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NCAA TOURNAMENT : Overlooked Auburn Star Seeks to Avoid Missing-Person Lists

Times Staff Writer

Chuck Person, the all-time leading scorer in the history of Auburn basketball, the big forward who almost single-handedly upset St. John’s and put Auburn into one of tonight’s West Regional games against the University of Las Vegas, sat down next to one of his teammates to answer questions at a press conference in the Houston Summit.

A TV cameraman discreetly whispered an urgent question to a reporter: “Which one is Person?”

That reporter shrugged and whispered the question to another reporter, who answered, “I think he’s the one on the right.” The answered was relayed back, and the camera focused on the right person.

And then this Person, who off the court looks no different from many other 6-foot 8-inch basketball forwards and who has the demeanor of every other OK guy you have ever met, picks up where he left off after the St. John’s upset, saying he shouldn’t always be overlooked the way he’s always overlooked.

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Hey. Get serious. You want attention, you either have to born with a name like Bart Starr or earn a nickname like Magic or go to court and adopt a name like World B. Free.

The name Chuck Person just does not conjure images of a superstar.

And yet he has done more to deserve star status than many who have had it laid at their feet.

He does have a point and he keeps stating it--calmly, matter-of-factly but emphatically.

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Person said again Thursday: “I was very disappointed that I was not named an All-American. I’m trying to have a good tournament to show that I can play with the top-caliber players.”

No one has ever really argued that.

His coach, Sonny Smith, holds back nothing in his rave reviews of the four-year starter he recruited in Brantley, Ala.

For example: “We’ve had some great players at Auburn during my tenure here, but Chuck Person is the most complete player I’ve ever coached. Chuck’s all-around ability is sometimes overlooked because people are so conscious of what he does with the basketball offensively. On poor shooting nights, he can be a valuable ballhandler, rebounder and defender.

“He always plays as hard as he can. He is a consistent performer because he gives consistent effort.”

But Person plays in the Southeastern Conference, the same league that boasts Buck Johnson of Alabama and Kenny Walker of Kentucky. Their teams had more success. They got more attention.

Even at his own school he’s an also-ran, always getting an afterthought mention in the wake of Bo Jackson, the Heisman Trophy winner.

Smith thinks that Person has handled these affronts very well. “You can’t slight him for it,” the coach said. “It might seem selfish to be so concerned with an individual goal, but it’s something that he wanted to accomplish, and he has that kind of pride. I think he deserved it, too.”

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Person has managed to lead his team with an average of 21.4 points a game, even though every team he faces keys on him. The next highest scorer on the team is guard Frank Ford, who averages just 11.1 points.

As Smith pointed out: “We don’t see much man-to-man because of Person. We’ve seen everything else.

“I think he showed a lot of character this year. I have great belief in him, and I love him like a son, but I wasn’t sure he could handle all those gimmick defenses without it blowing his mind. But he handled it.”

Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian did not reveal his defensive scheme for playing Person in the first of two games here tonight--the second will match Louisville and North Carolina. In fact, Tarkanian said: “We’re not going to stop Person, I don’t think.”

Tarkanian seemed concerned about Person not only as a rebounder--he picked off 15 against St. John’s--but also as a starter for the Tigers’ running game.

Yes, it’s true. The coach of the Runnin’ Rebels says that the tables have turned. “I know that Auburn will run,” Tarkanian said. “I’m much more concerned about their running game than they are about ours.

“We’re more of a half-court team now because that’s the kind of game that most teams in our league want to make us play. The teams that beat us this year outran us. . . . You can’t run well until you rebound, and Person does that.”

Person isn’t the only one, either. Auburn is known as a very physical team.

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Smith, meanwhile, was worrying about Las Vegas’ strength, leaping ability and quickness. He’s especially impressed with Las Vegas’ defense.

This will be the first meeting between Auburn (21-10) and Las Vegas (33-4).

Las Vegas is the only truly western team left in the NCAA tournament. Auburn is out to prove that it was rightfully included among the many eastern teams, even thought it did not dominate in its conference.

Auburn eliminated Arizona in a first-round game before the big upset of St. John’s.

Person said: “What we are doing now is proving to the critics that we do belong in the NCAA tournament.”

The winner of the Auburn-Las Vegas game will play in the West Regional final Saturday against the winner of tonight’s Louisville-North Carolina game.

Both Louisville, seeded second in this regional, and North Carolina, seeded third, have coaches who have previously won the NCAA title. Louisville’s Denny Crum won it in 1980 and North Carolina’s Dean Smith won it in 1982.

Louisville is going in with a record of 28-7 and a 13-game winning streak. North Carolina, which was rated No. 1 most of the season, has a record of 28-5 and is just returning to full strength after some key injuries.

Senior guard Steve Hale, who suffered a partly collapsed lung and missed three Atlantic Coast Conference games, is back, and forward Joe Wolf, who sprained an ankle in the Tar Heels’ opening round ACC tournament loss, also is back.

West Regional Notes Louisville has been in the NCAA tournament 9 of the last 10 years. The exception was last year, when the Cardinals lost to UCLA in the NIT. But last season, star guard Milt Wagner was redshirting with a broken foot and the Cardinals did not yet have 6-9 freshman Pervis Ellison, the Metro Conference freshman of the year. . . . Louisville Coach Denny Crum, in explaining his team’s record, pointed out that the NCAA rated his nonconference schedule No. 1 and his overall schedule second-toughest. . . . In defending his schedule, North Carolina Coach Dean Smith pointed out that his team played UCLA, Missouri and Las Vegas early in the year and said: “That was no cakewalk.” . . . Comparative scores? North Carolina beat UCLA by 37 points. Louisville beat UCLA by 19. . . . In explaining his team’s inconsistent play earlier in the season, Auburn Coach Sonny Smith said: “When I say inconsistent, some people think I mean we’ve got a bunch of dogs. That’s not true. We always play hard, physically. But some days, mentally, we’re like a lost ball in high weeds.” . . . Las Vegas’ top player is forward Anthony Jones, who averages 18.1 points a game. But Las Vegas Coach Jerry Tarkanian said that Jones probably would not have primary responsibility for defending against Chuck Person. Tarkanian said: “If we get Anthony Jones in foul trouble, then we’re in real trouble.” . . . Person ranks third on the SEC’s all-time scoring chart with 2,263 points. Pete Maravich had 3,667, and John Stroud had 2,328.


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