AS THE BYU basketball team and its new prize recruit, the 7-foot-6 Shawn Bradley, continue with their in-state get-acquainted tour tonight in Logan - in a rematch with Utah State - an intriguing subplot is unfolding. Not only are people flocking in great numbers to get a look at BYU's statue of basketball liberty, they're also, in the bargain, getting a good look at Steve Schreiner.
Schreiner is a 6-foot-7 senior forward who used to be a center and is the lone returning starter from last year's BYU squad. He's been in the program for years, although it's possible you might not have noticed.He's spent his career being heard from but not seen. As a sophomore he tended to be overshadowed by 6-foot-10 Michael Smith, who carried the team on his back most of the season; as a junior he was part of the supporting cast behind guards Andy Toolson and Marty Haws.
He started virtually every game the past two seasons and averaged 10.9 points and 5.0 rebounds. Still, he was more famous for being the grandson of Alexander Schreiner, the late great Mormon Tabernacle Choir organist, than anything else. Even if he never played the organ in his life.
Now, here comes Schreiner's senior season and he's parked next to this seven and a half foot blue-chip recruit who was coveted by every college in America.
And what happens?
He's not being overshadowed any more.
At least that's the indication after the Cougars' first three games - against East Tennessee State, Utah State and, most recently, Weber State. In the Weber game, a 69-57 Cougar win Thursday night in Ogden, Schreiner led all scorers with 22 points on 9-of-11 shooting from the field. He also had seven rebounds, two blocked shots and two steals in 32 minutes of playing time.
Nearly 11,000 people showed up in the Dee Center to watch the game, a considerable increase over the Wildcats' 3,000-per-game average in its two previous games this season, both wins. And a considerable increase over the last time BYU came to Ogden, in Smith's senior season two years ago, when the attendance was 6,902.
They came to see Bradley of course. And it was Schreiner who gave them an eye-full.
For his part, Bradley had 14 points on 7-of-11 from the field, eight rebounds and five blocked shots against the Wildcats in just 23 minutes. He also had a pair of assists, both to Schreiner. Three games old and Bradley's freshman season is so far no disappointment. Against bona fide Div. I competition he is averaging 19.3 points, 10.7 rebounds and 5.7 blocked shots while shooting 61.8 percent from the field.
Meanwhile, Schreiner is off to his fastest start ever, averaging 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds with a field goal accuracy of 71.4 percent.
They keep this up, they might turn each other into All-Americans.
"When you get a situation with a good tall man, it creates a lot of opportunities," says BYU Coach Roger Reid. "Like Ralph Sampson did at Virginia with (Jeff) Lamp. Remember that? All of a sudden Sampson shows up and people start to notice Lamp too."
Lamp went on to All-American notice and an NBA contract.
"Shawn Bradley's an excellent passer," says Reid, continuing, "and he'll look for Schreiner. Here's a guy who was our center last year, at 6-7. Now, he's at forward and all of a sudden he's got some freedom. He can move around."
Schreiner's reaction to all this is a smile equal to the size of Bradley's wingspan.
"Last year I played center at 6-7," he says. "This year we've got a center that's 7-6. It tends to open up our offense a little."
Toss in 6-foot-8 freshman forward Kenneth Roberts, and it's obvious height is no longer BYU's problem.
Then again, experience is.
"Last year we had experience and no height," says Schreiner. "This year we've got height and no experience."
Except for him.
"Steve Schreiner's got to be our catalyst," says Reid.
"He's a great person for me to look to," says Bradley. "He's a senior, he's been there. If I'm not doing something right, he gives me, shall I say, positive criticism."
"I'm a senior," says Schreiner, "I want to go out on top. That's what this season is about for me. That's my motivation. This is it."
One thing's for sure. He's not going to do it in obscurity. Before this season's through, he could become as famous as his grandfather. He's the Schreiner who doesn't play the organ, and who's always hanging around with that tall guy.