After what happened last week in Fort Worth, Odessa College forward Larry Johnson, the nation's best junior college player, probably can't wait to get to Nevada-Las Vegas next season. At least in Division I, the No. 2 team in the nation gets invited to the national tournament.
Four teams in the juco final Top 20 are from Texas, but the two regions in which they play are allowed to send only one team between them to the 16-team NJCAA tournament, which began this week in Hutchinson, Kans. That representative turned out to be fourth-ranked San Jacinto, which beat No. 2 Odessa 84-76 in a regional game in Fort Worth, mainly by holding the 6'7" Johnson to 16 points. Also eliminated in regional competition were 10th-ranked Jacksonville and 16th-ranked South Plains, the other Texas teams in the Top 20. They stayed at home while 13-14 Gogebic Community College of Ironwood, Mich., played in Hutchinson.
Johnson, who scored 32 points a game this year, will be replaced next season by 6'9" Kenny Miller, who as a freshman last season at Loyola of Chicago was the leading rebounder in Division I. After being declared academically ineligible for 1988-89, Miller turned up at Odessa, where he needs 24 credit hours to regain his eligibility.
THE PERFECT MIXER
An 89-73 blowout of Michigan in Ann Arbor on Saturday gave Illinois a 27-4 record and its most wins ever. The victory also certified a return to form by the Illini, who were 17-0 when junior guard Kendall Gill went down on Jan. 22 with a stress fracture in his left foot. Without Gill, Illinois was only 8-4, but since his return on March 8 the Illini have won two straight, to remain undefeated in games in which he played. After watching Gill score 19 points against the Wolverines. Illinois coach Lou Henson said, "He's good now, but not as good as he was. It's what he does for the other guys that's most important."
In the NCAAs, however, history, not chemistry, will be the most important subject for the Illini. They have never won a national championship, or even made the title game. They haven't been to the Final Four since 1952. And Henson, like Bill Frieder of Michigan, has been saddled with the reputation of being a terrific recruiter who can't win when it counts. In 13 NCAA tournament appearances, including six while he was at New Mexico State, Henson's only Final Four appearance came in 1970 with the Aggies.
Frieder, whose hot Wolverines were cooled off by the Illini, thinks Illinois may be good enough to overcome the past. "With the possible exception of the Indiana teams of the mid-1970s," he says, "this is the best Big Ten team I've seen in my 16 years at Michigan."