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Season of scars casts foul mood over basketball

The University of Florida has grabbed its share of off-the-court headlines during the past year, the most recent being defections by Livingston Chatman and Dwayne Schintzius. The star players didn't like the coach, so they quit. But Don DeVoe isn't the only coach suffering. College basketball is headed for March Madness and one of the most exciting events in sports _ with several scars.

DeVoe is lucky in a sense. At least his players didn't force him out, as Drake players did to coach Tom Abatemarco last week. Abatemarco was assigned to another position within the athletic department because the players charged him with "inhuman treatment."

At Arkansas State, players lodged a similar complaint against Nelson Catalina. The players were given an ultimatum to return to practice or face being kicked off the team. They returned.

The ills in college basketball fester. Last month, Kentucky coach Rick Pitino and LSU coach Dale Brown squared off and almost fought. After a recent game, UNLV and Utah State players brawled and Vegas' Moses Scurry hit Utah State coach Kohn Smith. Cheyney State (Pa.) fans rushed onto the court with a few seconds remaining in a game against rival West Chester. Several players were injured and one of the assistant coaches was hospitalized with a concussion and a broken jaw.

One of the most distressing stories is the University of Illinois, only a year removed from a Final Four appearance. The Illini last week were sent an official letter of inquiry from the NCAA for 11 rules violations, including charges that recruit Deon Thomas was offered $80,000 and a car. DL:

Some of these stories will be put aside when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. Thoughts will turn to the hype and hoopla associated with the game's most talented players and teams.

Unless, say, UNLV, Minnesota, Illinois and Missouri were to make it to the Final Four. All four are good enough basketball teams to get hot and advance to Denver. And all four are being scrutinized by the NCAA and could face sanctions.

Potent Payton: Michigan's Rumeal Robinson and LSU's Chris Jackson get more publicity, but Oregon State's Gary Payton is making a claim for best backcourt man in the country. He is nearing the NCAA career record of 960 assists (set by Syracuse's Sherman Douglas). Counting points and assists, Payton is responsible for about 55 percent of Oregon State's offense. Compare that to Robinson (32 percent) and Jackson (37 percent) and you can see the impact Payton has had this season for the 17th-ranked Beavers (19-4).

After an 84-70 victory over Stanford two weeks ago, in which Payton had 32 points, 10 assists, seven rebounds and five steals, Stanford coach Mike Montgomery said: "As far as I'm concerned, I hope I never see that guy again."

Sound familiar? After a difficult recruiting period, Illinois football coach John Mackovic was pleased with the results last week _ yet upset about the rumors dogging his program and undoubtedly hurting his efforts. The Illinois basketball team's problems with the NCAA, the uncertainty of quarterback Jeff George's status, and speculation that Mackovic would return to the NFL (he coached the Kansas City Chiefs before moving to Illinois) were factors Mackovic said were used against him.

"There are two, three specific cases _ probably more because not everyone mentioned it _ where malicious things were said about our entire athletic program and real doubt was created. A lot of the doubts were created by other coaches. Some of it was downright negative recruiting, trying to create nightmares."

Florida's Steve Spurrier can certainly relate. He heard the rumor that the Gators were going to get three years' probation from the NCAA just before the signing date. Maybe rumors like that kept the Gators from signing one of the top classes in the country. According to Allen Wallace, who publishes SuperPrep magazine, Florida was not in his top 25. His top 10 went like this: Notre Dame, Florida State, Michigan, Texas A&M, Georgia, Ohio State, UCLA, USC, North Carolina and Nebraska. Miami was 11th.

Take that: Georgia Tech's Dennis Scott was being harassed so vehemently while warming up before a recent game at Duke that he asked one of the fans to take part in a shooting contest. The rules were each would take five shots _ the fan from the college three-point line and Scott from the NBA three-point line. The fan went first and fired five airballs. After seeing that, Scott was so confident that he took his first shot from halfcourt _ and swished it.

Hurricane possibilities: With Bill Foster stepping down at the end of this season, Miami is searching for a new basketball coach. Several candidates have been mentioned, with USC's George Raveling the most prominent. Raveling was at Washington State and Iowa before going to Southern Cal and has ties with UM athletic director Sam Jankovich. Tim Floyd, the coach at New Orleans, has also been mentioned.

Notes: The Georgetown Hoyas, a team not usually associated with kindness, went to the Providence locker room after losing to the Friars last week to congratulate the players. Figure this out: DePaul, Seton Hall and St. Bonaventure voted on spring-practice limitations at the recent NCAA Convention in Dallas. Those schools don't have football teams. Boo Harvey became the first St. John's player in 17 years to score 40 points in a game during the Redmen's 90-81 overtime victory against Seton Hall last week. Temple's Mark Macon had his 29-game double-figure scoring streak stopped against St. Bonaventure when he scored only five points and was 0-of-9 on three-point field goals. North Carolina State, at 17-8 and 5-5, is still a factor in the Atlantic Coast Conference race, a tribute to the players who have little else to play for because of NCAA sanctions. The Wolfpack can't go to the NCAA Tournament. "You try not to think about it," said guard Rodney Monroe. "But we know we're good enough to go to the tournament and we're not. It's going to be tough seeing people get to go here and there and we have to stay home. Next year can't get here soon enough."

Quote marks: Miami's Marvin Jones, after signing a letter of intent to play football at Florida State: "If I helped create Florida State's class being considered better than Notre Dame's, then that makes me feel just great. I hate Notre Dame with a passion."