In an age when fewer and fewer players want to listen to their coaches and more and more see college as merely a whistle-stop on the way to the NBA, Navy's Hassan Booker and his company of Los Angeles teammates stand tall.
They picked the hard road, choosing to play at a military academy where their elite education will cost them a five-year stint in the Navy after graduation.
North Carolina junior Antawn Jamison, the player Booker will try to defend today in a first-round game at the NCAA East Regional in Hartford, probably will be in the NBA next season--and if not then, the year after.
"Probably standing bridge watch on the Mediterranean," the 6-foot-3 senior forward from University High said with a laugh. "Probably watching what these other guys do [in the NBA.] It's the life I choose to live. I'll be protecting you guys, something more important. You won't have to worry if I sprained my ankle or I'm getting $5 million."
Booker is one of five L.A. players on the underdog Navy team--no 16th-seeded team has ever knocked off a No. 1--and he was one of the first to prime a cross-country pipeline that started with Brentwood's Michael Green, last year's Navy captain.
Skip Victor, a junior guard whose steal and layup late in the Patriot League tournament final got Navy into the NCAA tournament, played at Cerritos High. Known for his defense, Victor plays up that role, superstitiously carrying five locks with him to the bench, where he holds them when he isn't in the game.
Inglewood's Terrell Hickmon, who played at St. Bernard, comes off the bench as a senior. Freshman forward Robert Reeder from Pasadena Poly is a reserve and freshman guard Reggie Skipworth played at Artesia High before moving to Tennessee.
Booker, the adopted son of a police officer, said adjusting to life at the Naval Academy wasn't so hard.
"Growing up in my household, it was the same thing," he said.
"It's the same for me too," he said. "Just someone different yelling at me than my mother."
Assistant coach Doug Wojcik is the one responsible for the L.A. influx, with the help of Roger Millstein, an AAU coach.
"He was the one guy among all the AAU coaches who brought transcripts, and at the Naval Academy we need to be aware of what kind of students players are," Wojcik said.
"It's interesting. You wouldn't think we'd be able to get kids to come out from the West Coast. But I think having the naval base in San Diego and the Marines up and down the coast, you can say that in four or five years, you could be stationed in San Diego and have a good job. Yes, you'll be in uniform, but at 5 o'clock you can go have your own life.
"What's interesting is a lot of kids' parents want their kids out of L.A. Skip Victor's mom raised him as a single parent and was always very disciplined and wanted to see he would grow up."
Booker considered UC Davis, Cal State Northridge and Cal State Dominguez Hills, but Wojcik's Navy pitch took him by surprise.
"I didn't know much about it. At first, I thought they were recruiting us for the military," he said.
He decided the education he was being offered was too much to pass up. And discipline has its benefits.
"Dean Smith at North Carolina, Coach [Mike] Krzyzewski at Duke, Bob Knight at Indiana, he's won for 20 or 30 years, being disciplined," Booker said. "That still works."
STATE OF THE ART
By one measure, the nation's basketball capital isn't North Carolina's Tobacco Road, but the state of Michigan, which placed five teams in the NCAA tournament: Michigan, Michigan State, Eastern Michigan, Western Michigan and Detroit.
North Carolina has four (North Carolina, Duke, North Carolina Charlotte and Davidson.) So do South Carolina (Clemson, South Carolina, South Carolina State and the College of Charleston) and Indiana (Purdue, Indiana, Valparaiso and Butler.)
KNIGHT DOESN'T MAKE RIGHT
So Bob Knight says he will personally pay the Big Ten Conference's $10,000 fine for berating official Ted Valentine after his three-technical ejection last month against Ohio State.
That's a half-decent gesture, given that the citizens of Indiana shouldn't pay the fine the university would have been willing to.
But the problem is the Big Ten's written policy allowing coaches a choice between a fine and a suspension.
That means that a guy like former Indiana football coach Bill Mallory, who was about to be fired, sat on the sidelines when he was given the same ultimatum in 1991, and a repeat offender like Knight knows he can simply pay up.
As Knight said at the Big Ten tournament, there was no doubt in his mind he would be on the sidelines.
"I know the rules," he said. "I said then it was not possible I wouldn't be coaching."
In addition, while leagues usually back game officials too far--let's face it, they make errors, and coaches ought to be able to voice their opinions without being fined--the Big Ten went too far in censuring Valentine.
Obviously, Valentine's personal feelings and history with Knight are an issue, and he seemed to leap to conclusions when he called the second and the preposterous third technical after Knight already had been ejected.
But by dropping Valentine--a good enough referee to have worked the Final Four--from the Big Ten tournament and banning him from Big Ten nonconference games early next season, the Big Ten allowed Knight to intimidate every referee who works his games.
Valentine's punishment--if required at all--should have been the equivalent of Knight's: a choice between a one-game suspension and a fine commensurate with his pay.
When Navy reserve center Sitapha Savane and North Carolina center Makhtar Ndiaye start leaning and shoving during today's game, anyone watching from Dakar, Senegal, will find it particularly interesting.
Savane's father, Landing Savane, is a leader of the government opposition and has been a frequent presidential candidate. Ndiaye's father is a Senegalese diplomat in Paris. And yet the two players say they and their families are friends.
"The way things are in Senegal is very complicated," said Savane, whose father is the leader of PADS, the African Party for Democracy and Socialism.
"A lot of people on the other side are very good families. Maybe their political convictions are not as strong as my dad's. I don't look at them as being bad just because they're on the other side."
Still, it has not always been a pleasant situation. In 1993, Savane said, his father was arrested at their home and held for two or three months. Savane remembers the situation calmly, and that he was most concerned about the events upsetting his mother, Marie-Angelique Savane, who is also active in politics as a feminist leader and is now a mid-level United Nations official.
"We had to jump into the car right away and figure out where they were taking him," Savane said. "If you don't, you won't know where they are for days or weeks, and they could do something physical to him before there is international pressure. A lot of things could happen."
Though Senegal is a democracy, President Abdou Diouf has been in power since 1982.
"That tells you something about the kind of democracy it is," Savane said. "I'm definitely interested in getting into politics later in life, and possibly running for president at some point in my life.
"My dad took the time to explain it to me. He could get a job and join the government and we could live a very comfortable life and have money.
"If he doesn't succeed in his lifetime, I don't want it to be a waste, after all the sacrifices he made."
On the inside cover of Princeton's postseason media guide is a letter to the media from Sean Gregory, a senior guard who works for the Daily Princetonian and is the nephew of Jim O'Connell, the national college basketball writer for the Associated Press.
"Believe me. We, too, are surprised," it begins as he tries to explain the Princeton season.
"No one knows for sure," he writes. "But here may be at least a partial explanation: We have not taken this season one game at a time, or one practice at a time for that matter. This team has been trained to live and die with each possession, whether it be at Madison Square Garden over the holidays or in the auxiliary court at Jadwin Gym on some Tuesday afternoon. A bad pass is unacceptable. There's no secret of making it more accurate. Just get the guy the ball. . . .
"No matter how many games we have won, no matter how convincingly we have beaten some opponents, we need this concentration on perfection because while we are still shaking our heads wondering how the North Carolina game got away, we also know that we came pretty close to hearing them say after the selection came up that 'one of their two losses was to the College of New Jersey in perhaps the biggest upset. . . .'
"So, we realize that this note can either find itself in a trash can in a matter of hours or in your briefcase until the nets fall down in the Alamodome."
There are one or two typos, but he's a fine writer, so we'll let it go. Besides, you get an editor in the pros.