'Blue Chips' rings a Coastal Carolina bell

COLLEGE BASKETBALL

March 04, 1994|By DON MARKUS

Those who have seen "Blue Chips" usually come away thinking that Pete Bell, the coach portrayed by Nick Nolte, is really Bob Knight. In temperament and tactics, perhaps, but in terms of art imitating life, this movie smacks of Bergman. Russ Bergman.

In fact, after the Coastal Carolina coach went to see the movie with his team in Blacksburg, Va., the night before its Feb. 12 game at Radford, he called Steve Vest, sports editor of the Myrtle Beach, S.C. Sun-News, the next morning to admit to paying for plane fare home for two players.

"My crime was that I just wasn't smart enough to make something illegal legal," Bergman said.

By chance, Vest had gone to see the movie the same afternoon and had written a column drawing parallels between Bergman's 19-year career at Coastal Carolina and Bell's career. Vest's sympathetic conclusion might have inspired Bergman to call.

"At the end of the column, I threw in a line about 'What if a year from now it turned out that he was more a victim than a villain?' " said Vest, who along with his staff had been writing for six months about alleged infractions at the Big South Conference school.

While Bell had turned suddenly from a Knight clone into Jerry Tarkanian -- both of whom made appearances in the movie -- after his first losing season, Bergman's transgressions allegedly have been going on despite Coastal Carolina's continued success. The Chanticleers had gone to the NCAA tournament two of the past three years.

Aside from the NCAA violations that Bergman admitted, there are allegations of academic fraud, free hotel rooms for players and too many visits by recruits in 1992. Not quite buying a house for a player's mother, stuffing wads of cash in athletic bags or providing a recruit with a luxury automobile, but potential major infractions nonetheless.

"When you build a program that's so used to winning, you create a monster," said Bergman, who has been at the Conway, S.C., school during its evolution from NAIA to Division II to Division I the past seven years. "I can honestly say that I have not had any trouble sleeping."

Athletic director Andy Hendrick, who also serves as a municipal judge in Conway, initially ruled five players ineligible -- including star forward Mohammed Acha of Nigeria, one of the two who received plane fare home -- and later reinstated three.

But Hendrick and university president Ron Ingle announced last week that the team has been withdrawn for this week's Big South tournament, which begins today in Charleston, S.C.

Bergman was expected to resign -- or get fired -- following his team's final regular-season game, but so far has remained in the job.

Maybe Nick Nolte's interested.

Long road to Durham

After attending the 1978 Final Four championship game between Duke and Kentucky, two aspiring Division I women's coaches named Lewis Bivens and Andy Landers vowed to see a game on the Blue Devils' home court, Cameron Indoor Stadium.

But Bivens didn't get around to it, as his career took him from a high school job in Tennessee to NAIA Carson-Newman to Middle Tennessee State. Nearly three years ago, when he was paralyzed for eight months after surgery to dissolve a clot in his leg that caused several blood vessels in his spine to rupture, Bivens made a list of things he wanted to do.

After walking again and coaching again -- Bivens coached the next season in a wheelchair and last season with the help of a cane -- that left three other wishes. One was to visit a foreign country, which he did with a recruiting trip to Australia. Another was to play golf at Pebble Beach. Both were accomplished last spring.

The final wish was to see a game at Cameron, which he fulfilled last Sunday after Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski found out about Bivens' request. Bivens had a seat right behind the Temple bench and one of his favorite coaches, John Chaney, whose book he read and whose principles he tries to get his teams to follow.

"Considering that I wasn't supposed to be here, and certainly not walking, I'd say I'm pretty fortunate," said Bivens, who can walk up to two miles at a clip but still has problems with his balance.

Landers, now the coach at Georgia, is pretty upset. Bivens took his 16-year-old nephew to Cameron. He even got to meet Temple fan Bill Cosby, who sat at the press table next to the Owls bench. "I've been to five Final Fours, and nothing could compare to the atmosphere there," Bivens said yesterday.

An off-court courtship

An interesting union has taken place at Clemson, where Wayne Buckingham and Jessica Barr have announced their plans to marry later this year. Buckingham, a senior on the men's team, has the lowest scoring average of any starter in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Barr led the ACC women's players in scoring and was named ACC Player of the Year Wednesday.

"It's a match made in heaven," Buckingham said last week.

Actually, the match came about because of bad knees. Barr had been injured before transferring to Clemson from Georgia, and met Buckingham after he sustained a torn anterior cruciate ligament in the first game of the 1991-92 season.

While Barr's career has blossomed, Buckingham's never really got going due to problems with the injury and earlier ineligibility.

"We'll never know what kind of player Buck could have been," said outgoing Clemson coach Cliff Ellis.

Carlesimo to N.C. State?

With the announced resignations of Ellis and Wade Houston at Tennessee, as well as the announcements that Paul Evans at Pitt and Jim O'Brien at Dayton, among others, won't be back, speculation has started about who will fill which coaching jobs.

The rumors surrounding Les Robinson getting fired at North Carolina State are heating up again following the Wolfpack's home loss to Florida Atlantic last week. If Robinson gets fired, look for N.C. State to make a strong run at Seton Hall's P. J. Carlesimo.

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