Keep this to yourself, but the best show in Philadelphia this season isn't coach Rollie Massimino's sideline antics at Villanova or Mark Macon's superb play at Temple. The main attraction is the quiet—veerrrry quiet—assault on the record books by Lionel Simmons of La Salle. Simmons is on course to become only the second college player ever to score 3,000 points and get 1,000 rebounds in a career (Harry Kelly of Texas Southern accomplished the double in 1979-80 through '82-83), yet he doesn't get nearly as much national exposure as, say, the No. 8 man at Louisville or Oklahoma.
After Sunday's 111-91 win over American University, Simmons, a 6'6" junior forward, had 2,080 career points and 959 rebounds, and he ranked second nationally in scoring (28.1 points per game) and sixth in rebounding (11.4). If Simmons returns to La Salle for his senior season instead of entering the NBA draft—and he has promised his coach, Speedy Morris, that he will—he should easily pass Tom Gola, who led the Explorers to the 1954 NCAA title and had 2,461 career points, and Michael Brooks (2,628 points) to become the Explorers' alltime scoring champion.
Simmons, who's not especially big or quick or high-leaping, relies on a deft touch, a feel for the game and, says Morris, an ability to "make shots after going through all kinds of contortions." Simmons says his style is simple: "The game boils down to putting the ball in the basket, no matter how you do it."
Lest anyone think Simmons, who hails from Philadelphia, has put together his numbers against inferior competition—La Salle belongs to the lowly Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference—consider that at the Cotton States Classic in Atlanta he burned South Carolina, then ranked No. 16, for 38 points and 13 rebounds. Against North Carolina last season he scored 37 points, a Dean Dome record for a visiting player. After watching Simmons get 36 points and 13 rebounds on Jan. 7 against Richmond, Spider coach Dick Tarrant said, "That's a big-time player there. He's an ACC or Big East-type player."
Although nobody believes that La Salle, which was 18-4 at week's end, will duplicate what Gola and his team did 35 years ago, the Explorers may be good enough to hang in the NCAA tournament longer than they did last season, when Kansas State eliminated them in the first round. Then hoops fans everywhere may hear about this season's real Philadelphia story. "Sometimes I look at the teams that are on TV all the time, and I wonder how I would have fit in with them," says Simmons. "But I have no regrets whatsoever. I'm accomplishing what I came here for."
HIGH ON THE LOBOS
Now we know why Indiana coach Bobby Knight was so interested in the New Mexico job last spring. Despite a 73-60 loss at Texas-E1 Paso on Saturday, the young Lobos were 13-6 at week's end, led the WAC by a game over the Miners and had an excellent shot of going to the NCAA tournament in their first season under Dave Bliss, a onetime Indiana assistant who left SMU for New Mexico when Knight decided to stay put.
The last time the Lobos made the NCAAs was 1978, when they were coached by Norm Ellenberger, who's now an assistant to Don Haskins at UTEP. Considering that Ellenberger was forced to leave New Mexico a year later in the wake of a grade-fixing scandal, he must have appreciated Haskins' giving him credit for the game plan that helped the Miners avenge a 70-67 Lobo victory on Jan. 28 in Albuquerque.
Ellenberger's plan called for UTEP to concede New Mexico's strength in the paint, where 6'7" Charlie Thomas and 7'2" Luc Longley provide plenty of power on both offense and defense, and concentrate on the perimeter. The strategy was a royal success, especially for 5'10" Miner guard Prince Stewart. After having scored only seven points in the loss in Albuquerque, Stewart made 12 of 13 field goal attempts to finish with 25 points in the rematch.