If you're to be the best, preaches Dallas Lincoln High basketball coach Leonard Bishop, you must stand ready to prove it. Which is exactly what his undefeated state Class AAAA champions did last season. En route to a 40-0 record and the No. 1 spot in the nation in schoolboy rankings conducted by USA Today and Prep Sports, his Tigers defeated five schools that were judged among the nation's premier teams.

Invited to a tournament in St. Louis, they won the championship by defeating No. 6-ranked Midwest City High. In Lake Charles, Louisiana, they knocked off No. 23 Westbury Christian. Closer to home they scored wins over No. 6 Beaumont Ozen, No. 9 Cedar Hill (before a crowd of 17,995 in Reunion Arena at The Dallas Morning News Shootout ) and The Colony, which was ranked No. 14 in the country.

"I think the fact we were willing to go up against so many outstanding teams in non-district play," the 52-year-old Bishop says, "was the reason we were ultimately picked as the national champion."

Which is a pretty daring act for a man who looks more like a businessman at courtside, rarely displaying the emotional rants of many in his line of work; a coach who insists his primary job is to make sure his kids excel academically.

"Basically," says the former all-state guard who grew up in little Sexton, Missouri, "my job is that of a teacher. I spend most of my time trying to help students learn life skills that will be important to them long after they've played their last basketball game."

He says with pride that all 10 seniors who made the recent season so memorable are now on college campuses.

"Every player on our team," he says, "grasped the fact that playing basketball wasn't the only reason they were coming to school every day. They were a group that recognized that hard work--in the classroom, at home, at practice and on game day--was essential to reaching the goals we had set before the season began. They realized that to be successful you have to apply yourself fully every day.

"What these kids accomplished," Bishop continues, "is something they will carry with them for the rest of their lives. I've done some research in an attempt to see if there has ever been any other high school basketball team that has gone undefeated, won state and been ranked No. 1 in the same year and haven't found one."

For the Southeast Missouri graduate who entered his 30th year of coaching when practice for the new season opened in October, the magical 2001-'02 season was not something he'd foreseen. Even getting a job at a school with a celebrated athletic history like that of Lincoln's seemed out of reach when he launched his career back in New Madrid, Missouri. From there he came to Seagoville, where he served three years as coach of middle school basketball before working his way up to the high school job he held from 1984 to 1999.

Then, three years ago, Lincoln High came calling. In his first season as head coach of the Tigers, his team made it to the regional finals. In the second year, they advanced to the state tournament. Then last year, Bishop and his team rang all the bells, turning away all opposition with a controlled fast break offense that averaged 78 points per game and an aggressive defense.

Where does one go from perfection? Despite the fact only two players return from last year's varsity, there are great expectations. Last year's junior varsity went 16-2, and the freshman team lost only one game, in overtime. Back from last year's championship team are junior forward Cedric Griffin and the coach's son, Leonard Bishop Jr., a senior guard. A 5-foot-10 sophomore, Byron Eaton, has already been ranked by one preseason publication as the No. 2 point guard in the United States. "One of the things we try to do," Bishop says, "is develop talent on our lower-level teams. We had kids playing jayvee ball who were good enough to be on the varsity had we not had so many good seniors. Now, it's their turn."

Not only to add to the school's string of victories but to benefit from the lessons coach Bishop will teach.

Local wine publications haven't shown much resilience in Dallas. At least two upstart carcasses litter the landscape, testaments to the absurdity of attempting to translate Big D's thirst for cork-finished juice into an urge to read about it through a local lens. The Dallas Food & Wine Journal, a food-and-wine rag launched by entrepreneur Harvey Jury in 1995, lasted just two issues. Even the considerable heft of Belo couldn't get Dallas' sipper denizens to think local. The Dallas Morning News' quarterly insert magazine Wine and Food, launched in 1998, was scuttled after just a couple of issues.

So what makes former computer parts broker Paul Evans think he can conquer a market that has bloodied others with better armaments? Mental instability. "You have to be a crazy person to do this," says the 30-year old publisher of Vine Texas. "But you also have to be very passionate."

It's that passion--a term so often tossed around with respect to wine it has become as tiresome as road tar metaphors in tasting notes--Evans thinks will drive him to publishing success with Vine Texas, an upstart four-color glossy with wine personality profiles, reviews, beer and cigar jabber, as well as tips on wine acquisition.

So what? Aren't there enough glossies from New York packed with cherry-berry-leather-tar-tropical fruit-cream-grass-gooseberry notes of the latest bottlings? Sure. But Evans says Vine Texas is different. It's dedicated to the whims of the Texas wine enthusiast (the July/August issue even argues that those tasting descriptors are obsolete, as much of young America has never tasted raw fruit or unprocessed veggies--are Fruit Roll-Ups that pervasive?). "You're not going to see articles about wines that are hard to find in Texas," Evans insists. "We're not going to stick our noses in the air and brag about how we tasted this 1989 bottle of Petrus that you can't find except in some restaurant for $2,000."

Not that Vine Texas has a nose-in-the-air pedigree. Originally launched as Vine Dallas earlier this year, Vine Texas was dreamed up by Evans and entrepreneur Mike Whitaker after Evans lost his job as a sales manager at The Met following its purchase and erasure by Dallas Observer parent New Times in late 2000. Whitaker, publisher of the free Dallas nightlife/lifestyle magazine called The Link, brought Evans on to breathe some life into the rag.

But Evans says it was quickly obvious The Link was not long for this world. "The Link was very stressful, near the end, money-wise," he laments. "To tell you the truth, Mike and I both, we got sick of club and bar owners. They never pay on time, and when you're running a company off revenue from advertising, you have to rely on being paid."

So the pair sought to unearth a niche stocked not only with a panting audience, but also a cache of vendors willing to open their checkbooks. They decided to focus on wine because it was the preoccupation of several Link staffers. Evans and his cronies met with jeers. But they also had some cheerleaders among Dallas' restaurant heavies, including Al Biernat of Al Biernat's, Judd Fruia of Pappas Bros., Alessio Franceschetti (formerly of eccolo) and Efisio Farris of Arcodoro Pomodoro.

With virtually no seed money, Evans assembled a magazine prototype on the cheap and printed 1,000 copies, dispersing them to potential advertisers. "Next thing you know, I have people all over the place calling me," he boasts. "It was passed around like the plague."

Smitten by the interest the prototype generated, Evans and Whitaker shut down The Link last January after a two-year run and flushed all their energy into Vine Dallas, which turned out a January and a March issue. The original plan was to secure the Dallas market and then customize the magazine for other Texas markets, distributing titles such as Vine Houston and Vine Austin. But national advertisers balked at the move.

Vine Texas was the upshot. Evans and Whitaker pumped 80,000 copies of the first bimonthly (July/August) issue through a number of outlets, including Barnes & Noble, Winn-Dixie, Albertson's and selected fine wine shops. They hope to publish monthly by next summer.

Evans snickers when he thinks about all the people who told him he was crazy--or worse--for launching a Dallas wine magazine. "They said, 'If you have a third issue, I'll pat you on the back.' Well, pat me on the back. Number three has arrived."

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