LET'S GET THIS STRAIGHT: Pittsburgh is into basketball now? The Pittsburgh of Chuck Noll, Mario Lemieux and Andrew Carnegie now belongs to Demetreus (Me? Or is it De? Or Who He?) Gore? The University of Pittsburgh? Ditka to Dorsett to Marino, the football Pitt? One of the very serious alltime, no-care, stinko pits of hoop—that Pitt?
It's enough to make a traditionalist smash his VCR rather than suffer one more verse of Pitt on the Rise, a rap video in which Gore, the Panthers' 6'5" junior swingman, draped in gold neck chains, sashays around mumbling something about "Gettin' all the boards/Like he is insane/Is that board-crashin' brother/Je-Rome Lane."
Jerome (Rome) Lane, last season's surly, pouting freshman, now leads the nation in glass-sweeping with 13.1 boards per game—"I eat rebounding," says the burly (but barely) 6'6" power forward. The last men that short to lead the country in rebounding were Elgin Baylor of Seattle in 1956-57 and Alex (Boo) Ellis of Niagara in 1957-58. And talk about character development. "Rome wasn't built in a day," says Lane. "This Rome took two years."
At least. But the reconstruction period is not over. Not when Rome, make that Pitt, can look so terrible and so sublime in the same season. In December the team was blown out 93-73 at Brigham Young, after which the Panthers devoured Kansas, Arkansas and Wisconsin to win the Rainbow Classic. In January, Pitt fell apart at home against Georgetown, then won at Syracuse for the first time in 26 years.
Currently the Panthers have put together a 14-of-16-game winning surge that culminated in last week's road victories over Villanova, 58-57, and Providence, 87-81. If Pitt ever deserved to be taken seriously, it is at this very minute. The same team that has historically malingered on Big East foreign courts—7-27 since it joined the league in 1982, 2-10 last season—is now 5-0 in conference road games. Moreover, the Panthers had a 19-4 overall record and were tied with Syracuse for the Big East lead before Monday night's meeting with the Orangemen in the Pittsburgh Civic Arena. "Just about where I expected us to be," said Pitt coach Paul Evans.
On Saturday, Pitt mauled Providence on the backboards, 58-36. Lane and junior center Charles Smith had 17 rebounds apiece and combined for 45 points. In the process, Pitt slowed 16-5 Providence's own wondrous return to the limelight. The two teams may be creating a new Big East power base.
Paradoxically, Gore's 18 points and 12 boards camouflaged his own daffy day of turnovers, lane violations and spectacularly mindless midair moves that allowed the three-point-shooting, no-inside-game Friars to stay in it till the last few breaths. The fact is, if they were more solid and consistent, the Panthers would have beaten both 'Nova and Providence by at least 20 points.
It is instructive to note that this Panther team includes the same enigmas who ended their '85-86 Big East season by blatantly quitting against Georgetown (93-62) and then losing to the Hoyas again in the conference tournament when Gore misfired on a desperation 35-footer moments after a roll of pink toilet paper unfurled symbolically over the Panthers' heads.
At about the same time in a land far away, Evans was marching his Navy team to the NCAA quarterfinals, shunning the military's beloved man-to-man defense for a safer zone. "Too many deep thinkers," he would say of his boys in braid. Then Evans battened down his sailboat on Chesapeake Bay, packed up his new wife and some old ideas and headed off to bluer pastures where he could recruit "marginals," as he called them, and win a national championship.