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THE TERM 'ATHLETIC' DEMEANS THOSE IT TRIES TO COMPLIMENT

Notes, quotes and random reflections from a memorable college basketball season:

I've had all I can take of players being described as "athletic." It's almost as objectionable as "athleticism" -- the five most horrifying syllables in sports journalism.

When did it become fashionable to use these words in sports? I don't recall them being tossed around 15-20 years ago. Back then, we talked about players being quick or fast, or good leapers.

When, exactly, did speed and jumping ability become the defining qualities of an athlete? Does this mean Larry Bird and Magic Johnson wouldn't be "athletic" if they came along today?

Those two weren't great leapers, but they were two of the most magnificent athletes I ever saw. They had uncanny vision, soft hands, good timing, incredible touch -- all the things I've always associated with being a good athlete.

Too often nowadays, the word "athlete" is a euphemism for blacks. It's wrong, and it helps perpetuate the notion that young blacks are more suited to sports than other pursuits.

And if Sports Illustrated wants to know what happened to the white athlete, I'll submit the names of Jeff Sheppard, Scott Padgett, Hanno Mottola and Michael Doleac.

Rick Majerus never let on during the Final Four. He was his typical jolly, self-deprecating self, ready to poke fun at his weight and eating habits.

Until this past Sunday, only his closest friends knew that the Utah coach had endured a major health scare just before heading to San Antonio.

On the day of Utah's upset of Arizona in the West Region final, Majerus became ill. He got a checkup on Monday, and on Tuesday he had surgery to remove benign polyps from his colon.

"I was scared to death," Majerus said. "I thought I had cancer. But I guess I have a little angel on my shoulder."

Here's some unsolicited advice for Niagara: If you're serious about rebuilding the basketball program, make a serious run at Rutgers assistant Rob Lanier.

The word is that Niagara intends to make a larger "commitment" to basketball. I'm not sure what that means. If it means bringing in some big name to make a quick splash, they're making a big mistake.

What Niagara needs to do is re-establish its roots in the Western New York basketball community. It needs to restore the program's image with local kids if it hopes to be taken seriously in the hoop culture.

Lanier has strong local ties. He's from Buffalo. He was an assistant at St. Bonaventure and was responsible for getting LaSalle's Tim Winn to Olean. He's also recruited on a more global level for Rutgers.

He's going to get his shot as a head coach soon. Local basketball will take a needed step forward if it's at Niagara.

Now that the season is 24 hours past, it's a good time to look forward to the 1998-99 season (and just think, Buffalo's getting that much closer to hosting its first NCAA subregional in 2000).

My early favorite for next year's No. 1 is Connecticut. Apparently, Richard Hamilton and Khalid El-Amin are both staying in Storrs for another year. Every other key player will be back, and Jim Calhoun has another top-notch recruiting class.

The usual suspects will be in the chase -- Kentucky, North Carolina, Arizona, Duke, of course -- but something tells me El-Amin is going to take Calhoun to his first Final Four next year.

With Pete Gillen taking over as Virginia's coach, the perceived front-runner for the Providence job is Iona coach Tim Welsh.

Welsh would be a good hire for the Friars, who want to maintain a recruiting base in New York City and probably aren't ready to hand the program over to assistant Bobby Gonzalez.

If Welsh leaves, former NBA star Jeff Ruland is a lock to move up from his assistant's post at Iona.

How else could we close out the season, but with a one-liner from the Utah coach?

"You ever notice that they never show a pick on SportsCenter?" Majerus said.

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