UNC's Guthridge gets taste of ACC spotlight Preseason poll ranks Tar Heels just behind Duke

October 27, 1997|By Jerry Bembry | Jerry Bembry,SUN STAFF

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- Bill Guthridge appeared to be a magnet. His every movement drew a crowd of reporters as he moved from table to table. It was unlike previous years when, during Operation ACC, he could look forward to a quiet Sunday at home.

"The past 30 years," Guthridge said, "I'd be home paying some bills and maybe working in the yard a little bit."

Those quiet times are over, now that Guthridge is a head college basketball coach. And as the head man at North Carolina, where he succeeds the legendary Dean Smith, Guthridge is now the man on the hot seat with his Tar Heels considered among the top teams in the nation.

In a preseason poll conducted here yesterday, North Carolina was selected to finish second in the ACC, with 727 votes (40 for first-place). The Tar Heels' total was just three votes behind top pick Duke.

Duke's selection as the ACC's top team is the result of four returning starters (including point guard Steve Wojciechowski of Cardinal Gibbons) and the addition of four quality freshmen -- guard William Avery, center Chris Burgess, and forwards Elton Brand and Shane Battier.

"We've got good players and depth. We've had depth before, but we have a lot of youth with it this year," Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "What this team needs to do is embrace defense. If we do that, things will fall into place."

The Tar Heels, who lost to eventual NCAA champion Arizona in the semifinals of last season's Final Four, will be led by junior forward Antawn Jamison (19.1 ppg) and point guard Ed Cota (ACC rookie of the year).

Some preseason polls have rated North Carolina as the nation's top team, a lofty honor that Guthridge takes in stride.

"The predictions on this year's team were made with the idea of Dean Smith being the head coach," Guthridge said. "I cannot replace Dean Smith. I can be head coach, but no one can replace Dean Smith."

Perhaps the biggest challenge will be at Wake Forest, as it copes with the loss of Tim Duncan, last year's consensus Player of the Year. Wake's entire front court is gone, leaving this transition year in the hands of guards Tony Rutland and Jerry Braswell.

As for Maryland coach Gary Williams, he offered a bit of a shrug when asked about predictions about where his team will finish.

"I see where we were picked eighth in the conference in one magazine, and 13th in the country in another," Williams said. "We're in there somewhere. I think we can be a good team. I feel a lot better going into this year than last year."

Those were words expressed by nearly all the coaches yesterday at an Operation ACC that, without Dean Smith, had a completely different air.

"A lot of people didn't know Dean -- he had a certain aura, he didn't mix with everybody," Williams said. "But he had a legacy and he was synonymous with the ACC. For me, it was just great to be in the same league with him."

NOTE: Maryland's women's team was picked sixth in the preseason poll, collecting 81 points. North Carolina was the unanimous top pick, and had a total of 153 points.

Chris Weller beginning her 23rd season as Maryland coach, has all her starters returning.

"I guess you can say our team can be best described as experienced with all five starters returning," Weller said. "We're small in the lineup in the post position [starting center Kalisa Davis is 6 feet 2], but big around the rest of the lineup."

(ACC women's poll, Page 13C)

ACC poll

The 1997-98 Atlantic Coast Conference men's preseason basketball poll as voted on by 87 media members attending yesterday's ACC Operation Basketball. First-place votes in parentheses:

No. School .. .. .. .. .. Pts

1. Duke (45) ... .. .. .. 730

2. North Carolina (40) .. 727

3. Clemson (2) . .. .. .. 628

4. Maryland . .. .. .. .. 429

5. N.C. State .. .. .. .. 391

6. Wake Forest . .. .. .. 335

7. Florida St. . .. .. .. 324

8. Virginia . .. .. .. .. 177

9. Georgia Tech ... .. .. 174

Pub Date: 10/27/97

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