|Jimmer Fredette scoring yet again in a BYU game|
Nearly 65% of National Basketball Association players are blacks. Says Jerry West, the former superstar who is now coach of the Los Angeles Lakers: "When I first came into the league [in 1960], it was just starting to turn into a black league. And let's face it. This is a black league now."
The growing black dominance in sports is evident in college athletics too. During the recent N.C.A.A. basketball playoffs, for example, Champion Marquette and Contenders Michigan and University of Nevada at Las Vegas each had only one white in their starting lineups. In N.C.A.A. football, most of 1976's top-ranked teams were loaded with black stars—in numbers far out of proportion to the percentage of black students on campus.Black dominance in basketball (and the slow integration of college football, which became a rampaging flood) led to the destruction of the idea of white supremacy. The notion of a starting lineup of only white players as a viable option was destroyed when Texas Western (starting five Blacks) defeated lily-white Kentucky in the 1966 NCAA finals. Coached by Adolph Rupp, Kentucky’s all-white team would undergo one of the fatal blows against white supremacy that might prove fatal. This is how Sports Illustrated remembered the game in 25 years after the fact:
Apparently, though, Rupp could see the forest for the trees. Midway through the 1965-66 season he halted practice and gathered his undefeated Rupp's Runts—no starter was taller than 6'5"—around him. He told them about the college basketball poll he'd seen in that morning's newspaper. "Boys," Rupp said in his scratchy Kansas twang, "when you go home tonight, I want you to look long and hard at these rankings. One. Two. Three. Kentucky, Duke, Vanderbilt. All from the South. And all white. Read it and remember. You'll never see it happen again."Five years after College Park, a 7'1" black player named Tom Payne suited up for Rupp and Kentucky. Seven years after College Park, Alabama-George Wallace, governor—started five black players. In the 1980s, 82 of the 100 starters in the NCAA championship game were black. Indeed, from 1982 through '85, only one first-stringer on a national champion was white, Matt Doherty of North Carolina. Twenty-five years after College Park, 19 of the 20 starters on the four top-seeded teams in the 1991 tournament—UNLV, Ohio State, Arkansas and North Carolina—are black. The lone white player is Pete Chilcutt of North Carolina.
The point of these numbers, the best moral of all, is that after Texas Western rose to the cusp of a revolution, the denouement was so swift and total that it was hardly noticed. Now college basketball is all Harry's brothers.
But one thing is obvious: White players can feel as if they belong at Florida. Billy Donovan has cultivated an environment for the white player to flourish. Florida forward Chandler Parsons said he evaluated the white-player track record of schools when he was being recruited in 2007.
"Youlook at any school in the past that has had a white guy do well,"Parsons said. "If you're a white recruit, you look at that stuff. Butyou really want to look at a school that fits your style of play. All black, all white, all Spanish, doesn't matter as long as you can flourish in that system."
Most kids, black and white, report that coaches generally are the ones who encourage positional segregation. But Mater Dei's Rollinson often encounters white parents who won't consider that their child might be good enough to play a "black" position at the college level. He says these parents see their son lining up at cornerback or wide receiver and say, "He'll never make it because he's not black." Rollinson tries to tell them their boy runs a 4.5 40-yard dash and has great hands, but they don't want to hear it. "They come right back and say, 'Don't give me that BYU story,' " Rollinson says.
Brigham Young is perhaps the most prominent exception to the black domination of sports. Relying almost exclusively on white talent, the Mormon school has fielded teams that have continually competed at the highest level. The football team sits perennially in the Top 20, making an occasional run at a national title. The basketball team has won 15 Western Athletic Conference titles, made 17 NCAA tournament appearances and produced a dozen All-Americas, and for a week in 1987 it held the No. 2 ranking in the country—yet the Cougars have never started more than one black. "I don't think I had ever played on or against an all-white team," says Van Horn, the former Ute. "When we played BYU, it was strange."
The paucity of African-American players on BYU teams has worked against them. "We haven't had the quickness that a black student-athlete has," says Roger Reid, a Cougars basketball coach for 19 years, seven of them as head coach. Nevertheless, BYU has beaten predominantly black teams from such schools as UCLA, Notre Dame and Virginia. The Cougars have defeated black teams that started games thinking that when push came to shove, their own athletic superiority would tell. San Diego Padres out-fielder Tony Gwynn learned this. As a junior point guard in 1980 he went to Provo, Utah, with his San Diego State team and got beaten badly. "Those BYU guys were flying through the air, jumping over guys, getting rebounds, and that's the first time I thought, These guys are really athletic," Gwynn says. "Our whole club was shocked."
From everywhere on the floor, Fredette is a relentless, ferocious scorer. His range stretches far beyond the 3-point line, and his deftness with the ball – not to mention his toughness – gets him to the basket and the free-throw line. He’s scoring in the 30s, the 40s on some nights – averaging a nation-best 27.4 points per game – and perhaps it’s so amazing because people just don’t see that coming from a 6-foot-2 Mormon out of upstate New York. There’s no debating Fredette’s greatness as a collegiate scorer, but most fascinating is projecting what kind of pro player he’ll be.
Conversations with multiple NBA general managers and scouts who’ve tracked Fredette’s progress result in one consensus: Almost no one agrees on anything. Perhaps there’s something about a white guard with American roots which causes such prejudging, stereotyping and skepticism to abound. Perhaps there’s something about a white guard with American roots which causes such rooting interest and overhype. People are forever trying to pin Fredette into a neat little comparative box. Most agree he could top out in the late lottery around 12 or 13 but probably won’t last past the mid-20s.
It’s funny how Fredette draws comparisons to Gonzaga’s Adam Morrison(notes) and Duke’s J.J. Redick(notes). They don’t play so much like him, but they sure are white guys. Thirty years ago, the best player in BYU history, Danny Ainge, would’ve been the highest-drafted player in school history had he told NBA teams he preferred pro basketball over pro baseball. He was a different athlete than Fredette – bigger, faster and more suited for the pro game. For whatever it was worth, there was no shortage of comparable players in the NBA.
“I was a guy who could run, had good speed, and never in my college career did anyone question my athleticism,” Ainge said. “If I wasn’t playing baseball, I would’ve certainly been one of the top five or six picks. I don’t think anyone in the NBA was thinking about that with me or Doug Collins. We were bigger. We were athletic.”
To get them there, Utah recruiters often must battle preconceived notions about the state. Before senior Shaky Smithson became a star returner at Utah (he leads the nation in punt returns, with 23.3 yards per touch), he was a star receiver and returner at East Los Angeles Community College. He was guarded when Utah's coaches first tried to woo him. He had visited a friend in Provo and been turned off by its lack of diversity. Persuaded that Salt Lake was different, Smithson took a visit. "It was a big eye-opener," he says. "Lot of restaurants, lot of clubs. There's a lot to do here, and the people, they accept you with open arms."
While BYU remains one of the nation's most monochromatic teams, Whittingham takes pleasure in pointing out that his is "the most diverse program in the country." A third of the Utes are white, a third African-American, a third Polynesian. Half are Mormon. Some are married, and some are married with children. "The beautiful thing about this team," Bergstrom says, "is that we're diverse, yet we can make fun of our differences and nobody gets upset about it."