A STRONG REBOUNDER
Top-ranked UNLV might have four future NBA players at the guard and forward positions, but the center combination of 6'9" George Ackles and 7-foot Elmore Spencer has made this Rebel team potentially stronger than last season's championship squad. Vegas, which was 15-0 at week's end, got 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks from the pair in a 97-85 win over stumbling Louisville (7-9) at Freedom Hall last Saturday and has been averaging 16.2 points and 10.2 boards a game at center for the season.
Spencer, a junior from Atlanta, took a hard road to Las Vegas. He originally signed with Georgia for the 1987-88 season, but the summer before he was to enroll he was arrested for suspicion of driving under the influence. As it turned out, the erratic driving wasn't caused by alcohol or drugs but by a chemical imbalance that led to symptoms of manic depression.
Spencer spent the next five weeks in the psychiatric ward of Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, where he received medication for his condition. After a medical redshirt year, he played half a season for Georgia before falling behind in his class-work and dropping out. He enrolled at Connors State Junior College in Warner, Okla., where he led the Cowboys to the 1989-90 juco national championship. He then had to spent the first semester of this academic year at Clark County Community College in Las Vegas to get enough credits to enroll at UNLV. He became eligible to play on Dec. 20.
"You know when you've found the right place, when you really feel comfortable," says Spencer. "That's the way I feel now. It's been a ball. And I've only been with the team since December, so I'm only about 80 percent of what I can be."
Spencer downplays the seriousness of his illness, saying the death of his mother less than a year before he was diagnosed and an exhausting schedule of high school all-star games contributed to his condition. "Just say I'm fine," he says. "I've had no relapses, no bad effects, no further problems as far as that goes."
He also had no trouble shrugging off the nasty reception he got at Freedom Hall last Saturday. The fans there haven't forgotten that Spencer seemed to be leaning toward Louisville while at Connors State but went instead to UNLV. He was booed every time he touched the ball. "I didn't take it personally," says Spencer. "One thing I know is that on the list of things in life to worry about, getting booed doesn't rank real high."
Once you get past UNLV's dominance, this has been a most unpredictable college basketball season. Take Connecticut, which opened its Big East schedule with three wins but closed out last week with its fifth straight conference defeat, 76-62 to Seton Hall. Consider Syracuse, which already has losses to Providence, Pitt and Villanova in the Big East. And the ACC's defending champion, Clemson, was 0-6 in league play after last Saturday's 99-70 blowout loss to Duke.
But there may be no more puzzling conference than the Pac-10, which seems to produce at least one confounding result each week. Just when a story line was emerging—the unexpected rise of Oregon State—the Beavers lost 70-68 at home last Saturday to Southern Cal. But Oregon State was still tied with Arizona atop the Pac-10 with a 5-2 record because the fifth-ranked Wildcats lost 85-78 the same day to previously moribund Cal.