A year ago, Lawrence Roberts and John Lucas were teammates at Baylor, struggling through another difficult season. Little did they know how much their lives, and their college basketball careers, were about to change.
Three months after the season, one of their teammates, Patrick Dennehy, was dead, and another, Carlton Dotson, had been accused of murder. Their coach, Dave Bliss, would be fired in the scandalous aftermath of Dennehy's death.
It left Roberts and Lucas, who had played together for a year in high school in Houston and were Baylor's two leading scorers, trying to figure out whether to stay in Waco or finish out their careers elsewhere.
When each received a waiver from the NCAA allowing them to transfer without having to sit out the normal one-year eligibility requirement, Roberts and Lucas left. It appears that they made the right choice on their new schools.
Roberts, a 6-foot-9, 235-pound junior forward, wound up at Mississippi State, where he is leading the 18-1 Bulldogs (7-1, first place in the Southeastern Conference West) in scoring (16.6 per game) and rebounding (10).
Lucas, a 5-11, 155-pound junior point guard, left for Oklahoma State, where he has become the undisputed leader for a 16-2 Cowboys team that is tied for first place in the Big 12 (6-1) with Kansas and Texas.
"I wanted to start a new slate," Roberts said earlier this week from Starkville. "I knew we were going to be good. I had no idea we'd be going this good."
Roberts also had considered Arizona and Indiana, but he knew he'd have a greater opportunity at Mississippi State, where Mario Austin had left after his junior year and top recruit Travis Outlaw opted for the NBA.
While he has been pretty consistent from the start, Roberts gave notice when he engineered a 79-68 upset of Florida in Gainesville on Jan. 21, finishing with 21 points and 14 rebounds.
Roberts leads the SEC and is second in the country in double doubles (12), as well as second in the league in rebounding, and he has given the Bulldogs an inside presence to complement senior guard Tim Bowers.
"He's been a big plus," said Bowers.
So has Lucas been for the Cowboys. Needing a point guard to replace Victor Williams, Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton looked to the son of the former Maryland star.
The numbers the younger Lucas has put up in Stillwater - he's averaging 13.4 points and five assists a game - don't tell the whole story.
Lucas can score, and while his recent offensive tear that included tying a career high of 27 points in Tuesday's 91-79 victory over Texas A&M; put him behind just Texas Tech's Andre Emmett in the conference scoring race for Big 12 games, he has meant even more to the Cowboys.
"He's exceeded our expectations," said Cowboys associate head coach Sean Sutton. "He's a winner, he's got an extremely high basketball IQ. I think the thing that's impressed us is how popular he is with his teammates. He's become a solid leader on this team. I know we wouldn't be where we are without him."
Said Lucas: "I came into a very good situation for myself, by just playing for a legendary coach, and he's really made me a better player, a more all-around player."
The younger Lucas was thinking about leaving Baylor before last summer's tragic turn of events, and said he spent a lot of time praying with his family for guidance.
"Me and my family are real religious, I feel like God was telling me to come," said Lucas. "My parents felt the same way."
Tonight's Yale-Columbia game is not merely a matchup of two struggling Ivy League teams with identical 6-11 records. This might be more about the rivalry of the coaches rather than between the teams. That's because it's a sibling rivalry.
With James Jones in his fifth season coaching the Bulldogs and younger brother, Joe, in his first year with the Lions, it is believed to be the first matchup of coaching brothers since the 1950s, when Hank Iba's Oklahoma State teams regularly played Clarence Iba's Tulsa teams.
"I haven't given myself an opportunity to think about anything but how we're going to play them," James Jones said yesterday from New Haven. "I'm certain tonight and before the game and certainly afterward I'll have some thoughts about what's going on [coaching against his brother.]"
James Jones, who is a year older than his brother, knows that the identical records don't accurately reflect the situation in which each team finds itself. The Bulldogs were expected to contend for the title after finishing last season with a share of first place. The Lions only won two games last season.
"We're both struggling, but he's supposed to struggle," said James Jones, whose Bulldogs have lost three of their four Ivy League games, compared to Columbia's 2-2 start. "He's done as good a job with his program as can possibly be done. We have some work to do and some things to prove."
Each Friday through the regular season, The Sun will predict the top four seeds in each region of the NCAA tournament.
East .............................. Midwest
1. Duke ......................... 1. St. Joseph's
2. Pittsburgh ................ 2. Kentuck
3. Texas Tech ............... 3. Okla. State
4. Florida ...................... 4. Wisconsin
South ............................ West
1. Miss. State ................ 1. Stanford
2. Louisville .................. 2. Connecticut
3. Texas ........................ 3. Kansas
4. Ga. Tech ................... 4. Gonzaga