West not abreast in college basketball; ex-pro coaches resurface

For years UCLA focused attention on Western college basketball. Lately, however, things have been awfully quiet in that part of the country, with few schools making more than a dent on the national scene. Actually only one Western school, No. 11 Nevada-Las Vegas, is ranked in the latest wire service Top 20 polls. And since UCLA appeared in the 1980 NCAA championship game, no team from the Pacific-10 Conference, to which UCLA belongs, has gone to the Final Four. Al McGuire, retired Marquette coach and now a TV analyst, offers some interesting theories on this seeming demise.

He feels the problem stems partly from playing in the Pacific time zone, which has become an increasingly conspicuous drawback, given today's TV climate. Western games are not a good fit with the Eastern news time block; consequently, to gain national exposure Western teams must either agree to start Saturday TV games before noon or travel to some other region.

As a result, a conference like the Pac-10 has struggled, while the Big East, a TV league, has thrived. Big East games are naturals for TV, with large, built-in viewing markets and no scheduling hassles to speak of.

In McGuire's opinion, this makes it harder for Western schools to recruit outstanding players, even those in their backyard. Youngsters naturally want to play at center stage, which isn't out West right now.

McGuire also subscribes to the theory that the West is the land of surfboards and short shorts, and thus a locality where people stay indoors reluctantly. Basketball, therefore, may inherently be at odds with the region's outdoors orientation, a fact that perhaps subtly affects enthusiasm for the game.

History, however, shows that the West has produced its share of outstanding teams dating back at least as far as 1939, when Oregon won the first NCAA tournament. Before UCLA ever came into power in the 1960s, Stanford, Wyoming, Utah, San Francisco, and California had joined Oregon in capturing NCAA titles, and Seattle, led by Elgin Baylor, had finished second in 1958.

Those were the good ol' days when the NCAA field was much smaller and each section of the country had its own Final Four representative. Today, with the effort made to bring competitive balance to regional tournaments, a Western team isn't automatically ticketed into the semifinals. In fact, North Carolina State, Georgetown, and St. John's actually emerged as the last three ``Western'' champions. Coaches on rebound

Butch van Breda Kolff and Larry Costello once held top coaching jobs in the National Basketball Association, van Breda Kolff with the Los Angeles Lakers and Costello with the Milwaukee Bucks. Today, with no loss in pride, they are pursuing their livelihood at a less glamorous level, but probably enjoying it more.

Costello is in his sixth year at Utica (N.Y.) College, a smallish Division I school, while van Breda Kolff finds himself in a similar situation as the first-year coach at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. They've come a long way, it seems, from the days when van Breda Kolff's center was Wilt Chamberlain and Costello's was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

VBK's coaching odyssey actually saw him begin a coaching comeback at the high school level several years ago. These opportunities to teach fundamentals appeal to Butch, who constantly harps on the need to ``see the court,'' or view as much of the court and the people on it as possible. After one game, in which his team was guilty of tunnel vision, the Leopards' glib coach laid the blame at the feet of home televisions.

``Nowadays,'' he joked, ``a kid's peripheral vision depends on the size of the television set he has. You can either recruit the ones who have the wide-screen sets, or make sure the ones with the smaller sets can turn their heads from side to side.'' Briefly speaking

To the news media, Indiana University basketball coach Bobby Knight has often seemed unapproachable and adversarial. Knight, however, has proved more open-minded than some reporters imagined, and this year has allowed sportswriter John Feinstein to join the Hoosiers' inner circle. Feinstein has taken a leave of absence from the Washington Post to write a book about Knight, and received permission from the coach to sit in on everything from practices to half-time pep talks.

The Georgetown look is catching on around the country, with more and more players wearing T-shirts under their sleeveless jerseys. The fad was inspired by former Georgetown center Patrick Ewing, who first wore a T-shirt several years ago for added warmth and decided he liked it so much that he made it a regular part of his uniform. Many of the Hoyas followed Ewing's lead, and thus T-shirts have become such standard issue that they're sewn into Georgetown's regular jerseys.

William (the Refrigerator) Perry, the 300-pound triple threat of football (runs, passes, tackles), seems to have brought ``weight liberation'' to sports, showing folks that a little baby fat shouldn't limit true athletes. Among the those underscoring this point are three beefy college basketball players: Kevin Duckworth of Eastern Illinois (7 ft., 300 lbs.), Pan American's Junior Ray (6-9, 295), and Lamar's James Gulley (6-8, 280). Of course they were preceded in the college ranks by Auburn's pudgy Charles Barkley, now a pro with the Philadelphia 76ers, who is known as the Round Mound of Rebound.

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