If you've watched TV, read a paper, or had coffee in a public establishment in the last 72 hours, you already know Wayman Tisdale has decided he will pass up his final year of college and play pro ball next year.
One is reminded of how one particular broadcaster, speaking in hushed, reverent tones befitting such an announcement, described the big moment: "The attention of most of the nation's sports fans will be on Churchill Downs this afternoon for the Kentucky Derby. But not here in Oklahoma . . ." He was right, you know. Every sports fan in the Sooner State, even non-Oklahoma basketball fans, tuned in for the press conference.
Speculation on whether Tisdale, a three-time All-America and perhaps the nation's best offensive player, would go "hardship" has been a popular topic for discussion for weeks now. Would he go? Would he stay?
Fans seemed pretty much divided. A certain portion, thinking with their hearts, said there was no way he would leave his fans. Another segment, reasoning with their wallets, said there was no way he'd stay.
And in the end, economics won out.
But now that the popular star has made his choice, OU fans have another subject to chew over.
The University of Oklahoma would not be the first program to take a big dip after the "franchise" player left school. Had you heard of Indiana State before, or since, Larry Bird played there? Have you noticed Michigan State back in the Final Four since Magic Johnson was the Spartans' star? What happened to BYU after Danny Ainge and to Marquette after Butch Lee and Bo Ellis?
Every OU basketball fan has to look at those schools and their post-star depression and become anxious about next season. Tisdale's departure could harken a return to the days when there were only two sports at OU football and spring football.
Billy Tubbs attended Tisdale's press conference Saturday and in typical fashion had some funny things to say. But the OU head coach also had his serious moments. He said the Sooners had begun making plans to play without Tisdale as far back as last May, when Tisdale went down to the last moment before deciding to return for his junior season. "We've known we were not always going to have him," said Tubbs.
But now that the time has come, just how ready are the Sooners to play without their star? Can they maintain a program that two years before his arrival won only nine games but with him in the lineup improved from 24-9 to 29-5 to 31-6? Will they continue to have a place in the nation's Top 20 and extend their string of four post-season appearances? Will they ever fulfill their dream of someday playing in the Final Four?
If you follow college basketball, you know how easy it is to slip in the ratings. Look at the '84-'85 season for instance. Traditional powers such as Indiana, UCLA, Louisville, Kentucky and Arkansas were conspicuous by their absence from the Top 20. Indiana coach Bobby Knight, perhaps the best tactician in the game today, became so frustrated late in the season he picked up a chair and hurled it on the court during one infuriating defeat.
Basketball, far and away, is the easiest sport to develop a quick winner. Just find a star and surround him with role players and you're on your way. The best example of that is Indiana State's one year rise to the top with Bird. But as the Sycamore's subsequent flame out without the Bird man proves, basketball is also full of here-today-and-gone-tomorrow teams.
Even though Tubbs concedes OU basketball will be viewed as BW and AW before Wayman and after Wayman he doesn't think the bottom will fall out in this AW era. To the contrary. He thinks the Sooners will keep on rolling.
"There's no question our best player is gone. With Wayman, I thought we could have been the No. 1 team going into next season," he said.
"But our goals have not changed. Our system creates players.
Players will step in and they'll get the shots that Wayman took and the rebounds that Wayman got. We'll still be an exciting team and we may even get up and down the floor faster."
But will they get the same results? The Sooners are faced with the task of having to replace 25.2 points (28 percent of their offense) and 10.2 boards (25 percent of their rebounding). That won't be easy. But Tubbs has a point when he says his "system" is greater than the sum of the parts.
There was more to the '84-'85 Sooners than Wayman Tisdale. At different times the Sooners exaggerated the All-America's offensive talents by forcing the ball inside when others wouldn't have tried.
Coach Tubbs' one regret of this season, if you want to call it that, was that he kept on trying to get the ball down low into a double-teamed Tisdale during the Memphis State loss in the finals of the Midwest Regional.
But that won't happen this winter. There won't be such a star on the '85-'86 Sooner team. This squad will feature several scorers and, Tubbs belives, be more versatile without Tisdale.
That's not to say it will be as good as the Tisdale teams. But it will be different. And sometimes being different is not bad. BIOG: NAME:Archive ID: 229596