Center better by Country mile NCAA TOURNAMENT GAME 4: OKLAHOMA STATE VS. DREXEL, 10:10 P.M.

March 16, 1995|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,Sun Staff Writer

Bryant Reeves might get the last laugh on Byron Houston.

Three seasons ago, Houston was the star at Oklahoma State and Reeves was a rookie, albeit a very large man on campus. Houston, who now plays for the Seattle SuperSonics, took a look at a soft 7-footer with a flattop, learned he was from the metropolis of Gans and a legend was born: Big Country.

Give him a normal half against Drexel tonight, and Reeves will pass Houston and become Oklahoma State's all-time leading scorer in the NCAA tournament.

He has 2,256 points and 1,106 rebounds in his Cowboys career, and probably would need to carry the Cowboys to the Final Four to catch Houston's school records (2,374 and 1,190, respectively), but don't put it past him. Nobody expected Reeves to get this far.

Reeves' growth from a small-town nobody into a possible lottery pick in the city game is one of the better stories to come out of college basketball in the 1990s.

Gans, in eastern Oklahoma along the Arkansas border, numbers fewer than 400 residents. Reeves and 14 others were in the Class of 1991 at Gans High, where he played for nine coaches in four years. When Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton suggested that Reeves hone his game against city competition, he headed to the bright lights of Salisaw, a town of 10,000.

When Reeves got to Stillwater, the Oklahoma State strength coach looked at his flabby frame and asked if the boy should be wearing a bra. The first time he stepped on a jet was as a freshman, for the Preseason NIT in New York.

The Kansas fans have chanted "Jethro" every time he's played the Jayhawks in Lawrence, but by Reeves' sophomore season, there were more flattering comparisons. When Reeves was named the Big Eight Player of the Year in 1992-93, he was the first player to lead the conference in scoring, rebounding and field-goal percentage since Wilt Chamberlain did so in 1958.

"He's been a great story, not just for Oklahoma but for the nation," Sutton said. "There's not too many times you turn on ESPN when they're talking about the Big Eight and his name doesn't come up. I'm sure most of them don't know the whole story, but they know Big Country."

Reeves bought into the moniker and everything Sutton's staff told him.

He became a weight-room regular, and is a hard 292 pounds. Two summers ago, Reeves traveled with a college all-star team through Europe, but last summer, after briefly entertaining notions of leaving early for the NBA, he stayed home and worked on his physical conditioning, his left hand and his low-post moves.

Are there any negatives about Big Country?

Like Joe Smith and Texas Christian's Kurt Thomas, Reeves' name was withdrawn from consideration for the Wooden Player of the Year Award because he didn't have the necessary 2.0 grade-point average.

Reeves was lauded by the coaches, but when the Big Eight writers selected their Player of the Year, they chose another small-town hero, Oklahoma forward Ryan Minor.

Reeves wasn't even named the conference Player of the Week after his best game ever. He collected 33 points and 20 rebounds in a 10-point win at Kansas, but the Jayhawks big men got back in the regular-season finale at Lawrence, holding him scoreless for the first time in his career. He had scored in double figures in 49 straight games.

"It was very hard for me to put that game behind me," Reeves said. "I just went into Coach's office on Monday morning, and he said he would have bet a season's salary that that would never happen to me. That picked me up. My teammates picked me up."

Reeves' spirits were elevated enough for him to be named MVP at the Big Eight Conference tournament.

FIVE-POINTERS

Best game: Reeves had 33 points and 20 rebounds in a 79-69 victory over Kansas Feb. 6, when the Jayhawks were ranked No. 2.

Worst game: On Jan. 7, Rutherford was one of 10 on three-pointers in a 74-66 loss at Kansas State, which finished last in the Big Eight. The Wildcats hustled for 18 offensive rebounds.

Style of play: On Sunday, the Cowboys beat Iowa State 62-53 in the lowest-scoring championship game in Big Eight tournament history. They're hard to score against, and at the offensive end rely on the inside-outside combination of Reeves and Rutherford.

Key stat: Opponents are shooting 40.0 from the field. In the Big Eight tournament, that figure was 33.1.

Miscellaneous: The Cowboys were 13-4 against the Big Eight, but 0-2 against the Pac 10 (Arizona and Arizona State) and 0-1 against the Big East (Providence), Big Ten (Michigan State) and the Western Athletic Conference (Brigham Young).

FIVE-POINTERS

Best game: Reeves had 33 points and 20 rebounds in a 79-69 victory over Kansas Feb. 6, when the Jayhawks were ranked No. 2.

Worst game: On Jan. 7, Rutherford was one of 10 on three-pointers in a 74-66 loss at Kansas State, which finished last in the Big Eight. The Wildcats hustled for 18 offensive rebounds.

Style of play: On Sunday, the Cowboys beat Iowa State 62-53 in the lowest-scoring championship game in Big Eight tournament history. They're hard to score against, and at the offensive end rely on the inside-outside combination of Reeves and Rutherford.

Key stat: Opponents are shooting 40.0 from the field. In the Big Eight tournament, that figure was 33.1.

Miscellaneous: The Cowboys were 13-4 against the Big Eight, but 0-2 against the Pac 10 (Arizona and Arizona State) and 0-1 against the Big East (Providence), Big Ten (Michigan State) and the Western Athletic Conference (Brigham Young).

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