Self fashions Oral Roberts into model fit for NCAA bid

ON COLLEGE BASKETBALL

February 21, 1997|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

After he arrived at Oral Roberts University in 1993, Bill Self worried more about survival than a revival.

Before Nevada-Las Vegas and Loyola Marymount made outrageous point totals fashionable, there was Oral Roberts in 1972, setting an NCAA scoring record of 105.1 points. Oral Roberts could do more than run and gun -- it was an overtime away from the Final Four in 1974.

A non-denominational Christian college in Tulsa founded by the evangelist broadcaster of the same name, Oral Roberts got back to the NCAAs in 1984, but then came hard times. There was a campus-wide financial crisis, an NCAA investigation into rules violations, two years as a National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics affiliate and a roster that made the Dallas Mavericks' look stable.

After seven years as an assistant to Leonard Hamilton and Eddie Sutton at Oklahoma State, Self thought he was ready to run his own program, but he didn't realize that Oral Roberts needed more than a coach.

"Being from Oklahoma, I knew the history here and was always intrigued by the potential," Self said, "but I didn't know things were so rock-bottom.

"We didn't have any stationery. There was one secretary for the athletic department. There was a time after my first year when I was the acting athletic director and compliance officer. I was responsible for selling time on my TV and radio shows. I sold season tickets. It was like coaching and recruiting were secondary jobs."

Two of Self's first eight players are walk-ons from New England who came to Tulsa not for basketball, but for the Christian education. Earl McClellan wants to follow in the footsteps of his stepfather, a pastor, and until a chance meeting with Self at a sub shop, he thought his basketball career had ended at Providence Country Day School.

McClellan became a starter midway through his freshman year, and with him at the point, the Golden Eagles have gone from 6-21 to 10-17 to 18-9 to this year's 18-5 record.

Oral Roberts is the one at-large possibility for the NCAA tournament that you never read about. In the current Ratings Percentage Index, a duplicate of the formula the NCAA uses to seed teams, the Golden Eagles are No. 52, ahead of at-large competition such as UNLV, Miami and Georgetown.

Oral Roberts beat Arkansas when the Razorbacks were ranked No. 16, and Oklahoma State was the most prominent victim during a win streak that has reached nine games. This time of the year, the problem is coming up with games, not quality wins. Oral Roberts is in its sixth and last season as an independent, and it will become the team to beat in the Mid-Continent Conference next season.

"Postseason play is what every athlete wants, and it's something we couldn't provide in the past," said Self, who at the least is expecting a bid from the NIT.

LaFrentz is LaWinner

If the season were a month longer, Kansas forward Raef La- Frentz might surpass the preseason hype around Wake Forest's Tim Duncan and get a Player of the Year Award or two.

The 6-foot-11 junior forward has scored at least 20 each time out during center Scot Pollard's eight-game absence. In Roy Williams' first eight years at Kansas, no one had ever had more than three straight games over 20. LaFrentz has been consistent and spectacular: Witness the toma- hawk dunk he had on the offensive board against Missouri Monday.

"I've seen a lot of basketball with guys who can fly around in the air," said Williams, who was a North Carolina assistant in the Michael Jordan era. "That follow dunk was about as impressive as I've ever seen." The NBA revolves around Jordan, but the road to the Final Four does not go through Chicago. Illinois-Chicago (11-13) and Loyola (11-13) hover near mediocrity, while Northwestern (7-18), Chicago State (4-21) and DePaul (3-20) are the worst teams in their conferences.

DePaul hasn't had a two-year stretch this bad since the 1920s, and Joey Meyer is five years removed from his last NCAA team. Rutgers' Bob Wenzel is another troubled coach. The Scarlet Knights could finish with their fifth straight losing record.

Add Bowling Green to the list of teams helped by sessions with Bob Rotella, the sports psychologist who made Massachusetts mentally tougher last year. The Falcons, who last played in the NCAA tournament in 1968, could be the No. 1 seed in the Mid-American Conference.

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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