It was a dark and dreary night for local college basketball last night. Playing in the prime time half of the WAC tournament draw at the Huntsman Center, both BYU and the University of Utah were eliminated.
There have been years with happier endings. Not only did the Cougars and Utes have to suffer the ignominy of bowing out in front of their friends and neighbors, and not only did they both finish the season a game below .500 - the Utes at 16-17 and the Cougars at 14-15; but there was also the matter of who it wasthey lost to.Colorado State and Hawaii.
These are not schools with rich basketball traditions. They've never had to beat off blue-chip recruits with a stick. Little kids who grow up on the playgrounds don't dream at night of one day playing for the Rams or the Rainbows.
Over the decades, even when times were leaner than others, Utah and BYU could count on these two schools to not get too competitive on them; to come through with a lackluster effort.
Consider that coming into this season, BYU's all-time won-lost record against Hawaii, last night's foe, was 19-3. And Utah's all-time record against its opponent, CSU, was 70-27. In the all-time WAC composite standings, BYU ranked first coming into 1988-89, with a 62 percent winning ratio, and Utah third, at 57.7 percent. Colorado State ranked seventh, at 40.4 percent, and Hawaii eighth, at 32.4 percent.
Those were some big tables that got turned last night.
Not that the results were a surprise. Hawaii had beaten BYU in both of their regular season WAC games while CSU had beaten Utah twice as well.
But, still, in the overall picture, it was a bizarre night. Two years ago, who could have seen this coming? That was when Colorado State was finishing its customary sixth in the league and Hawaii was finishing its customary eighth, and the athletic administrations at both schools were interviewing new head coaches.
The Rams hired Boyd Grant; the Rainbows hired Riley Wallace, and the rest has been a clinic in what-goes-around-comes-around.
Both Grant and Wallace have been playing the law of averages for all they're worth. They're evening the scores. They're also, in the process, demonstrating just how quickly fortunes can turn in the college game of the '80s, with its tighter recruiting laws that limit the size of squads, and with its more stringent academic requirements.
They're proving that the rich don't have to be the ones that always get richer.
While they play with different oncourt personalities, the Rams and Rainbows - who will meet in an intriguing WAC semifinal game tonight in the Huntsman Center at 9:35 p.m. - are similar in that they both solidified so quickly under their new coaches. These aren't senior-laden teams groomed with care since their freshman days. Of CSU's eight top players, five are new to the program this year (freshmen or junior college transfers), while Hawaii has five new players among its top seven. And no less than eight first-year players on the squad.
These are teams as green as Eastern's flight crews.
Nonetheless, they have come together, as the Cougars and Utes found out, with alarming speed.
At CSU, Grant has stressed togetherness. He wants his players intermingling all the time. He told them at the start of the school year that they could live anywhere they wanted, as long as it was somewhere in Ingersoll Hall. So, all the players live within a dorm room or two of each other on campus. They eat together, live together, play together, and on Monday nights go over to the coaches' house for dinner together.
"It's made us a real close-knit team," said Lynn Tryon, a freshman and top Ram reserve. "It works out well in Ft. Collins, where there aren't a lot of other distractions."
Such is not the case in Hawaii, where the traditional alibi for woeful basketball over the years has been the seeming incongruity of an indoor sport in an outdoor world. In other words, when was the last time you saw Magnum hanging out at a Rainbows' game?
But Wallace thought that was ridiculous. And no sooner did he inherit the program than he set out to prove that he could attract real players to Honolulu. He was smart about it, too. He didn't go after cold-weather players. His hottest hunting ground was in Miami, where he found no less than three of this year's mainstay players ( Cliff Beaubrun, Terry Houston and Reggie Cross) at Miami Dade Junior College.
They were already sun-proven.
Another recruit he attracted was Troy Bowe of Bridgehampton, New York, who was originally ticketed to play for Wallace at Seminole J. C. When Wallace got the Hawaii job, he called Bowe and said, "Do you still want to play J. C. ball, or do you want to play in paradise?"
"I told him I wanted to play in paradise," said Bowe last night, after beating BYU with a game winning baseline drive.
Bowe said the 'Bows, as a team, are as tight as the Colorado State Rams, maybe tighter.
"You know how it is when you have a team where everybody's telling jokes. Nobody's geting mad, everybody's gettin' along," he said. "Well, that's us. We even get our hair cut together."
Apparently, as the Rainbows and Rams showed last night, you can go a long way that way. You can come to BYU and Utah's back yard, and still be standing when they aren't.