George Papa will be the first to tell you that he lives in another world.
You wouldn’t know it at first glance though.
Watch him play basketball for Caltech and you see an extension of his personality--he works hard, moves without the ball to set up his shots and takes high-percentage shots.
Read the box scores or the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference statistics and you see that the junior leads the conference in scoring, with 20.8 points a game, and is tops in rebounds in all games with a 9.3 average.
Talk to him and you find out that he is bright, quick-witted and thoughtful in his responses. And although he is good at it, he really doesn’t care a whole lot about basketball. It’s a diversion.
“People don’t understand that Caltech is a whole different world,” Papa said. “It’s the quality of your creativity.
“I don’t think anyone here is here to play basketball.”
Papa could say that in the gym, surrounded by teammates, and it would still hold true. About half of the 60 or so who attended last Wednesday’s game were studying, and not always during timeouts.
Caltech is about academics, not athletics. That it even competes at the varsity level is a testament to the dedication of the students and staff.
“I came for the academics,” said Papa, who is majoring in physics and economics. “The coach contacted me when I got here because you put down your (high school) activities when you apply. I didn’t think I would have time (for basketball because of the academic demands).”
Caltech has not won an SCIAC game since 1985, and it had been 10 years since the previous one. The next season, the program was dropped to the junior-varsity level to avoid the floggings.
But in 1987, Gene Victor brought 676 victories and 40 years of coaching experience to Caltech. He moved the team back up to varsity status again in 1989. The Beavers, however, have not won a conference game since moving up.
“These kids are very committed,” Victor said. “No one was recruited and obviously no one is here on athletic scholarship. We lost (to Occidental) by 43 points and they kept playing hard to the end. There is tremendous academic pressure on them.
“I just try to execute the offense. All coaches want their players to execute. If they do that, then I’m content. I have no ego. I won 676 games before I came here. I don’t need any more. I want them to play as well as they can.”
Which they know is probably not enough to win.
This season, Caltech has lost its six conference games by an average of 44 points. Quite a change for Papa, who played at Westwood High in Mesa, Ariz., on a team that was almost always in the playoffs.
“Sure, it’s always discouraging to lose,” Papa said. “I know when I was a freshman, I thought it was annoying. But it was no mystery to me as soon as I saw the program. I had a lot of friends who went on to play Division I ball, so the first day I knew.
“But I think we can win one this season. Sure we can’t compete with some of the better teams, but we could win one against one of the others.”
If the Beavers do that, it will come from execution of one of the college division’s finest passing offenses. Although the offense might look as if it could be called “Come to Papa,” it actually is similar to the one used by Doug Moe and Larry Brown in the professional ranks.
“But it’s much more disciplined,” Victor said. “It’s a five-man passing game. I learned it from Duck Dowell, who used to coach at Pepperdine. I was just at another basketball camp, teaching it.”
By disciplined, Victor means slower.
“Since we don’t have the talent, we have to shorten the game, slow down and keep the score down,” Papa said. "(Victor) preaches that we need to run the offense for a while and keep passing. Unless we get an easy layup, he doesn’t want us to shoot until we run the offense for a while. The coach has never told me to shoot the ball. He’s told me not to shoot before--well not really. I just keep shooting anyway.”
But he does it within the offense, which is dependent on movement without the ball and screens to get open. Papa is adept at both and therefore has the lion’s share of Caltech’s points.
Conference play has been a struggle for Papa. He broke his tailbone in the opening game against Whittier and has found that teams are double-teaming him. So he is more dependent on screens and his shooting percentage has gone down. It has been difficult because Papa is better at creating open shots without the ball than with it.
But it doesn’t matter to Papa. If he leads the SCIAC in scoring or doesn’t, it’s OK. The double-teaming is kind of a compliment.
“I think a lot of people in the league respect me as a player,” he said. “I mean I hope they do. But people here feel that you succeed or fail by other things than basketball. I’m one of them. People should know it’s a different world here.”
College Division Notes
Azusa Pacific is the top-ranked team in the NAIA Division I top-25 national poll with its 19-2 record. It is the first time in school history that the Cougars have reached the top ranking nationally. They moved up from No. 4 last week, which had been the school’s highest previous ranking. Ronnie Winbush, with a 17.4 scoring average, leads the Cougars, who have a 7-0 record in NAIA District II games and 5-0 in Golden State Athletic Conference games.
Sophomore Leslie Ferguson of Redlands broke the school record when she had 19 rebounds in a 54-47 victory over Cal Lutheran. Redlands leads the SCIAC with a 3-0 conference record and 6-9 overall. . . . Cal Lutheran’s men’s basketball team, the only unbeaten team in SCIAC play, will be the top team in the NCAA West Regional rankings, since Pomona-Pitzer lost two league games. Pomona-Pitzer was ranked No. 8 nationally.