Olympic Fever has hit Kansas University men's basketball forward Lester Earl.
``I still want to run in the Olympics. I think I could do that. It's always in the back of my head. I want to do it at KU,'' said Earl, a former Baton Rouge, La., prep basketball and track standout, who has designs on becoming a two-sport athlete at Kansas.
Earl, a 6-foot-8, 235-pounder, won the triple jump at the Louisiana state high school championships his junior year at Glen Oaks High. Earl triple jumped 48-5, not half bad, considering the qualifying mark for the NCAA championships Earl, who didn't compete in track his senior year at Glen Oaks because of a knee injury -- he's yet to compete in college as he adjusts to life as a basketball player -- believes his best bet for Olympic fame comes in the sprint events.
Earl has a personal-best clocking of 48.0 in the 400-meter dash, good for fourth place at Louisiana's regional high school meet. Just the top three finishers advanced to state. He also failed to qualify for state in the long jump, leaping 22-5 at regionals. The NCAA qualifying time in the 400 is 47.0. Qualifying standard for the long jump is 24-11.
``I really wanted to win state in the 400,'' Earl said, ``but the way I looked at it is there were guys in Louisiana who competed year-round in that event. I came out in the spring right after basketball ended. I had little time to practice.
``I fell short mainly because I didn't have the practice time.''
Earl does not have just a passing interest in track. He says he likes the sport as much as basketball.
``No doubt. I love it,'' he said. ``It's one-on-one competition. It's who works the hardest and prepares the hardest. Who wants it the most.''
Earl says KU basketball coach Roy Williams has given his blessing if he wants to try track at Kansas.
``I might end up going out this year. It depends how far we go, how good a season we have in basketball,'' said Earl, who would like to win a national championship this season and extend the hoops season until April. ``Also, I have three screws in my ankle (from surgery in May) and I have to find out if I can jump.''
Track could be something he tries at KU down the line. Earl has just one year of eligibility remaining in basketball. That could jump to two years, however, if LSU is placed on probation this summer for recruiting violations involving Earl. He attended LSU one semester before transferring to Kansas.
Earl has three years of eligibility left in track. His five-year clock as a collegiate athlete expires in the school year 2000-01, meaning he could skip this year and have three years remaining in track starting in the 1998-99 school year.
``Somebody that big and fast, it would be a matter of him getting his technique down,'' KU track coach Gary Schwartz said of Earl's potential as an Olympic athlete. ``The times and distances he had in high school ... you would take a serious look at him in recruiting.
``Good athletes are good athletes. If you are really gifted, you have a chance at going far in track. I'd assume he'd be good at a lot of things. Usually people who can triple jump can also do well in the high hurdles.''
Schwartz, who threw the discus at KU in the 1960s, competed in the era of two-sport athletes.
``An athlete of his ability probably wouldn't have to compete in as many meets,'' Schwartz said. ``He has a lot of things to focus on with basketball and academics. But a lot of people have that drive to be two-sport athletes.''