The big, ganglingyoungster moved with the awkward grace of a Great Dane puppy. He lopeddown-court with long, heavy-footed strides, and it was only after you watchedhim for a while that you realized the big body had the sure economy and theease of motion of a fine athlete, and then you could see that while the bodymovements were deliberate the big hands had the very quick accuracy of the pawflick of a great cat.
Jim Krebs playedbasketball with absolute concentration, absorbed and intense, and the rocketingwaves of sound from the 8,500-odd people overflowing the new Southern MethodistUniversity field house washed around him unheard. He jockeyed strongly forposition under the basket, leaning his 6-foot 8-inch, 225-pound frame into thecontinuing pressure of three Arkansas players trying to guard him, hismovements never hurried but sure and often surprisingly deceptive. Hemaneuvered easily and well in the cramped space available, trying for a longtime to free himself from the human picket fence surrounding him. When he foundhe could not clear himself he moved out and away to the corner of the court,and three times, quickly, feet trailing like a crane in flight, he lifted oddlysoft, high jump shots that whispered cleanly through the net and raised thedeafening roar of the crowd to bedlam.
This crowd, thebiggest in SMU history, had come to see Krebs score and, seeing it, would comeagain, and the new field house, dedicated only this year, is already too small.Krebs is the key player on the top team, leading a remarkable surge ofbasketball interest in the Southwest. Besides SMU's $2.5 million field house,four more conference schools are playing in field houses completed in recentyears. Arkansas is playing its second year in a million-dollar building seating6,000 with a future capacity of 9,000; Texas A&M in 1954 completed a9,000-seat field house, and Rice, back in 1950, finished a 6,000-seat fieldhouse. Texas Tech, newest member of the conference, has a 10,000-seat fieldhouse. Since 1950, seating capacity in the conference has increased from 20,000to 44,000, and most of it is being filled. At the SMU-Arkansas game, fansfilled the gym, spilling over into temporary seats on the floor and standingthree deep at the ends of the court. The crowd was a noisy and excitable one,albeit not yet as knowledgeable as, say, an Indiana basketball crowd.
To them, Krebswas most of the show. Although he was hampered early in the game by theArkansas zone defense which had three men around him, he scored 18 points inSMU's 69-55 victory. He hit from far out—the jump shots from the corner—andwhen Arkansas changed its defense to send men out to harry him, he moved in abit closer and whipped a shallow-arching hook shot through the cords, bouncingthe shot off the backboard. Finally, Arkansas abandoned its zone defense indesperation and tried to handle Krebs man for man and, feinting beautifullywith an oddly deceptive head and shoulder movement, Jim slipped away forlayups, covering an amazing distance in two long, reaching strides to thebasket. On defense, he ambled almost casually across the area in front of thebasket, chevying his man away from the easy-shot zone. Krebs is not a strongjumper, lifting only a little off the floor when he leaps for a rebound, but heplays position so precisely and his hand and eye coordination is so good thathe is a great rebounder.
He is a completebasketball player, with all the skills of the game, but he has not been onelong. Krebs came to Southern Methodist four years ago, from Webster Groves HighSchool near St. Louis, and he had played only one full season of high schoolbasketball then. In that year, his last at Webster Groves, he broke all theschool scoring records and led his team to the semifinals of the state highschool tournament. He had bids from 20 schools before he decided on SMU, whichwas far from a basketball power at the time. Doc Hayes, the quiet, low-keycoach of the Mustangs, pitched his arguments on the contrast between going toone of the big basketball schools which already had a tradition of winning andcoming down to SMU where there was a chance to start one. "Down here,"Hayes told Krebs and two more St. Louis boys, "you kids will be longremembered." Krebs agrees: "They'd never had a real basketballtradition down here, and the idea of all of us coming down together from St.Lou's to make it seemed pretty fine."
When Krebs isgraduated this spring, the tradition will be a solid one. With him, SMU hasalready won two conference championships, is well on its way to a third.
