Basketball's on-call worker; Minneapolis's misdubbed dome

Looking for a man on the move? Then pro basketball's Rod Higgins is your guy. Higgins is the NBA's resident dial-a-sub. He established a league record this year by playing on four different teams, including the Chicago Bulls, his latest NBA employers, who signed him to a 10-day contract in March, used him in five games, then waived him from the roster. If he calls any place home these days it's Florida, where he keeps returning to play for the Continental Basketball Association's Tampa Bay Thrillers. He is back with the club for a fourth time this season, trying to help the Thrillers defend their CBA title in the current best-of-seven championship series against the La Crosse (Wis.) Catbirds. In Wednesday night's opening-game victory, he scored a game-high 36 points.

Higgins, a 6 ft. 7 in. forward out of Fresno State, was a second-round draft choice of the Bulls in 1982. He appeared in all 82 Chicago games his rookie season, when he averaged 10.3 points, but saw his playing time and production decrease to the point he was cut just before the current season began. Metrodome not really a home run paradise

Minneapolis's Metrodome has often been referred to as the ``Homer Dome'' for the frequency with which baseballs sail over the fences. While perhaps once deserved, the reputation is not that accurate anymore, says Ray Miller, manager of the Minnesota Twins. He says balls haven't taken off nearly as much since air conditioning was installed a year after the Metrodome opened in 1982.

Statistics bear this out, with seven other American League parks more homer-prone than the Metrodome last year. But while fewer hits may fly over the fence than some imagine, a goodly number bounce off the lively SuperTurf and into the stands for ground-rule doubles.

By the way, the top home run havens in the majors last season were Wrigley Field, Chicago (202), Tiger Stadium, Detroit (201), Memorial Stadium, Baltimore (190), and Arlington Stadium, Texas (178). Touching other bases

During the past four years Utah State's women's gymnastics team has quietly locked up one national title after another. For the reign to continue, however, the top-ranked Utes will have to beat No. 2 Arizona State in the NCAA's championship meet, which begins today in Gainesville, Fla., and concludes Saturday. The teams split a pair of regular-season competitions, with a third match going to Utah by a half point in the regionals. The women of Arizona State are quite eager, though, to improve on their national runner-up finishes in '83 and '85. And if they do, the Sun Devils will have swept the women's and men's NCAA crowns. The men's team edged Nebraska earlier this month in a meet that would have ended in a tie except for a 3/10ths-of-a-point penalty against Nebraska. The penalty, which gave Arizona State a rather bizarre victory,was issued because Nebraska filed more than the allotted number of inquiries concerning the scoring.

Influential tennis leaders met in Florida earlier this year to discuss the sport's declining participation base and consider strategies for turning the situation around. Among the factors cited for the sport's stunted American growth were the image problems created by poorly behaved professional players, the difficulty many beginners experience in learning the game, and the need for better marketing efforts. Suggested solutions include the creation of alternative games and rules that would encourage young players, the formation of more US Tennis Association-sponsored novice tournaments, adoption of a national tennis-as-fun marketing campaign, and passage of stronger rules governing player behavior.

Golf Digest has discovered a course in Texas, at the Horseshoe Bay resort in Marble Falls, that actually charges a $5 ``walking fee'' for those who've tried to skirt a cart requirement. The club wants golfers using electric carts to speed up play.

``Think small'' must be the unofficial motto of pro basketball's Atlanta Hawks, champions of the ``little man.'' By now, most fans are familiar with the exploits of 5 ft. 7 in. guard Spud Webb, the NBA's shortest player and its reigning slam dunk champion. But what some may not have noticed is that 5 ft. 8 in. coach Mike Fratello sends Webb into games and then the Hawks' 5. ft. 8 in. TV analyst, Charlie Criss, comments upon his play. Criss, formerly an NBA guard with the Hawks and Milwaukee Bucks, once set a Continental Basketball Association single-game scoring record with 72 points.

Helmets are required equipment for all players who have come into the National Hockey League since mid-1979, and many players have begun to supplement this protection with a clear plastic face shield. Basketball players, especially those who have been poked in the eye, may be becoming more protection-conscious, too. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was once the only NBA player to wear custom goggles, but several others, including his Los Angeles Lakers teammate James Worthy, have followed suit. It's not inconceivable that some day goggles might be standard issue.

It had to be embarrassing to Kentucky basketball fans when, in this year's NCAA tournament, the University of Kentucky and Western Kentucky squared off for only the second time in history (their first matchup occurred in the 1971 tournament). It almost took an act of the legislature to push through a Kentucky-Louisville game in '83, which has led to yearly one-game showdowns between the neighbor schools. They hadn't met in the regular season since 1922.

The time is long past for putting aside arcane scheduling (primarily at UK) that would keep these three apart. Home-and-home games should be arranged for a competitive triangle on a par with North Carolina, N.C. State, and Duke.

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