College Basketball Report
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ All dreams of undefeated seasons didn’t end last Wednesday night.
The night Duke and Oklahoma State each lost for the first time this season, Oklahoma City coach Darrel Johnson watched the games on television. His Chiefs were still unbeaten, and the defending NAIA national champions had a game the next day.
″I was afraid there was a fever in the air, so we were a bit concerned,″ Johnson said.
No problem. Top-ranked Oklahoma City beat USAO by 38 points the day after the big unbeatens fell and then beat arch-rival Oklahoma Christian 84-70 Saturday night to improve to 25-0 for the season and extend its winning streak to 41 games.
Two other men’s teams have yet to lose this season - the NAIA’s No. 2 team, Georgetown, Ky. (25-0), and the No. 2 team on the NCAA Division III level, Scranton (20-0).
Before you write off Oklahoma City as a school which could never compete on the NCAA Division I level, take a look at the roster.
Six of the Chiefs have experience at the Division I level. Two are recognizable names: Eric Manuel, who played at Kentucky until being declared ineligible by the NCAA over a discrepancy with his college entrance exam, and Smokey McCovery, the starting point guard at Oklahoma until academic problems forced him to leave the Sooners.
Some NAIA coaches have expresed their displeasure with competing against a team so heavy with former Division I players, but Johnson isn’t bothered by any of that.
″Most NAIAs have Divison I transfers,″ Johnson said. ″We didn’t design it that way, it just kind of happened to us.
″A lot of these kids recruited themselves. We recruited Eric Manuel, as did about 10 other NAIA schools, but Smokey McCovery came here from nearby Oklahoma and some of the other guys just wanted to come here. We have eight seniors, so I have to hope it happens again next year.″
It could with the focus on academics at the big institutions now starting at the presidential level. A player will always seek the highest level of competiton he is allowed to compete on.
″We get NBA scouts here and the games are on local television, so there are things to attract good players,″ said Johnson, who succeded Abe Lemons, the man who won 599 games and led Oklahoma City to seven of the school’s 11 NCAA appearances when it played on the Division I level. ″We don’t have prohblem kids. We take kids academically who need a second chance. All of our kids are quality people and I’d stack them up against anybody.″
On the court, the stacking has been easy for Johnson, who is 138-79 in seven years as a head coach, 60-3 at Oklahoma City.
The Chiefs’ average margin of victory this season has been 28 points, and only two of the wins have been by less than 10 points. The scoring is balanced, with Manuel’s 15.7 average leading six double-figure scorers.
″The one thing I was worried about with eight seniors and their expectations from another level was, ’Are they going to be unselfish and be successful as a team?‴ Johnson said. ″We worked as hard to convince them of that as anything. They play well together and are unselfish.″
McCovery leads the team with 104 assists, one more than Tony Terrell and four better than Manuel.
In addition to Manuel and McCovery, who is averaging 13.6 points, the other former Division I players are: Darrin Terry, who played at Texas A&M; Donald Williams of North Texas State; Keith Stewart of Idaho; and Dallas David of Texas-El Paso.
Stewart, the team’s ″Big Man″ at 6-foot-9, and Terry, a 6-5 leaper, are the top rebounders at 8.7 and 8.0 per game to go along with scoring marks of 13.5 and 12.3.
Johnson said the winning streak, even though it’s being made outside the national public eye, is hard on a team.
″It’s tough,″ he said. ″The pressure is there. I don’t know if the players feel it, but I do. We’ve won 41 in a row, counting last year. You figure it won’t hurt us to lose a game, but the kids and I want to keep it going. When you’re No. 1 in the nation and the defending champion, everyone is going to give you their best shot. So far we’ve answered the bell 25 straight times.
″We certainly raised expectations last year by winning it, and then continued them this year. That’s OK. We’re probably considered the favorite to win this year, but the most talent doesn’t always prevail because we certainly didn’t have the most last year.″
A statement Johnson won’t be able to make next season.