Basketball didnot come easy to Jim. As a high school freshman he could not make the froshsquad. He played a little on the B team as a sophomore, but he grew five inchesthat year and he found the job of coordinating the lanky body too much for him.It was a psychological shock, too, to find he was going to be so much tallerthan the run of mankind.
"I guess Ididn't realize how big I was going to be for a while," he says. "Itcame pretty quick and it was hard to get used to. But I did. You have to. A fatman can reduce and a skinny man can try to fatten himself up. Even a little guycan wear elevator shoes, but there's no way to whittle off height."
Krebs was awkwardand tangle-footed and with a less patient and less understanding coach thanWebster Groves' Tyke Yates he might never have become a good athlete. Yates letthe coltish boy go his own gait, offering encouragement and suggestions but notpushing him. Krebs was sick with an ear infection much of his junior year, andYates brought him along slowly in practice his last year. Says SMU Coach Hayes,"Yates recognized the importance of the kid's building confidence. Kids canbe pretty cruel, and Tyke didn't put Jim out until he was ready to do a goodjob."
One of Krebs'sstrong points is a capacity for frank and searching self-analysis. After hishigh school career he decided that he needed a hook shot to play collegebasketball, and he spent the summer working on one. "I used to shoot 300 or400 hook shots a day," he says. "It's a tough shot to shoot right. Ifyou turn your wrist a little too much you miss, and then if you don't followthrough right you miss. You got to work and work to get everything right, justlike grooving a swing in golf. I finally got it, though."
By the time Krebswas a sophomore at SMU, the hook shot was a polished and deadly weapon. Krebswas beginning to move with more assurance, too, and the big feet that got inhis way in high school were under control.
Hayes had givenKrebs a stiff course in advanced basketball his freshman year. Realizing theyoungster needed more experience against big players after his abbreviated highschool career, Hayes pitted him against a sophomore center, Tom Miller, everyafternoon. Miller had been an all-city player in high school for two years, andhe was a skilled and aggressive player, only an inch or two shorter thanKrebs.
"We playedone-on-one every afternoon during the season," says Krebs. "Tom dideverything he could to me. He stepped on my toes and elbowed me and pushed andheld when I tried to shoot. Once I complained because he was holding and Imissed a shot, and Coach Hayes said, 'Make the shot anyway. If he's holding,you'll get three points with the free throw.' I used to get mad at Tom and I'dfight back as hard as I could and I learned a lot. I guess that's what CoachHayes really wanted."
The hook carriedKrebs through his sophomore year, but the other conference schools adjustedtheir defenses to stop it when he was a junior. They began to use zone defensesdesigned to deny him his favorite hooking area and keep him away from thebasket where he could use his height to dunk the ball.
He tried to hookand, under strong pressure, his touch was off and he missed. He could not moveinside against the wall of defenders and get quick, easy shots he was usedto.
So, through thelong, hot Dallas summer last year, Krebs worked on a jump shot from deep."I changed my hook some, too," he says. "I was shooting a soft hookright at the basket before. You shoot a soft hook like that and sometimes itwill hang on the rim and drop through where a hard shot will bounce out. But toshoot a soft hook you need more time than I was getting last year. It takestouch, and if you are hurried you lose the touch and you miss. So while I waspracticing the outside shot, I worked on a hard hook that I bounce off thebackboard. I can get it off quicker and don't have to be so delicate withit."
The tremendouscompetitive spirit that animates Krebs accounts for the long, grinding hours hehas spent painfully acquiring his basketball skills. He has had that spirit along time.
"When I was akid in grammar school mother used to play card games with me a lot," herecalls. "If I lost I'd get mad and wouldn't talk to her. She was the sameway, though. She'd get just as mad if I beat her. I guess I got that from her.I never have been able to understand anyone who didn't get mad aboutlosing."
Krebs is nowrated as the best basketball player in Southwest Conference history. Glen Rose,whose Arkansas team lost to SMU twice this year, says, "He's the hardestman to defense we ever had in this league, and I go back to 1925 in it. He'sthe best combination of size, strength and shooting ability. Why, when heplayed against Bill Russell in the NCAA, Russell couldn't handle him either. Hegot 24 points and Russell got 17. The record speaks for itself."
