Faulkner ready for ebb Tide NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME 3: ALABAMA VS. PENNSYLVANIA, 7:40 P.M.

March 16, 1995|By Brad Snyder | Brad Snyder,Sun Staff Writer

The Alabama media guide shows Jamal Faulkner and his three fellow seniors dressed in black tuxedos and red bow ties. But Faulkner's college career has been anything but a party. The only thing he will be celebrating is that it's almost over.

"I enjoyed college while I've been here," Faulkner said. "On life, personally, I'm ready for a change."

Faulkner is not an unrealized superstar unhappy with being the team's second-leading scorer (12.6 points). He is content with his role on his team, which begins its NCAA tournament run tonight against Pennsylvania.

"I've scored plenty of points, grabbed plenty of rebounds. I don't feel that I've been a disappointment at all," Faulkner said. "Just because you score 30 or 40 points, it doesn't mean you're a good basketball player."

He has found tranquillity in Tuscaloosa compared with his problems -- a high school recruiting scandal, commitments to three colleges and six days in jail -- over the past five years.

The troubles began his senior year at Christ the King High School, where Faulkner won the New York City and state championships with then-junior guards Derrick Phelps (North Carolina) and Khalid Reeves (Arizona). Faulkner played like a coach's dream.

"He had no problems here at Christ the King," coach Bob Oliva said. "He was more than willing to oblige the program in everything he did. He was willing to be the second-best player on the team. He let Reeves score the points."

Faulkner's teammates enjoyed his unselfishness on the court and his boastfulness off it. "He was one of the funniest guys I knew," said Phelps, who averages 15.5 points a game with the Chicago Rockers of the Continental Basketball Association. "He loves talking about himself."

The trouble began when Faulkner stopped talking and started listening, not to his mother, Connie, or his coach, but to street agents trying to recruit for Texas and Pittsburgh. Faulkner chose Pitt, failed to meet academic requirements under Proposition 48 and spent a year at a Maine prep school.

He had lost control of his recruiting situation because he had lost the guidance of his coach.

"His recruiting got out of hand because he let too many people get involved with it," Oliva said. "I said to him, 'Jamal, you don't want my help.' "

Pittsburgh eventually received two years' probation for illegally recruiting Faulkner, who after ayear of prep school decided to attend Arizona State.

Trouble followed him.

After averaging 15.4 points and being voted the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, Faulkner and three teammates pleaded guilty to charging $13,000 of unauthorized telephone calls to an Arizona assistant coach's credit card. Faulkner received two years' probation, missed a meeting with his parole officer and spent six days in jail in September 1992.

Soon after Faulkner's release, he was charged with slapping his girlfriend. The charges were dropped, but Arizona State head coach Bill Frieder, in light of numerous allegations of wrongdoing by Sun Devils athletes, kicked Faulkner out of school.

Arizona State star forward Mario Bennett was one of the players who supported Faulkner. So did Faulkner's high school coach, Oliva.

Oliva called Alabama assistant Gregg Polinsky and convinced him to give Faulkner a chance. Alabama head coach David Hobbs has not been disappointed.

"He plays the way we ask him to play in our system. I don't think that's been easy for him," Hobbs said. "I have nothing but good things to say about Jamal and what he's meant to us."

College has been a tumultuous journey for Faulkner, who makes no apologies for his troubled career and who looks forward to his wide-open future.

"I look at it like this: I made a mistake when I was a young man in college," Faulkner said. "I did some things maybe I shouldn't have done. I'm happy with who I am. I don't care what people think about my character. Everyone has made mistakes in their life, and they have to live with them and move on."

FIVE-POINTERS

Best game: Gave Arkansas its first loss at BUd Walton Arena, an 88-70 drubbing with Faulkner scoring all 16 of his points in the first half.

Worst game: 72-52 home loss to Kentucky in which only two starters scored in double figures.

Style of play: Defense-minded (held opponents to 37.5 percent shooting), the Tide likes to pound the ball inside with Faulkner, McDyess, and Caffey.

Key Stat: Shot only 64 percent from the free-throw line.

Miscellaneous: Alabama has four players who average 12 points a game -- McDyess (12.8), Faulkner (12.6), Washington (12.4) and Caffey (12.2).

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