Jensen and 'Nova have a future

(Published in Daily News, March 16, 1985)

DAYTON, Ohio - As the wiseacre kid in "Risky Business" kept saying, sometimes you just have to say what the hell (liberal translation).

Harold Jensen set himself on the right wing of Villanova's spread offense, score tied, 49-49, 1:10 remaining against Dayton on Dayton's homecourt in the first round of the NCAA Southeast Regional. Which, if the business got too risky, would merely be the final collegiate game for three-fifths of the Wildcats' starting lineup.

"I turned," Jensen said. "I didn't see anybody in the middle. We had told ourselves we weren't necessarily holding for the last shot. So I saw a chance."

Harold Jensen, sophomore, 39.8 percent shooter, four-point-a-game scorer ... "I said what the hell," he said.

Jensen took one courageous first step. Dayton did nothing. He took another. Still nothing - the Flyers were too worried about Ed Pinckney, who was destroying Dayton center Dave Colbert on both ends (20 points to five).

Then Jensen put his head down.

Harold Pressley looked and took hope. "Once he does that," Pressley said later, "I know he's got the confidence. I had no doubts he was going all the way. I got out of the way. I didn't even bother going for the rebound."

There was none. Jensen sailed on in for the game-winner, 51-49, that put Villanova into the second round tomorrow against second-ranked Michigan.

That, of course, was not all Jensen's late-night ride did. It gave Villanova a 20-win season for the fifth time in six years. It made sure that the Wildcats would not exit this tournament any sooner than they did last year, when they fell in the second round to Illinois.

It gave the Big East a 5-1 mark in first-round games, with Pitt the only fraudulent entry. And it even cast a few rays of light on the great unknown that is the future of Villanova basketball.

Eons have passed since Villanova has played a basketball game without Pinckney, Dwayne McClain and Gary McLain. But Jensen is part of that uncharted chasm ahead, along with Pressley, Dwight Wilbur, Mark Plansky, two unproven, rising centers, and the highly credentialed freshman class of '86. Will it be a competitive future? With a new field house, it had better be.

There will be pressure everywhere, but especially on the Wildcat backcourt, since Pinckney's tentacles will be employed by some fortunate NBA club next year. Big plays by Harold Jensen will be necessities, not pleasant surprises, then.

Jensen had all of that on his mind before the Big East tournament, when he knocked on Rollie Massimino's door. The 'Cats' hearse had just returned from Pitt. How bad was the Pitt game? If Dr. Quincy had seen it, he would have told Sam the assistant, "Don't bother." And Jensen's confidence was dead, too.

"I don't think I'm living up to your expectations," Jensen told Massimino.

"That's not true," Massimino replied. "Of course not. Listen, you're a great kid. I know you're not going to the NBA, but you work hard and you do a good job. Just keep it up and look for your shot."

Last night, Jensen looked for it when Dayton was leading 13-8, and the crowd of 13,260 at Dayton Arena was gathering its voice. Jensen scored on a drive. A couple of minutes later, his bank shot put the 'Cats in the lead, not that there was anything permanent about it. Villanova and Dayton quickly settled into one of those games that, in our yesterdays, made the Palestra hum - so imperfect, but so close, so rough, but so Catholic.

The Flyers, who finished 19-10, have been tough on the court and sensational in the marketplace - i.e., they've undersold themselves marvelously to the basketball world. "We're awfully small," said coach Don Donoher, noting that Colbert is the giant at 6-7. Yes, but they're awfully good shooters, and awfully athletic in the backcourt with Sedric Toney and Larry Schellenberg, and awfully persistent defensively.

Last year, this bunch followed Roosevelt Chapman (that's "Chappie" in the local papers) and Ed Young to the Final Eight, bowling over LSU, Oklahoma and Washington with all these frail specimens. This year Chapman's eligibility ran out and Young, 6-7, got hurt in preseason. So everyone forgot about the Flyers until they swept a two-game set with DePaul and topped Loyola and Maryland.

The Flyers also are independent, which means Donoher can schedule 17 home games with impunity. Dayton won 15 of them this year and is now 207-64 in the Arena. Much - too much - was made of the home-cooking factor, as if Villanova hadn't been traveling to such hospitality centers as Syracuse and Georgetown for years.

"The key was that we sat on Dayton's bench tonight," Massimino said. "That bench is 16-2 now."

And what of Villanova 's bench?

"Jensen? Good things happen to good people," he said.

"It really has been tough to maintain confidence," Jensen said. "It comes and it goes. I'm at the end of my sophomore year, which means I should be doing more things than I'm doing. The talk with Coach helped me out.

"On that last play, I just went as soon as I saw something. And the Dayton guys weren't looking for it. The helping defense was late coming over - everybody was collapsing on Eddie and Harold Pressley. I think one guy finally got over, just as my hand was going to the rim."

But, what the hell, it was done by then.

Now Villanova plays Michigan, which has an All-Bicep frontline, a 17-game winning streak, and Gary Grant, the premier freshman guard in America.

That, however, is not risky business.

That, since Harold Jensen made the first great play of the rest of his life, is opportunity.