The university of Kansas campus comprises for the most part a singularly unimpressive hodgepodge of local limestone and brick; Sigma Chi's white-porticoed fraternity house is perhaps the structure most pleasant to look upon. These days, however, Kansans only have eyes for another—human—variety of architecture: Wilton Chamberlain, a 7-foot sophomore who strides the Jayhawk campus like a Gulliver among the Lilliputians and bestrides the national collegiate basketball scene like a colossus.
Kansas and Chamberlain began their assault on the record books in a season's opener against Northwestern, a team with a better-than-even chance of winning the Big Ten title. It was ho contest. Kansas won, breezing, 87-69, Chamberlain setting a new Big Seven record with 52 points, grabbing 31 rebounds and setting off a shock wave of jitters in all directions that is bound to reach and affect all future Kansas opponents. Chamberlain is no Fancy Dan, though it appears he could be if he chose because he has speed, grace and spring in abundance. He simply takes the ball in the pivot, jumps and turns, stretches out an elastic frame and unbelievably long arms in mid-air and dunks it. Scout Fred Wegner, whose Wisconsin team plays Kansas next week, put it this way: "It's bad enough when he stuffs that ball in the basket, but when he rolls it in downhill, he just breaks your heart." Before the NCAA playoffs next March, rival coaches will have tried all manner of strategy to stop Chamberlain. One reason its seems unlikely that anything will work is the fact that the rest of the Kansas team is so good; any opponent that concentrates on Chamberlain will be caught flat-footed by an offense run by Guard Maurice King who, aside from his tall teammate, may be the best player in the Big Seven. Off their first few games, the rest of the conference should finish in this order: Kansas State, attacking around 6-foot-9 pivotman Jack Parr; Iowa State, sparked by little (5 feet 10) Gary Thompson; Oklahoma, Missouri, Colorado and Nebraska.
There is, of course, an Ivy League, which makes it easy to determine the best among the eight teams since they play each other. But most of the others here are independents who freelance around the country. Conceding this obstacle to comparative estimates, early-season choices to achieve national ranking are Seton Hall, Temple, St. John's, in that order. Each has an All-America hopeful: Dick Gaines (Seton Hall), Guy Rodgers (Temple) and Dick Duckett (St. John's). All are relatively small but extremely adept as ball handlers, and all helped as their teams took the early games—Seton Hall 87, Toronto 52; Temple 62, Gettysburg 39; St. John's 96, King's Point 48.
December 17, 1956
St. Joseph's of Philadelphia, Niagara and Canisius should follow the top three. St. Joseph's has won three straight, Niagara has won two out of three (losing, in overtime, to Toledo), Canisius has won four straight.
Among the Ivies, Yale's red-haired, dead-eye Johnny Lee has a new helpmate in a sophomore redhead, Larry Downs. Between them they've scored 124 points in three games, combined to swamp Amherst in their opener 76-55. Competition for the Ivy title will come from Columbia, whose Chet Forte (only 5 feet 9) will also give Lee a run for league scoring honors, and defending champion Dartmouth with a full squad of veterans.
An indication of basketball's great appeal here is the fact that Big Ten games will be telecast on a regular basis by a 35-station Sports Network extending from Ohio to Minnesota and sponsored by Standard Oil of Indiana. The screen should show Dick Mast's set shots and Joe Rucklick's lovely soft hooks outscoring most league opponents and raising Northwestern from last place (in 1955-56) to first this season.
Illinois, with spectacled George BonSalle (6 feet 8), and Minnesota, whose Jed Dommeyer is the best jump-shooter in the conference, make the Big Ten a three-way battle. Michigan has little chance for ranking but may have the nation's only two-sport All-America in Ron Kramer, the football end, who plays center and led the team in scoring last season with a 20.3 average. Ohio State has already run over Butler (98-82) and Pittsburgh (100-69) and appears the only worthy candidate for dark-horse mention.
Independents are powers here, too, with Dayton and Xavier outstanding and Notre Dame well equipped to give Irish fans something to cheer about after a lamentable football season. They've swamped St. Joseph's (Ind.) 98-55, with all their starters scoring 10 points or more and the veteran John Smyth getting 29. Xavier's little (5 feet 7) honor student, Jimmy Boothe, has led them to two easy victories; he is out to break his own remarkable record of 462 points set last season. Despite a tough schedule, St. Louis should go through the Missouri Valley like Sherman through Georgia. Thus far, in two non-conference games, they've beaten Cincinnati 91-73 and lost to Ohio State 74-54. If serious opposition does develop in the Valley, it undoubtedly will come from Oklahoma A&M, which has now won three out of four, the defeat at the hands of Pacific powerhouse Washington.
Apart from Wilt Chamberlain of Kansas, the best all-star quintet in the country might be made up from players such as Charlie Tyra of Louisville, Len Rosenbluth of North Carolina, Rod Hundley of West Virginia, Vernon Hatton of Kentucky. Certainly the teams these men play for look like the best in their leagues. West Virginia should breeze to its third straight Southern Conference title. North Carolina, with a roster rich in New York City high school products, should have slight trouble with N.C. State in the Atlantic Coast Conference but with no one else. Kentucky's Crying Colonel Rupp to the contrary ("This should be our worst team in 15 years"), the Wildcats have no one to fear in the Southeastern Conference but Alabama. In their first two games they scored 208 points, a record for Kentucky teams. In their third, they beat Temple 73-58. Coach Peck Hickman of the independent Louisvilles puts it bluntly: "Offhand, I can't see anybody on our schedule better than we are." He's right, too.
