Reuss, USD Prepare to Go to Work Against St. Mary's

Times Staff Writer

Anthony Reuss is not the type to swallow goldfish, eat light bulbs . . . or lift the coach onto his shoulders when his team wins a West Coast Athletic Conference basketball championship.

"Anthony Reuss," said University of San Diego Coach Hank Egan, "takes care of business."

But tonight's game against St. Mary's at 7:30 in the USD Sports Center is more than business as usual.

It is a rematch of last season's WCAC championship game, which USD won, 68-59, in front of an overflow crowd of 2,800 at the Sports Center. USD, which won its first conference title last season, could fall out of the race with a loss tonight.

"What I remember most was the end," Reuss said. "We'd finally won it, and everybody went berserk."

This season has not been as euphoric for the Toreros, who are 12-6 overall and tied for fifth in conference with a 1-2 record. St. Mary's is 10-8 overall and tied for third in conference at 2-1. USD will play host Saturday to the other third-place team, Santa Clara.

"This is the first time we've been home since classes started and the students have come back," Reuss said. "We've mostly been playing to an empty gym. We hope the place will be packed and it'll be crazy . . . ."

. . . Like it was last year.

That, of course, was part of the magic. But Rolls Reuss, 21, is not one to be swept away by the championship euphoria. Last year, when asked about his nickname, he said: "It typifies my game. Nothing showy. Smooth and classical, in a sense."

Egan echoed Reuss's assessment.

"What you see with Anthony is what you get. He's pretty self-contained. He leads by performance and demeanor. He's not a rah-rah guy. You don't get a show."

Instead, Reuss gives the Toreros a solid senior who leads the team by averaging 12.1 points and 6.4 rebounds per game. He fills the role of Mike Whitmarsh, who graduated last year.

"His style is different than Whitmarsh's," said Mario Coronado, Reuss's teammate and roommate, "but the things he does for the team are the same. People look to him as the leader. Whitmarsh never panicked in a pressure situation, and Anthony won't either."

The 6-foot 7-inch forward represents a link between the coaching regimes of Egan and Jim Brovelli, who left to become the University of San Francisco head coach.

"We've had a lot of changes in the ballclub," Egan said. "Players have left, and the coaching staff has changed. There have been a lot of adjustments, and we've struggled. Anthony's been our consistent thread."

Added Reuss: "I figured it would take a year for the coaches and players to get to know each other. It's a learning process."

For Reuss, that year of adjustment is all he has left of college basketball. He is finishing four years at USD, the last two as a starter.

A local kid from Christian High School, Reuss could have gone to New Mexico or Cal, but didn't see why he should. Both USD and San Diego State were after him.

"I grew up here," he said, "and my family's close. I didn't see any point in leaving. Besides, I didn't want to get too far from the beach."

However, Reuss is far from a basketball-playing beach bum. He will graduate from USD in May with a 3.5 grade-point average.

"He's got that poli sci major and an English minor," Coronado said. "You ought to try to beat him at Trivial Pursuit. Entertainment? He loves old movies. I try to get him with science and nature. It's hard to beat him, and when I do, it's cause for a big celebration."

The biggest of celebrations, however, came after last year's victory over St. Mary's. But before that, Reuss had to pay some dues. He played only 45 minutes his freshman season, then became a regular his sophomore season. He was one of a collection of "role players" who led USD to the title last year.

"I know he was disappointed, even after his sophomore year, because he hadn't played as much as he hoped," Coronado said. "He played well last year and became a key part of our team. We won and everything unfolded for him. It was a great climax for a great year."

The problem, of course, is repeating that championship.

"We can't sneak up on anyone this year," Reuss said. "Everyone wants to knock the champion off the top. I'm sure everyone we play gets a pregame talk about the champions coming in."

USD stumbled in its first WCAC game this season, losing 60-50 to Pepperdine in the Sports Center. After a 58-45 loss at Gonzaga, the Toreros beat Portland, 68-66, on a follow shot by Kiki Jackson with three seconds to play.

"We had to beat Portland," Reuss said. "An 0-3 start would have been curtains. But it was more than just that we won. We played well. Hopefully, it will snowball."

Reuss said USD's 11-4 nonconference record was deceiving.

"We started off pretty well," he said, "but hit the road and hit rock bottom. Then we played a string of easy teams. We won, but developed a false sense of confidence. We were winning without playing up to league standards."

WCAC competition shocked USD into reality.

And so again, the St. Mary's game looms significantly.

"I'd hate to say this is a do-it-now-or-never game," Reuss said, "but it's getting to that point in the season. We have to do it."

Not what one would call business as usual.

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