December 1, 1996
The Fogelman Arena stands were empty and yawning, with echoes bouncing off the metal bleachers from thumping basketballs and squeaking shoes. Coach Perry Clark, looking relaxed as basketball practice was getting started, glanced around and smiled.
"Playing here in the NIT last season was one of the thrills of my career," he said. It was March 20 when the Green Wave hosted the postseason NIT quarterfinal game and defeated Illinois State, 83-72, on the road to the NIT Final Four in New York and an eventual third place finish with a final victory over Alabama. That strong drive ending its 22-10 season could propel Clark's team into a strong beginning this fall.
Conference USA coaches have picked Tulane to repeat as winner of its division in Conference USA, over the University of Alabama-Birmingham, South Florida and Southern Miss. Ask Clark about the rankings and he waves off the question. "Rankings? They're like poison. If you don't swallow it, it can't hurt you." "Find a way" Perhaps tired and understandably worried, Coach Lisa Stockton shook her head. It was Nov. 11 and the night before, in an exhibition game against an all-star team from Texas, her Green Wave women's team pulled out a tough victory but sustained a difficult loss: an ankle injury to outstanding freshman guard Kelly Scanlon.
With perhaps the toughest game of the entire season in just four days--against perennial powerhouse Louisiana Tech in the pre-season Women's NIT--Stockton was still positive and determined. "Playing at a high level early is very good for our team," she said. Propped above a chalkboard in her office is the saying, "Find a way." For Stockton, that means one thing: find a way to win the conference championship. Like the Green Wave men, Stockton's team has been picked to win C-USA's "Red Division" of four teams. It was predicted to place second overall in the conference.
On the way, she hopes to compile the kind of record that will lead to a third-straight NCAA postseason tournament bid, and hopefully a better tournament seeding than in the past two years. She thinks it's all possible. "This could be, by far, the best team I've ever coached," Stockton said. In a word: leadership As he guided his team through practice, Clark said, "We have a chance to have a good season because of our senior leadership." His senior players--Jerald Honeycutt, Chris Cameron and Correy Childs--"have played a lot of basketball and been through the wars," said Clark. "They know what is expected."
A fourth senior, outstanding power forward Rayshard Allen, may be redshirted and sit out the season. Even without Allen, Clark's starting group is formidable. Honeycutt is the leader, a two-time all-conference selection and a unanimous All-Conference-USA pick among the preseason magazines. Center Lawrence "Jody" Nelson, a junior, is one of the top defensive centers in the league. The experienced Cameron at shooting guard and Childs at small forward will play important roles, in addition to Morris Jordan, a 6-foot-10-inch freshman (Clark calls him the "center of the future") from New Orleans and Sterling Davis, a freshman forward from Duncanville, Texas, also with strong potential. Still, Clark was cautious.
"We have depth, but it's young depth. They work hard, but they have a ways to go before the competition they have to meet. Every year, there's more pressure." Strictly business "The difference this year is getting the respect," Stockman said of her women's team. "Now we're doing everything we can to get national exposure." With strong depth and an excellent freshman class, her team has the potential to produce. "All we have to do is take care of business," she added. Junior center Barbara Farris is a preseason all-conference selection and Tulane is expecting her to gain All-American status.
Joining her on the starting team are seniors Mary Lowry and Mary Ann Marino, and juniors Rodnelle Hadley and Marion Williams. Lowry and Hadley's performance as guards is key as the Wave tries to replace the talent and energy of Christy Thomaskutty, who graduated. Despite her injury, Scanlon is one of a several young players with a chance to make a difference as guard. Her ankle is likely to keep her out of several games, but the Ballston Lake, N.Y., freshman was Gatorade New York Player of the Year and should definitely see playing time.
Another freshman likely to see action in the back court is Grace Daley from Ocala, Fla., a Nike and Parade All-American with a high school career average of 31 points per game, 16 rebounds, 5.2 assists and 7.1 steals. Stockton summed up the season for both the men's and women's programs: "Tulane University is just going to have a great year in basketball."
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