The entire front line and the playmaker from the squad that won the Metro 7 last season are back. At the center of it all is Dale Solomon, who led the Gobbler-Hokie scorers with 17.8 points a game, made the all-league first team and earned the MVP award at the Metro 7 tournament despite missing the first game because of the death of his grandmother. And he was only a freshman. How's that for enlightened outgrowth?
Solomon will be joined up front by Wayne Robinson, Tech's top rebounder, second-best scorer and a sort of collegiate Willie Stargell in the leadership department. The other forward will be Les Henson, who led the team in steals, blocked shots and dunks while scoring 12.5 points a game. Getting them the ball will be Guard Dexter Reid, whose nickname, "Fat Daddy," belies his quickness. Reid was good for 123 assists.
Coach Charlie Moir can always be counted on for two things: he won't get a technical foul—he hasn't had one since coming to VPI in 1976—and his team will run and shoot. In fact, while the school is shopping around for a new name, it might want to try Charlie Moir's Gun Club. "We've been compared to Nevada-Las Vegas—without the recruiting violations," says Moir. Even with a frantic offense, Tech managed to shoot a school-record 51% from the floor. It will be even quicker up front now that Solomon and Robinson have shed 10 and five pounds, respectively. However, it will miss Marshall Ashford, the guard who spearheaded the fast break and the full-court press for four years.
Replacing Ashford will be either Chris Scott, a steady senior who's waited on the bench for three years, or Jeff Schneider, a sophomore who was twice West Virginia's Player of the Year in high school. Schneider has already shown he can play under pressure: in a game at West Virginia last year, he scored 14 points while the fans, miffed that he had left the state, booed him every time he touched the ball.
VPI has had only one losing season in 24 years and is always deadly at home—10-1 in 1978-79. If the team can avoid the mid-season slump that hit it last year, it should have no trouble improving on its 22-9 record. There's even a chance that Robinson's dream will come true. "Ever since I was a boy. I've dreamed of making the winning shot in the NCAA tournament," he says. Who knows? Maybe the Gobblers-Hokies will be able to call themselves national champions before it's over.
The last two coaches al UCLA (University of California at Lost Allegiance) ended up in the basketball wastelands of Birmingham, Ala. and Monmouth. Ore., respectively, but that's the way it goes when one tries to cope with the ghosts of Westwood: the 10 national championships, the 13 straight Pacific 10 championships, the All-America players, the first-round pro draft choices. How would you like to coach with John Wooden still sitting at a desk just around the corner? It has been four years since the Bruins' last NCAA title, and this fall the Wizard finally moved his office out of the athletic building and into his home. "The past is gone," Larry Brown said recently as he packed up trophies, plaques and frames in the UCLA coach's office, his office. "I told our kids the pictures going up here now would be of them." Brown and Wooden are not at cross-purposes; the latter helped with recruiting, and Brown says he wants "Coach Wooden to feel a part of this and be proud of me."
But make no mistake. This will be a new era in Westwood. "The Bruins are in for culture shock," says one coach a continent away, which is how far Brown has brought his style of basketball. It's straight out of the East—high school on Long Island, college at North Carolina. Those elements in his background will be more important in how UCLA plays than his pro years with the Cougars and Nuggets. Even in the ABA and NBA Brown was always a "college" coach: zones, traps, pressure defenses, constant movement, passing games, free substitution. The first day the Bruins heard all that, Brown says, "they looked at me like I was speaking Brooklynese." Unlike his predecessors, Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham—who between them compiled a 102-17 record—Brown has not been left with a whole lot of talent. Or has he? In David Greenwood, Roy Hamilton and Brad Holland, the Bruins lost 54 points per game and, according to Brown, "75% of everything else." But in the next breath the coach says senior Kiki Vandeweghe is "Bobby Jones with offense" and freshman Darren Daye is "Doug Moe with speed." Oh, well, once a Tar Heel....
In truth, the Bruins will run their old high-post stuff often, but the team Brown has created out of the likes of veteran centers Darrell Allums and Gig Sims and forwards James Wilkes and Vandeweghe, plus a flock of rookies and former hideaways, is so quick, adaptable and versatile that it seems born to press and play the passing game. Last season Vandeweghe was the best shooter (.622) on the best shooting team (.555) in college history while forwards Cliff Pruitt and Daye were the most highly recruited high schoolers in Los Angeles. All three occasionally may move out of position—Vandeweghe or Pruitt to the pivot. Daye to guard—to make way for Forward Mike (Slew) Sanders, who sat on the bench as a freshman but who could be a sophomore star. The backcourt is inexperienced, but Tyren Naulls. who's 25 pounds lighter this year, did beat Notre Dame; Tony Anderson, another stranger who missed last season because of knee surgery, is the Bruins' best athlete; and freshmen Mike Holton and Rod Foster should be fire and lightning in relief. "Right now we lack self-esteem," says Brown. "But there is no reason we cannot be a great team." There is, uh, precedent. Not to mention pressure. The other day Wooden came by to mention, with a twinkle in his eye, that he was 38 when he started his career at UCLA. Larry Brown, who was 38 when he was hired, had a chuckle over that one.