Early this season, one of Cal-State Fullerton's more talented players quit the team. Coach Bob Dye welcomed it.
"The young man marched to the tune of a different drummer and didn't recognize that I'm the only band leader here," Dye said.
Those Fullerton athletes who are left are mostly unheard-of players other teams didn't want. But they listen to Dye like Richie, Potsie and Ralph listen to the Fonz.
"We believe in our coach. Whatever he say, we do," said forward Kevin Heenan.
Listening to Dye has gotten the unheralded Titans all the way to today's nationally televised West Regional final, against Arkansas, of the NCAA basketball tournament.
The winner will advance to the national semifinals Thursday in St. Louis to play the winner of the Mideast Regional, either Michigan State or Kentucky.
Pooh-poohed as mere fodder for the other schools in the star-studded West Regional, the Pacific Coast Athletic Conference champions (23-8) beat then fifth-ranked New Mexico in the first round, then came from 15 points down to beat 11th-ranked San Francisco, 75-72, in the regional semifinals Thursday night.
Arkansas (30-3) upset second-ranked UCLA, 74-70, in its semifinal game.
The Razorbacks got a scare with 18 seconds to play, however, when All-America Sidney Moncrief, going up for a dunk against UCLA's David Greenwood, was slammed to the floor as Greenwood tried to block the shot.
Moncrief, who limited UCLA's Raymond Townsend to two points on 1-for-11 shooting and had 21 points and 11 rebounds himself, sustained a concussion, a badly jammed little finger on his left hand, a very sore left shoulder and a bruised back.
He was limping in pain yesterday and his status for today's game is uncertain.
"He is very, very sore and still a little dizzy, but I think he'll play," said Arkansas Coach Eddie Sutton.
The other two parts of Arkansas' dynamic trio of 6-4 stars, Marvin Delph and Ron Brewer, scored 23 and 18 points, respectively, to account for 62 of Arkansas' points against UCLA.
Fullerton was a little more balanced against USF, but still got 24 points and 12 rebounds from its 6-6 star, Greg Bunch, and 15 points from the 6-4 Heenan.
The Titans won the game on an 18-foot shot by Keith Anderson with three seconds left.
Not long ago, Anderson's best claim to fame was having played high school ball at Verbum Dei in Los Angeles with UCLA's Roy Hamilton and Greenwood.
The Titan are a unique team. They are short and skinny and play with their shirtails hanging out most of the time. They are also quick and shoot well and, as USF's James Hardy said, "they just get on your nerves, you can never get rid of them."
Bunch is as quick as any forward around the basket and Heenan, a pencil-thin forward who wears goggles to protect a bad eye, is an uncanny jump shooter from the corner.
Heenan wore No. 44 in high school because his hero was Jerry West. When he got to Fullerton as a freshman, he said the junior who had that number $15 to give it up.
Fullerton has another forward, Mike Niles, whom Dye says is the most hyper-active player he has seen. Niles, shoots 15-foot jump shots for his free throws.
"We like to think we are a patient team, but we'll run if we can," said Dye. "We aren't a great rebounding team, but we shoot pretty good. The ingredient we have that you can't teach is courage. This is a group of guys with a lot of heart. There were times in the last two games when they could have easily quit and no one would have blamed them."
Said Heenan, "there's really nothing all that different or mystifying about us. We just have a bunch of guys who like to play basketball and have fun."
"I'm sure that everyone considers them upsets that Cal-State beat New Mexico and San Francisco," Sutton said, "but that team is for real. We appreciate what they have done and how they did it because their team is a lot like ours, philosophically. They are team oriented, they love to play the game.
"They are also very quick and when you are quick, shoot well and play hard, you can beat anyone. Just like our kids, their players all know their roles and execute them, so I can see why they've had a great season."