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MINING THE NUGGETS
"I'm not about traditional basketball. My approach is an entirely new way of playing the game," said Paul Westhead, the new coach of the Nuggets, last Friday after the Celtics humiliated Denver 173-155 in an exhibition game.
New way, indeed. Had it come in a regular-season game, Boston's colossal point total would have tied the NBA record, but for the run-till-you-drop Nuggets, who dropped to 0-4 for the preseason, it actually represented something of a defensive improvement. In the Nuggets' previous exhibition outing, they lost to the Hawks 194-166, and in their two games before that, they were embarrassed by the Suns 186-123 and the Rockets 156-126. After watching Boston shred Denver's full-court press to score 116 of its points on dunks or layups, Bob Cousy, the Celtics' Hall of Fame guard and now one of their broadcasters, called Denver's system "the worst thing I've seen in 45 years."
The Nuggets were also notorious for playing high-scoring games under Doug Moe, who was fired in September after 10 seasons as their coach, but Moe was positively Hank Iba-ish compared with Westhead. The former coach of the Lakers and the Bulls in the NBA, Westhead came to Denver from Loyola Marymount, where he taught Shakespeare while gaining a reputation as the bard of schoolyard ball with a frantic run-and-shoot style that produced some astounding point totals for both the Lions and their opponents. Westhead's style is designed to wear opponents down, but to less-than-exhausted Celtics forward Kevin McHale, the strategy seemed intended "to let you score so they can run." Westhead's approach has thus far also eluded Denver guard T.R. Dunn, a 13-year veteran and three-time member of the NBA's all-defense team, who complained, "Instinctively, in this system I find myself doing something I'm not supposed to be doing."
Westhead said he "could care less" about his critics, and contended that "the very thing we're trying to do is what can give this team an incredible sense of dignity." So far, he's more likely to soon be handing them a line from Othello: "Reputation, reputation, reputation! O! I have lost my reputation."
ALL IN THE GENES
In 1980, when Chris Warlick was a 10-year-old in Buffalo, he visited his father, Ernie, in the hospital. Ernie had been a tight end for the Buffalo Bills for four years in the early '60s, and now he was recovering from a knee replacement operation, part of his battle against football-related arthritis, which was wracking other parts of his body as well. Chris considered his father's plight and made two resolutions. One, from then on he would play soccer instead of football. Two, he would become a doctor.
The younger Warlick has since amended both of those goals. He did eschew football in favor of soccer through high school, but he eventually took up his dad's old sport. Now a senior at Washington University in St. Louis, he has excelled on the field this fall by scoring three touchdowns and making 14 catches as a whisper-thin (6'4", 175-pound) flanker for the 5-3 Battlin' Bears. This is Washington's centennial football season and Warlick's second. Because he hadn't played a down of organized football since he was 10, his decision to begin again at 20 surprised some people, including his father. "I told him, 'don't neglect your studies,' " says Ernie, today a reasonably healthy regional sales manager for a Buffalo industrial-hardware company, who likes playing catch with his son when he comes home for vacations.
"Chris has outstanding athletic ability," says Bears coach Larry Kindbom. "At our level he really stands out." That level is Division III, which makes it highly unlikely that on draft day any NFL team will be dialing Warlick's number. Then again, if one did, it probably wouldn't reach him, because he spends his spare moments in professor Helen Donis-Keller's genetics laboratory, where he is showing so much big league potential as a researcher that he has put off medical school for at least a year to continue working in the lab.
For the past 15 months, Warlick has been participating in a national project to map all the genes of the human body with markers. The goal is to identify independent DNA strands in order to help doctors treat such genetic diseases as cystic fibrosis. Last May, Warlick initiated his own study within the project, seeking to locate new markers that would assist in understanding inherited diseases on chromosome 14. His efforts were successful, and his discovery may lead to the creation of a presymptomatic test for a genetic heart ailment. Geneticists now call the markers CW1 and CW2 in Warlick's honor, a degree of recognition in the scientific community that Donis-Keller terms "absolutely unheard-of" for an undergraduate.