There remains the Ohio Valley Conference which, this season, belongs to Western Kentucky.
This was supposed to be the year that the champions of the Southwest Conference would demonstrate this area's recent heavy concentration on basketball by winning the NCAA tournament—until it was learned that the SWC's first NCAA opponent probably will be Wilt Chamberlain and Co. At that, especially if SMU takes its third straight conference title, that first tournament game, sometime in March, may be the most interesting all season. It would pit SMU's Jim Krebs (6 feet 8) against Chamberlain. Krebs is the young man who scored 24 points on Bill Russell last year and held Russell to 17. Krebs hit for 42 in two games so far as SMU crushed McMurry 113-36 and threw a tight zone defense against a really good Oklahoma City team to win 78-62.
Rice, of course, has other plans and, with probably the tallest college team in the nation, could edge SMU for the crown. Rice's Owls have also won, their first two games, with a lineup that includes Temple Tucker (6 feet 10), Tom Robitaille (6 feet 9) and Gary Griffin and W. A. Preston (both 6 feet 6). After SMU and Rice come Texas, with last season's starting five intact and the league's top scorer in Ray Downs; and TCU whose Dick O'Neal (6 feet 7) helps make the Horned Frogs a solid contender. The rest of the conference will be scrambling to avoid the cellar.
It's another story in the Border Conference. Picking the best at this stage of a seven-team dogfight requires a crystal ball. Just as a guess: Arizona.
THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS
As any horse opera fan knows, most of the fighting in the far West took place between the cowboys and Indians. In basketball it's still going on—between the Cowboys of Wyoming and the Redskins of Utah, and this year the winner should also be Skyline Conference champion. Wyoming Coach Ev Shelton was conducting clinics for Service teams in Germany three years ago when his eyes fell upon Tony Windis and Phil Mulkey, two smooth-as-glass ball handlers. Guess what? They're now sophomores at Wyoming and running the Cowboys from the backcourt. Teamed with another sophomore, Kent Bryan (6 feet 8), they were giving powerful Oregon State (see below) a lot of trouble the other night when a final-quarter lapse, not uncommon to young teams, cost them the game 68-65.
The Utah Redskins, meanwhile, were running their home-floor winning streak to a record 33 straight, beating Montana State once and Hawaii and Arizona twice each. As usual, Utah has great speed but needs at least one big man who can score. Likely candidates are Pearl Pollard (6 feet 8), Jack Mannion (6 feet 6) and Milt Kane (6 feet 5). Until one comes through, such backcourt small men as Curt Jenson and Gary Hall must carry the burden.
Brigham Young may still challenge these top two though they have already lost to non-conference Iowa State and Oregon State. The rest of the Skyliners, on paper, make up the second division. In the Rocky Mountain Conference, Idaho State and Montana State appear to outclass all comers.
THE FAR WEST
Pacific Coast basketball should be a wild hugger-mugger compounded of unknown quantities and NCAA ineligibles. The ineligibles—Washington, UCLA, USC—are denied the right to the PCC title even if one of them compiles the best record, which Washington, at least, may very well do. Among the early-season unknowns is independent Seattle, with three young sophomores all the way from the Spingarn high school in Washington, D.C.
For a brief while, one assumption appeared reasonable: San Francisco, minus Russell and Jones, would have its phenomenal 55-game winning streak cut off early. Well, at last count, that streak was at 59 and the possible cutoff point was vanishing beyond the team's regular schedule and into the vagaries of championship playoff tournaments. However, the Dons' 57th was surely a Pyrrhic victory. While contributing to the 70-56 triumph over California's strong crew of veterans, Guard Gene Brown broke two fingers of his left hand and will be out for at least a month. He is, in practically all books, the best all-round man on the Coast, with a fine outside shot and the defensive skill that marks the whole USF team.
In their California league, San Francisco should still win, but it will not be a shoo-in. College of the Pacific, which has already won twice, and San Jose State, with three victories, pose the biggest threats. COP's John Thomas (6 feet 5, 210 pounds) who is aiming for pro ball, has an admirably accurate jump shot and rebounds with the best.
Forgetting the ineligibles, the PCC race is still a scramble. California will be as good as Guard and Playmaker Earl Robinson, which may be good enough. Last year's fast-finishing Oregon State has a slew of tall men, led by Dave Gambee (6 feet 7). None of the others can be counted out with fair certainty.
One of the best things about basketball is the fact that a school needs only a bare handful of men who want to play plus a minimum of equipment, none of it expensive. Almost every school in the country, therefore, fields a team. In surveying such a vast number it is easy to overlook a truly outstanding combination. As a sample, we give you the College of Steubenville, Ohio, with a student body of 528 men and 280 women. Steubenville's sports are touch football, softball, table tennis—and basketball. Last season Steubenville's basketball record was 28-4, this year they've won their first three games.
How good is Steubenville? Even Coach Henry Kuzma doesn't know. He has a lot of trouble getting opponents. After all, would San Francisco risk losing to Steubenville of Ohio?