This is the time of year when college basketball coaches sweat. If Maryland's Lefty Driesell was disappointed when he lost to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament, he will be devasted if James Banks of Atlanta chooses North Carolina instead of Maryland when he selects a college.
If Dean Smith was upset about being embarrassed by Texas A&M in the national tourney, he'll be in shock if he can't a top-caliber center.
He is recruiting season, and this year, with the list of top-notch players a little shorter than usual, the fight for the best is more intense than ever.
"The juniors," one assistant coach said recently, "They're the guys that everyone wants. If you pick up a stud this year, just one, you've had a big year."
If there is a "stud" in this year's crop, it is 6-foot-10 Earl Jones, the Springarn center. Jones, who many feel could turn pro right now, has said that he most likely will play college ball for at least a year. UCLA, Nevada-Las Vegas and Maryland are all actively recruiting him, each aware that Jones could end up at the University of the District of Columbia -- or in the pros -- if he cannot produce a 2.0 grade-point average at Spingarn.
The behind Jones at the center spot are people like 6-11 Russell Cross of Chicago; 6-10 Sam Perkins of Latham, N.Y.; 6-10 Tim McCormick of Clarkston, Mich.; 6-10 Jim Peterson of Minnapolis, and 6-11 Joe Kleine of Slater, Mo.
Cross will not make a decision on where he will go to school unitil May, at the earliest. He is waiting to see what DePaul's Mark Arguirre does. If Arguirre turns pro -- which he says he will not -- Cross will probably attend De Paul. If Arguirre stays, Cross could end up at UCLA, Notre Dame, Indiana, Iowa or Marquette. The field is still wide open, with the April 14 national signing date less than three weeks away.
Kleine is set to go to Notre Dame, where he will be joined by Gonzaga's talented 6-4 swing man, Tom Sluby. McCormick was leaning toward Michigan before Johnny Orr's departure. Now Michigan State or North Carolina could land him. Peterson is going to Minnesota.
Perkins is Smith's best chance for a big man but UCLA, Syracuse and -- making a late move -- Maryland, are still in contention. One other top big man, 7-foot Melvin Turpin, from Fork Union Military, is going to Kentucky.
After those seven, the quality drops. Some think the best big man in the country is 6-11 Pat Ewing from Cambridge, Mass. He is only a junior.
A number of top forwards have already been snapped up. Kenny Fields of Verbum Dei of Los Angeles, a superb 6-8 center who will probably play forward in college, is going to UCLA. Matt Doherty, a 6-7 swingman from Hicksville, N.Y. is going to North Carolina and 6-9 Bret Bearup from Greenlawn, N.Y., is headed Kentucky.
Charles Sitton, 6-8 from McMinnville, Ore., perhaps the best power forward in the country, said the week that he will attend Oregon State. Glenn Mayers 6-5 and a strong inside player, committed early to Wake Forest. He attends Oakhill Academy (Mouth of Wilson, Va.). Raymond Jones, a 6-9 South Carolinian, will stay close to home Clemson.
Several forwards are still mulling their decisions, most notably Banks, Smith High School's 6-6 star. Maryland and North Carolina have engaged in a bitter battle for his services. Now in the stretch run, the race is still a tossup.
Another top player still undecided is 6-7 Baryy Spencer of Detroit, who appeared headed for Duke, then Notre Dame and now could end up at Virginia. Vern Fleming, 6-7 from New York, is undecided. North Carolina is trying to make it for a four-way battle.
Richie Mumma, the 6-9 sleeper from Bedford, Pa., will end up at Penn State or Indiana. Gary Springer, 6-7 from New York, will probably follow Jim Valvano from Iona to N.C. State. Mike LaFave, 6-7 from Indianapolis, could still end up at Duke in spite of the coaching change.
Most of the best guards have already decided. Glenn Rivers, the 6-3 wing guard from Chicago, first said he was going to De Paul, then backed out and now says he's going to Marquette. De Paul also got an early commitment from 5-11 leaper Dickie Beall of Covington, Ky. Now, however, Kentucky is trying to make a back-door move at the last moment.
The Wildcats already have a commitment from 6-4 James Master of Fort Wayne, Ind., who is thin as a rail at 170 pounds but may be the best high school shooter in the country.
The best point guard in the country may be Inglewood (Calif.) High School's Ralph Jackson. The 6-3 flash will attend UCLA. Jackson's announcement puts Coach Larry Brown one player -- Jones or Cross -- away from an ideal recruiting year.
Clarke Bynum, 6-7 from Sumter, S. C., one of the most versatile players in the country, will also stay near home at Clemson. He will be joined by 6-3 Marc Campbell from Bristol, Tenn.
Point guard Derek Harper, 6-3 from West Palm Beach, Fla., could be Norman Sloan's first top recruit at Florida, but he may opt for North Carolina or N.C. State. Georgia is not out of the picture either. Lonnie McFarlan, 6-5 from Roman Catholic in Philadelphia, is under pressure from that city's Big Five schools to stay home, even through he was a teammate of Maryland's Reggie Jackson two years ago.
These are only some of the players being avidly sought by the nation's top teams. By April 14, more names will be known and, by November, a number of players no one has ever heard of will probably be playing key roles in college basketball.