AT LEAST ONE member of the South Alabama team that will face the University of Utah in Tucson Friday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament will not be an unknown quantity. Boobie James, a 6-foot-5 guard who is the Jaguar's first man off the bench, played for Dixie College in St. George two years ago. He was part of a nationally ranked 26-4 team that also included Craig Rydalch, Utah's key reserve guard.
James is what you'd call well-traveled. He was a high school star at Dunbar in Baltimore, Md.; went from there to UNLV as a freshman, where he started 19 games in the 1987-88 season alongside a freshman forward named Stacey Augmon.Academic problems necessitated Boobie's transfer to Dixie, where he attracted the attention of South Alabama - although not, as it turned out, another look from UNLV.
Dixie College Athletic Director Doug Allred remembers James as "really a likeable kid. Great personality."
"He flunked a chemistry class," Allred said, continuing. "So he asked the professor if he could come to his house in the summer and take a crash course and make it up. Before long he was calling the professor's kids by their first names, and eating dinner with the family. He passed the course. Nobody's surprised he's getting by, wherever he is."
ADD JAGUARS: Boobie James isn't the only junior college transfer on the South Alabama roster. Of the team's 13 players, eight are juco transfers, including four of the starting five. Two starters are first-year juco transfers.
The Jaguars' head coach, Ron Arrow, has no compunction going after junior college talent. When you learn of his roots, it's no wonder. Before he was hired by South Alabama four years ago, Arrow coached 10 years at San Jacinto Junior College in Pasadena, Texas. While at San Jacinto, Arrow's teams went 302-43, won three national titles, and once went 71 straight games without losing.
MATT WHO: One of the biggest concerns for BYU - and for the Cougars' starting center, Shawn Bradley - when the Cougars face Virginia in their opening-round NCAA game Thursday in the Huntsman Center will be Matt Blundin, a 6-foot-7, 232-pound backup center.
In his other life, Blundin is a football player for the Virginia football team. This past season he was Heisman Trophy hopeful Shawn Moore's backup, and took over when Moore had injury problems late in the season. Once described by Archie Manning as "a bigger Roman Gabriel," Blundin is projected to be the Cavs' starting quarterback this fall.
As a basketball player, he has carved a niche as a blue-collar, enforcer type.
"He leans on people," says Jerry Ratcliffe, who writes sports for The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, Va. "Virginia is a very physical basketball team, and Blundin's main role is to be physical. I'm sure they'll want him to lean on Bradley a lot."
Ratcliffe remembered an NCAA tournament game two years ago, when Virginia upset Oklahoma 86-80 in the third round. Blundin was assigned to Sooners' star Stacey King, who, prior to the game, was asked about Matt Blundin and replied, "Matt Who?" And who, after the game, said, "I know who he is now."
ADD BLUNDIN: It seems that Blundin has quite a reputation on the Virginia campus. Not only did he help the Cavs get to the NCAA Elite Eight two years ago with the win over Oklahoma, but he was the player last year, in coach Terry Holland's final season, who got a buzz haircut late in the season when the team was faltering.
He got Holland to promise to get a similar buzzcut if the Cavs won their next game. When they won, Holland got the haircut, and soon after that the haircut became a trend across the Virginia campus. By the time the basketball team got to the Sweet Sixteen of the 1989-90 NCAA tournament, most of the team and a large percentage of the student section were wearing buzzcuts.
NO UTAH BIAS: Jeff Sagarin's final regular season computer rankings for NCAA Div. I teams were released in Monday's editions of USA Today. Sagarin, a graduate of M.I.T., comes up with his rankings after shoveling truckloads of statistics into his computers.
It's obvious Sagarin didn't graduate from Utah. His pre-NCAA-Tournament rakings have the 28-3 Utes only 43rd in the country. No. 1, by a long way, is UNLV, followed by Arkansas, North Carolina, Indiana, Duke, Arizona, Kansas, Oklahoma State, Ohio State and Kentucky.
Utah's first-round foe, South Alabama, is ranked 70th. BYU is ranked 72nd and its first-round foe, Virginia, is ranked 25th.