Trees will tap dance, elephants will drive at Indy and Orson Welles will skip lunch before North Carolina State finds a way to beat Houston in the NCAA's college basketball championship game Monday night. We might have added, speaking of unlikely, " . . . and the Easter bunny will offer an egg to a Nigerian soccer goalie." Except that she did.
"Do you want an egg?" the bunny said as she hippity-hopped through a hotel lobby this morning.
"Your ears, they are funny," said Akeem Abdul Olajuwon, laughing. Four years ago he was a soccer goalie in Lagos, Nigeria. Now the 7-footer is so famous, as the star of Houston's basketball team, that the Easter bunny is pressing favors on him.
And with good reason, because Houston with Olajuwon is reckoned a cinch to win this national championship. After seeing what Houston did to Louisville--which is what Mount St. Helens did to unsuspecting trees--only zealots and lovers of stray dogs give N.C. State any chance.
Oh, we'll hear the obligatory coachspeak of N.C. State "controlling the tempo," meaning State might play the game at a walk instead of the hyperspace speed Houston loves. State would search for a good shot and play conservative defense to keep the ball away from Houston's inside men.
It doesn't take a heavy-duty brain to figure that out. One look at Houston's guys two weeks ago convinced Lefty Driesell the only way to win was to sit on the ball until it hatched. Maryland lost, 60-50, and Driesell declared victory of a sort, for the game was played on his terms and never became a runnin'-gunnin'-slama-jammin' contest.
Still, whether you die honorably or not, you're not going to any more dances, and for the Cinderellas from N.C. State, midnight is near. You can hear it coming when you listen to the Houston brain, Guy Lewis, who figures State's best chance at winning is also the reason it is likely to lose.
"I'll probably eat these words," he said, reaching for humility he never grasped, "but I've never felt that teams can beat you consistently from the outside. Of course, one time would be bad for us right now, wouldn't it?"
State's best offensive weapon is Dereck Whittenburg, whose rainbow 25-footers drive defenders whacko and open up the inside for Thurl Bailey, the 6-11 forward.
"I would much rather play a team that shoots outside than inside," Lewis said.
What about State's controlling the tempo, coach?
"Did you ever hear of up-tempo? It takes two to tango. We'll see how it goes. Very few teams have wanted to run with us."
At that, Lewis allowed himself a smile of contentment because he knows he has a bench full of sensational athletes whose size, strength and speed can discombobulate a lesser team until its desired slowdown becomes an avalanche beyond control.
Texas Christian University, no world power, gave Houston fits this season. Houston won three times, but by 54-51, 74-66, 62-59. Only Maryland and Virginia, of Houston's opponents in a 31-2 season, were also able to keep Houston under 70 points.
Virginia beat Houston, 72-63, in Tokyo. The remarkable thing is that Ralph Sampson didn't play because of illness.
"Our guys were disappointed that Ralph didn't play," Lewis said. "Myself, I was leading cheers. But we went out and played like we were disappointed. I was disappointed, too, but not about Ralph Sampson."
At 60, Guy Lewis is in his 27th season as Houston's coach. His teams have won 530 games and lost 245 (he is 117-145 on the road). He has earned praise for the last 20 years as a coach who raises great athletes to full potential (Elvin Hayes, Otis Birdsong, Don Chaney, Dwight Davis). No one has ever accused him of genius, and he doesn't much mind.
This morning someone asked him nicely if he believes more in basic principles than in a complex system. This was one way of asking if it isn't true that he couldn't coach a fish to swim.
"We do some things pretty simple," Lewis said, just as nicely. He's an East Texan, off a worn-out cattle farm, who made $4,500 in his first coaching job. His hair, receding, is slicked-back graying black that does no favors for a jowly, squint-eyed scowl. Imagine LBJ waving a red polka dot towel at a Nigerian soccer goalie; that's Lewis, who was (before we so rudely interrupted) saying he keeps things simple.
"Do I want to be one of those TV coaches?" he went on. "Where I get me a little blackboard and get all the players gathered around and the managers running around? And everybody says, 'Boy, what a coaching job that guy's doing.' "
Lewis wiggled his jowls back and forth.
"Naw. I don't believe in that."
The KISS theory of coaching--Keep It Simple, Stupid--has been Lewis' foundation belief. America may have sat by the TV goggle-eyed when Houston slama-jammed 14 dunks against Louisville. To Lewis, it was only another night of testimony to his enduring belief that, as he says, "The dunk is a very high percentage shot."
Did he ever, an innocent asked, have a team that dunked like this one?
"Some coaches cringe at the dunk. I encourage it. I've had better dunking teams than this. Back in the Elvin Hayes era, we had 18 dunks in a half once. Hell," Lewis said, ending the discussion with startling evidence, "I even had a white player named Lyle Harger, in 1962, who got 15 dunks in a half."