West teams coming to forefront

January 17, 1991|By Knight-Ridder News Service

PHILADELPHIA -- Arizona coach Lute Olson is no longer a voice crying out in the wilderness. He no longer has to plead the case for college hoops in the wild, wild West.

Three of the top seven teams in the nation are from the West. Olson's Wildcats are No. 6 in this week's Associated Press poll, Nevada-Las Vegas is No. 1 and UCLA is No. 7.

That trend should continue, given that region's improved coaching, increased stability of programs and the way UNLV, Arizona, UCLA, Arizona State and Southern Cal have been recruiting lately.

"The advent of cable networks and the exposure given to the Eastern schools hurt us in the mid-'80s," said Olson, whose team reached the Final Four in 1988 and won this season's Big Apple NIT. "But that has now balanced out. One thing we've proven is that if you're good enough, you'll get exposure no matter where you play.

"UNLV, UCLA, Arizona we've shown that the best kids don't have to leave the West now to play the best games and get the kind of exposure you get in the East and Big Ten."

Arizona has five network appearances this season, including Saturday's CBS game against Villanova.

And Olson has some players worth watching. At least three 6-11 junior centers Sean Rooks and Brian Williams and sophomore forward Chris Mills should be middle first-round draft picks by the time they leave. All three have their roots in Southern California.

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