Houston's special big man on campus; getting to bottom of tarp controversy

Akeem the Dream. The name is as arresting as what Nigerian Akeem Olajuwon does best on a basketball court, which is block shots.

The University of Houston's seven-foot center has already rejected 87 shots this season. Last Saturday he swatted away 11 in just 19 minutes, as Houston handed previously undefeated Arkansas a 75-60 defeat.

On a freshman questionnaire two years ago, Akeem indicated he wanted to average nine blocks a game. Considering he'd only been playing basketball since 1979, his avowed goal seemed ludicrously far-fetched. It still is virtually unobtainable, but his 5.1 rejections per game may eventually make him the most renowned college shot blocker since Marvin (The Human Eraser) Webster.

Though not exactly a one-dimensional player, Olajuwon is still learning the game. A soccer player in Lagos, Nigeria, he switched sports at the urging of that country's American-born basketball coach. By 1980 he led his high school, Moslem Teachers College, to a national championship. He then enrolled at Houston because the school came recommended by an international coach who knows Houston mentor Guy Lewis.

Akeem sat and observed during the 1981 spring semester, then became a valuable, if unpolished, backup on the team that made last year's NCAA Final Four. Since he arrived in the United States, his weight has shot up from 190 to 240 pounds, largely due to his steak and ice cream intake. He's also learned to play power basketball, thanks to a summer spent in pick-up games against Moses Malone, then with the NBA's Houston Rockets.

Jay Goldberg, Houston's sports information director, says Akeem is still not an offensive ''force'' and would be ''eaten alive in the NBA.'' He puts the ball to the floor too often, inviting steals, and has a limited shooting repertoire (he scored 30 points against Utah, all on dunks). From the free throw line, however, he has improved his accuracy from 56 to 65 percent over the past year, an indication of his potential. The raw talent is there - quickness, speed, and exceptional timing learned as a soccer goalkeeper. It only needs more refinement before the Dream is mentioned in the same breath with the Sampsons and Ewings of the game. Moan over Miami

Ideal field conditions are generally a given in sun-baked Miami. They weren't last Sunday, however, when the the Dolphins beat the New York Jets 14-0 to move into Sunday's Super Bowl. The game was played on a rain-soaked Orange Bowl field, the condition of which infuriated Jets' Coach Walt Michaels. He was angered because no one covered the grass field despite considerable rain before the game. Without a fast track the Jets' speed was neutralized, making some wonder if the Dolphins had intentionally neglected caring for the field.

Ironically, it had been the Dolphins pointing the fingers several weeks earlier, when a patch of snow-covered field was cleared in Foxboro, Mass., so New England's John Smith could kick a game-winning field goal against Miami.

The Dolphins cried foul play then, but denied any gamesmanship was involved in their own stadium. The National Football League supposedly assumes a number of game-related responsibilities in advance of conference championships, including the condition of the field. That no tarpaulin was placed over the field surprised many, especially Jet fans familiar with the tarps used at Shea Stadium and other football/baseball parks.

The Orange Bowl doesn't have a tarpaulin, though, and no effort was made to find one. NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle has since said the league would consider covering the field in the future.

Fields such as that in Miami, however, were never designed to be covered. The Orange Bowl has something called Prescription Athletic Turf, a fast-draining surface developed by Dr. William Daniel of Purdue University. PAT fields, of which there are three in the NFL, have no crown like Shea's. Instead, they are flat so that three large suction pumps can draw water evenly into pipes running underground. Miami's field did provide fairly good footing considering how much rain had fallen, but Dr. Daniel says the draining efficiency could be improved by thinning out the mixture sitting on top of the drainage pipes.The surface was installed seven years ago, and a lot of organic material has accumulated in Florida's warm climate.

Placing any sort of tarp on a PAT field, says Dr. Daniel, can put extra stress on the grass, create a dew effect under the covering, and encourage disease.

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