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Midnight madness has become a mania. The practice of holding the first workout of the season at the earliest moment permissible under NCAA rules—just after midnight on Oct. 15—has taken hold all over the country because it's seen as a way to drive up fan enthusiasm (i.e., ticket sales). And as with most good ideas, there's some dispute over who came up with this one first.
Kentucky has been generally credited with holding the first midnight session, in 1982. Not so, says Lefty Driesell, now coach at James Madison. He says it all began when he was at Maryland and held a midnight training run for his Terps way back in '70. The burning question is still unresolved, but there's no doubt the gimmick has caught on.
The wee-hours workouts were especially popular this fall with new head coaches looking to make a splash. Kansas's Roy Williams, aware that his predecessor had billed the Jayhawks' opening session as Late Night with Larry Brown, called his version Later...with Roy Williams. Tom Abatemarco, Drake's new coach, made his entrance in a golf cart and tossed T-shirts to the crowd. At Texas, first-year man Tom Penders induced coach Jody Conradt and her immensely more successful Lady Longhorns into joining the men's team in a midnight date. New Mexico took things a step further and actually charged admission—$2 per nonstudent—to its Lobo Howl. But at Colorado (7-21 last season), the athletic department offered free pizza slices to the first 500 spectators—and only 348 showed up.
Arizona has taken this strict adherence to the NCAA calendar to its logical limit. The fall period for contacting recruits began on Sept. 17, and Wildcats assistant coach Kevin O'Neill knew that UCLA and Stanford had scheduled visits to the home of Mitchell Butler, a Los Angeles high school star, for that first day. So O'Neill headed for Butler's house late on Sept. 16. As the clock struck midnight, he knocked on the door, was welcomed in, showed the Arizona highlight tape, chatted for 45 minutes and left. "It was neat," says Butler.
Tired of hearing about who can't play this season because of grades or Prop 48 or other academic failures? Here are some heartening tales from the high side.
At West Virginia, most practices this season will be moved from 3:30 p.m. to early evening (anywhere from 5:30 to 6:15) to accommodate guard Herbie Brooks and forward Wade Smith, both of whom got their bachelor's degrees before their eligibility ran out and are now graduate students in the business school.
At Memphis State, coach Larry Finch is making good on his promise to emphasize academics. With four players (Steve Ballard, John McLaughlin, Bret Mundt and Russell Young) earning at least a 3.0 GPA for the 1987-88 academic year, the team average improved from 1.90 in the spring of '87 to 2.25 in the spring of '88. The cumulative average of the returning players this fall is 2.85, and last year's four freshmen, including star point guard Elliot Perry, had a cumulative GPA of 3.23.
At Louisville, junior guard Craig Hawley has received only one grade lower than an A in either high school or college (it was a B in engineering in his freshman year at Louisville). He's expected to start this season—that is, until point guard Keith Williams regains his academic eligibility in the second semester.