigham Young, where the administration keeps a careful eye out for students who indulge in such forbidden substances as tobacco and alcohol, it isn't surprising to find that the school has a computer which maintains a running tally of the transgressions of the basketball team. Known as TICOR, it is about the size of a briefcase and is operated by two students at courtside. During games Coach Frank Arnold can instantly find out who's giving up the baseline, getting faked out and not blocking out under the boards.
Unless half the squad takes off in midseason for Indochina or Central America to spread the word of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints—some 9,000 of BYU's 26,000 students have gone on such missions—TICOR shouldn't get much work reporting Cougar slipups. BYU has eight former high school All-Americas and five returning starters who scored in double figures last season, so it doesn't take a computer to figure out that the team should waltz to its second straight WAC title and improve on its 20-8 record of 1978-79.
Top cat among the Cougars is All-American Danny Ainge, quite possibly the best collegiate athlete around. After leading his team in scoring (18.4 points a game), assists (122) and steals (46) last season, the versatile guard batted .237 in 87 games as a second baseman for the Toronto Bluejays. Bringing the ball up with Ainge will be senior Scott Runia, an 11.6 scorer and a second-team all-conference selection. Center Alan Taylor, BYU's only other senior, is built like the Michelin Man at 6'10", 238 pounds, and he used his bulk to average nearly 10 rebounds and 14 points. The forwards are Fred Roberts and Devin Durrant, who scored 14.3 and 1 3.2. respectively.
The supporting cast includes three players who would start for most any other team. In Guard Steve Craig, a starter before going on a two-year LDS mission in El Salvador, the Cougars have one of the most effective sixth men anywhere. He's the team's quickest player as well as its best jumper. To make room for him, Arnold will often move Ainge to forward. Should Roberts or Durrant falter, he will be spelled by Steve Trumbo. Greg Kite, one of the nation's most sought-after high school centers last year, will be the spare behind Taylor.
According to Arnold, BYU's balanced scoring is by design. "Our two main strengths are shooting [the Cougars' 52.9 field-goal percentage last season was eighth best in the country] and unselfishness. I don't teach a shake-and-bake. one-on-one type of offense."
What Arnold does teach is a "quick-thrust offense," which means that BYU runs at every opportunity and takes the first open shot. As a result, the Cougars averaged 85 points per game last season.
What Arnold calls "a lack of final-four quickness" and a frequent inability to stop the opponent's top scorer are the Cougars' only weaknesses. Last season, for example, St. John's Reggie Carter burned the Cougars for 39 points, Texas' Tyrone Branyan for 35 and San Diego State's Ken Goetz for 38. This year's schedule doesn't include as many heavyweights, and all but one of BYU's toughest non-conference games are at home, where the Cougars were 14-0 last season. That being so, the Cougars may need TICOR just to add up all their wins.