What could possibly upstage the annual Kentucky- Louisville dream-scream classic? How could the ticky-tacky gibes between these ancient adversaries and their coaches be rendered so meaningless so quickly? Who in the wonderful world of basketball in the commonwealth could turn out to be so drastically uncommon as to transcend the rivalry itself—especially when the latest chapter turned out to be an old-fashioned, unforgettable 85-51 black-and-blue grassacre that the 'Cats laid on the Cards to the surprise of virtually everyone except....
Kentucky freshman Rex Chapman. Forget steroids. Chapman is college basketball's brand-new asteroid, a wondrous 6'5" planet unto himself, orbiting somewhere out there between the backboard, the three-point line and horizons of Stardust yet to unfold.
Poor Louisville, at home and already struggling pitifully (now 4-6) in defense of its national championship. The Cardinals should have been forewarned by a pair of 26-point marquee performances that Chapman dished out against Boston University and Indiana. Moreover, having recruited him heavily—it is said that Chapman, last year's Mr. Basketball in Kentucky for Apollo High in Owensboro, would have enrolled at the 'Ville had Joe B. Hall remained as coach at the state university—Louisville's Denny Crum must have been aware of the precocious kid's skills and savvy.
But this? Jerry West throwing in textbook-form three-point bombs practically without looking? (Once Chapman let loose from five-point territory.) Larry Bird half-court bounce passing and three-quarter-court hook passing on the break? Michael Jordan hotdog dunking and fake-and-pullback dribbling over and around his taller elders? Oscar Robertson absolutely controlling the contest? Not even Kentucky coach Eddie Sutton envisioned such singular domination from one so young. "I didn't think he could do it this soon," said Sutton. "He's unbelievable."
Seldom has an athlete merged a persona with a moment and created sheer magic—Joe Namath and the Super Bowl, Billie Jean King and Sex Tennis come to mind—as Chapman seems to have done with the three-point shot. (For an assessment of the three-point rule, see page 40). If he had arrived last year he would be just another fabulous phenom. This way, he's seriously approaching manger material. On Saturday in Freedom Hall the son of Wayne Chapman, an ex-ABA journeyman who is the coach at Kentucky Wesleyan, made 5 of 8 attempts from the half-moon line and, with an insouciance bordering on disdain, looked as if he wished he could fire off 80 more. And in his national TV debut, at that.
At least Chapman wasn't wearing swaddling clothes—although his allusions to the trinity could not have gone unnoticed: The rookie's game-leading 26 points was, of course, the charmed third time he had reached that career high; and not only does Chapman shoot and score threes, he wears the number 3 on his jersey.
As brilliant as Chapman could be, that's how surpassingly terrible Louisville was. The Cards shot 36.2%, their supposedly overpowering front line was outrebounded by wimpish Kentucky (41-33), and Pervis Ellison and Herbert Crook, averaging 35.7 points between them, were limited to four and six, respectively. Kentucky meanwhile played..."a perfect game? It was close enough," said the visitors' injured star forward, Winston Bennett.
Clearly, Sutton has structured his offense to take advantage of the new rule—"When a team goes zone, our perimeter people start laughing," says Kentucky's other sparkling frosh guard, Derrick Miller—and with Chapman and the chip shot, the Cats could contend for the national title. Stat to suck on: Kentucky made 11 of 17 three-pointers in the game (and only 10 of 16 free throws; figure that out), while Louisville has made only four all year. "If they play that well, there's nobody in the country they can't beat," said Crum.
That might be all Crum and Sutton will agree on in the next millennium. The Kentucky headman initiated pleasantries last week by calling the NCAA champs "the little brother," while insisting that Kentucky was "bigger than the Yankees or the Cowboys." Crum replied by suggesting that the Louisville program took a backseat to no one, and that it had done "far more than theirs [ Kentucky's] the last six years, eight years, ten years. We've been to four Final Fours to their one in the last six years [actually seven]. We've won two national championships to their none. If his program is so good, he doesn't have to talk about it.
"Maybe we never will get as big as Kentucky," Crum added, "but we haven't been on probation like they have, either."