Paul Evans and Dale Brown had never met before today. When they did, as Evans' Navy team was taking the floor for practice and Brown's Louisiana State team was leaving, they shook hands and exchanged congratulaions on having reached the NCAA tournament.
There was a brief pause, then Brown said, "So, is the Robinson youngster going to transfer?"
Evans laughed. He and David Robinson, the 6-foot-11 sophomore who has had so much to do with the Midshipmen's 25-5 record, had just spent 30 minutes in a press conference answering that question in 40 forms.
Finally, Evans said, "I thought we were here to talk about the tournament."
The questions and the talk finally will end for Navy and Maryland here Friday afternoon in first-round play of the Southeast Regional. At noon, Navy will play LSU (WNVT-TV-56) as a little-known underdog fully capable of an upset. Then, at 2:37 p.m. (WDCA-TV-20), Maryland (23-11) will be in the role of the heavy when it faces Miami of Ohio (20-10). The winners will meet here Sunday in the second round.
Today, as each of the eight teams here tested the floor of the University of Dayton Arena for an hour, Evans was put in the position of explaining why his team can win and Maryland's Lefty Driesell had to tell everybody why his team can lose.
"If we think about anyone but Miami, we'll lose," Driesell insisted. "This time of year, if you don't come ready to play no matter who you play, you'll get beat."
Under questioning, he said that, if it would serve as an incentive to his players in this tournament, he would retire from coaching if the Terrapins won the national championship. The question was asked in jest and presumably answered in the same spirit.
Brown went to great pains today to talk about how much respect he and his Tigers (19-9) have for Navy. "They're a lot like Dayton was last year," Brown said, referring to the team that blew out his team in the first round of the tournament. "Not that many people know about them, but they are a good team."
Brown's players apparently know very little about the Midshipmen. When they were asked today what they knew about Navy's league, the ECAC South, junior guard Don Redden said, "What in the world does ECAC stand for?"
Still, Navy should not catch LSU sleeping. The Tigers have lost nine straight postseason games dating to 1981, when they reached the Final Four. They should have plenty of incentive. Today, Navy's players were asked again and again if they thought they had a chance if LSU came out flat.
Finally, Evans could take it no more. "The philosophy around here seems to be that if Navy wins, everybody else has to stink," he said. "I'll tell you something: we'll be ready to play whether LSU is ready or not."
On talent, LSU and Maryland should win these games, but there's more than talent involved. In Robinson and Vernon Butler, Navy has two inside players who can compete physically with LSU. Robinson, the much-talked about sophomore, averaged 23.9 and 11.5 rebounds during the season. Butler, a junior, averaged 18.6 and 9.2 rebounds. He was the MVP of the ECAC South tournament last week.
The key for Navy may be the guards. Evans has gotten excellent play most of the season out of freshman Cliff Rees on the wing and Doug Wojcik at the point. Friday, they must handle LSU's quickness and get the ball to Robinson and Butler where they can score.
The Midshipmen must also avoid foul trouble because LSU is deeper and stronger than they are. In 6-8, 240-pound freshman John Williams, the Tigers have a player who can dominate a game. They also have 6-8 Nikita Wilson and 6-8 Jerry Reynolds. All three average in double figures.
But even as he stood a few feet from the floor and glanced towards the athletes running the floor for LSU, Evans didn't seem the least bit fazed. Neither did his players.
"Actually I thought I would be more impressed by all this," said Robinson, after fending off the inevitable questions about a possible transfer. "You know, when you see these guys on TV, they're like heroes or something. But when you start looking at them as opponents, you see them differently. The whole thing has been down to earth so far. It hasn't been a party or anything."
Evans believes the party can go more than one round for his team. "We can definitely win the game," he said. "We just have to play the way we have all season and keep cool and we'll be fine."
Those who had not seen the Midshipmen play were asking if they might hold the ball. "I doubt if we could hold it for 20 seconds," said Evans, who has built this program by preaching transition. "If we tried, we'd probably throw the ball into the seats on every possession."
Miami Coach Jerry Peirson was asked the same foolish question about his game with Maryland and he gave almost the same answer. "We won 20 games playing one way and we aren't going to change now," said Peirson, who is in his first year as Miami's coach. "We'll just ask our kids to play our game the best we can and see what happens."
If matchups are any indication, Miami will have serious problems. Peirson used man-to-man and matchup zones most of the time and will start the game with 6-1 freshman Eddie Schilling on 6-8 Adrian Branch. "The last time I guarded a 6-8 guy was on the playground," Schilling admitted.
Peirson even joked that he would start 5-8 Eric Newsome on 6-8 Len Bias just to shake up Bias a little. More likely, if the Redskins are to shake up the Terrapins, 6-3 Ron Hunter will have to control Bias (which no one in the ACC was able to do) and 6-6 Ron Harper, the MAC player of the year with averages of 24.9 points and 10 rebounds a game, will have to play the game of his life.
Maryland has been through a rocky week that began with Driesell throwing the team out of practice Monday and bringing them in at 7 a.m. Tuesday. Today, the Terrapins appeared loose in practice, many of them sporting haircuts. The players bravely told the media here that practicing at 7 a.m. had been just fine with them.
"At this time of year, you do whatever you have to do to succeed," Bias said. "If it takes getting up at that hour, if it helps us, it's a good idea."
And, if the Terrapins survive this weekend, would the players suggest a similar regimen next week? "Well," Bias said, "We won't ask for it."
Moments after he asked Evans if Robinson might transfer, Brown asked where the Navy team was staying. "Make sure," Evans said later, "that we put a guard on David's door tonight."
Brown also insisted that his players' ignorance about Navy's league "was just a provincial thing. I'll bet that Navy players don't know very much about the Southeastern Conference." Just for the record, two players selected at random from Navy, Carl Liebert and Kylor Whitaker, were able to name all 10 SEC schools and seven SEC schools, respectively . . .
Ninety midshipmen, including a drum and bugle corps, will fly in here in the morning on a C-9 for the game . . . This is the first time that the Mid-American Conference has received more than one NCAA bid. Ohio University was the league champion but runner-up Miami received a bid. Last year, Miami won the league, then was embarrassed on national TV by Southern Methodist in the first round. "This team isn't as satisfied as that one," Peirson insisted. "That team thought work was done when it won the league."
Peirson replaced Darrell Hedrick as coach this year when Hedrick retired. Hedrick holds one of the rarest honors in coaching: he is the only man to beat both Dean Smith and Bob Knight on their home floors. He did it to Smith in 1973 and to Knight in 1983.