Only the next of kin know much about Mark Fothergill, who measures up as a big fellow in the living room but is about as little as a minute next to Ralph Sampson. Fothergill never came to mind when a college basketball all-America ballot crossed the desk, for he earned anonymity by scoring 3.1 points a game for Maryland this season. He can't jump, either: two rebounds a game.
The young fellow, a sophomore from Kentucky, now has earned a spot in everybody's memory. He beat Ralph Sampson yesterday. Not statistically, but in the W-L columns. Sampson outscored and outrebounded Fothergill, 8-4 and 5-2. When Maryland beat the nation's No. 1 team, 47-46, on Adrian Branch's last-second shot in overtime, the victory was as much built on Fothergill's defense as Branch's eternal offense.
Afterward, Fothergill insulted Sampson in a series of quotes that will ensure his fame in Charlottesville, throwing around words such as "talking trash" and "that's bush league" and, yes, he doesn't like Virginia. We'll also hear from Sampson, who stayed out of the argument except to say he believes Maryland's "whole team is crazy."
Right now, though, give Lefty Driesell a nod. The guy is Einstein without hair. Call him the alchemist, for on this day he touched lead and made it gold. Somewhere there is a sow without her ear, and somewhere Mrs. Driesell carries a silk purse.
Lefty has one offensive player, and he put Branch in the necessary places to get 29 points.
But how, oh how, would Maryland play defense against Sampson? It helps that Virginia never has bothered to find a consistent way to get Sampson the ball down low. Still, Sampson is an offensive wonder, a 7-foot-4 acrobat who could score a hundred if anybody wanted him to. Against such a marvel, who does poor Maryland send out to do one of life's impossible chores?
Who wants to roller skate in a buffalo herd, who wants to put socks on an octopus, who wants to play defense against Ralph?
Fothergill is 6 feet 9, 220 pounds of mean. Last time he went against one of these glamor guys, Fothergill so discombobulated Sam Perkins that Carolina's smoothie couldn't get a single shot in the second half of a three-point victory. Fothergill figures out where the pretty boys want to go, and then he slaps his considerable body against them so they can't go there.
Sampson took only five shots this day, making one. Always content to let his teammates be the heroes, Sampson tried one first-half shot, a 15-footer that missed. When it was time to win the game, Sampson couldn't do it. First, he couldn't get the ball enough. When he did, he rushed every shot.
Fothergill knows why. He said Sampson wasn't ready to play.
He said that if you put your body on Sampson, the big guy looks to get away.
He said Virginia was just too cocky.
"I don't think he wanted it," Fothergill said of Sampson. "When it came time to play us, he wasn't mentally prepared. He said: 'Who's Maryland?' "
Fothergill smiled. "Tell him."
Driesell's defensive strategy was simple. He put Fothergill behind Sampson, with orders to bump the big guy around. With the other four defenders in a boxlike zone, whoever happened to be in the vicinity would press in front of Sampson. The effect was a sandwich 7 feet 4 inches tall.
"If you put the body on him," Fothergill said of Sampson, "if you lean on him, he shies away."
This is stuff that will find its way to a bulletin board should there be a Virginia-Maryland game in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. You haven't heard anything yet.
"When they lost their composure, I think, was right at the end of regulation time." Fothergill spoke of the two seconds when a court-length pass produced Maryland's game-tying basket. "Before we took the ball out, they were saying, 'You all choked,' and 'Lefty, go home.' They got cocky then, and they carried that cockiness into overtime. It kind of gave us the edge." By then, Fothergill was on the bench, having fouled out with 5 1/2 minutes in regulation and Maryland up, 40-38. He had done his work well, though, including a bunch of talking to Sampson.
"I was talking to him the whole game," Fothergill said, "trying to take his mind off the game. He started talking dirty to me, talking trash. That's bush league for the No. 1 player in the country. He has to learn to handle himself. That's all right. We won. That's it."
On the bulletin board in the Maryland locker room was a clipping from a Norfolk newspaper in which Sampson and his coach, Terry Holland, complained of Maryland's physical play in Virginia's earlier overtime victory. Back then, Sampson said Maryland "played dirty."
"There's a lot of animosity between us," Fothergill said of the teams. "Every game is like this. They don't like us and we don't much like them."
Apprised of Fothergill's oratory, Sampson said no, he did not shy away from contact; yes, there will be bad blood if the teams play again, and no, he won't say Maryland played dirty this time. "Because if I do, Lefty will say I'm crazy. He's crazy and the whole team is crazy."
What of another Maryland-Virginia game?
"We play again, we win," Sampson said curtly.