Krebs's successagainst Russell was no accident. It came from his habit of studying prospectiveopponents carefully, looking for flaws.
"My sophomoreyear I remember we played Indiana," he says. "That was when Indiana hadDon Schlundt, the All-America, at center. I read everything I could aboutSchlundt in magazines and newspapers, trying to find out what he could do andwhat he couldn't. By the time we got into the game, I was so tied up I didn'tknow what I was doing. But I found out the first few times I brushed up againsthim out there that he was human just like me. I got 20 points in the first halfand he got 9, but I fouled out in the second half and he went on to get 41. Hetaught me something, too. I used to put my hands up on the guy guarding me toget a quick start and beat him, and I got fouls called on me for shoving a lot.Schlundt would just kind of lean on me until he had me off balance, then go theother way quick, and he got the same effect and he didn't get any fouls. So Itried that too, and it worked."
Against Russell,Krebs experimented for a while, looking for a weakness. He faked to his leftand cut back to his right for a layup, and Russell lifted a long arm andcovered the shot. Then Krebs tried faking right and going to his left.
"I was reallysurprised," he says. "I expected to get the ball crammed down my throatand I went up and shot and looked around and Russell was way out of position. Ikept faking that way all night and I found out he couldn't cover nearly as wellto his left as he could to his right."
For the first twoyears Krebs played on the SMU varsity he had Tom Miller to relieve him and,because he tired easily, he needed the relief. A combination of rapid growthand the sinus infection which had kept him out of basketball his junior year inhigh school robbed him of stamina.
"They used tosay he was not training," Hayes says. "But those big boys can't go atfull speed for long when they're not mature without getting completelyexhausted. We'd drive him until he was tired and then urge him to do some more.Gradually, he built up stamina and coordination."
This year, forthe first time, Krebs can play a whole game without substitution. "I had tolearn to pace myself," he says. "Coach Hayes lets me handle thetime-outs if I figure I need one now. I found out you got to call time beforeyou get real winded. If you wait too long and get too tired, you can't get yourwind back at all. Then late in the game you go dead, and you're no good forrebounds or jumping."
Doc Hayes, whostill makes a point of nursing Krebs's strength, has said, "Coaching is anoverrated profession. When you got boys as good as these, there's not much youcan show them."
Actually, Hayesis a resourceful coach who is wise enough to keep his offense fairly simple.Krebs is the first really big man he has had since he started coaching at SMUnine years ago. "When we knew we were going to get him we figured out allthe things big men had been doing to plague us through the years," Hayessays. "Then we used the same things to plague everyone else."
Krebs'ssupporting cast is, of course, topnotch. Bobby Mills and Larry Showalter wereall-conference players last year. Rick Herrscher is a cat-quick playmaker and afine outside shot. Ned Duncan joined the team this year from Kilgore JuniorCollege, where he was a junior-college All-America. Bob McGregor, who relievesthe other four players, can do so without spoiling the rhythm or effectivenessof the team. He cannot relieve Krebs without damage, though.
Last week, threedays after, the Arkansas victory, SMU played Baylor in Waco. Baylor, with Rice,is the strongest competition SMU has for the conference championship and mighthave moved into a tie for the lead had SMU lost.
The Baylorgymnasium is one of the only two small ones left in the conference, and it is ahard adjustment to make for a team used to the wide ranges of SMU's new fieldhouse. So the Mustangs started slowly. Krebs was playing on a heavily tapedankle which he had sprained in practice, but he was moving easily and well. Thecrowd noise, augmented by what must be the loudest college band in the nation,beat down on the floor with a nearly physical impact. As SMU, playing afired-up team for the second time in three days, fought for an advantage, thenoise increased until the players could not hear each other's shouts. Krebs,firing his hook and his outside jump cleanly, hit well, and at half time SMUled by 12 points. Soon after the second half started, Krebs came out of apile-up under the basket limping, with his other ankle badly turned. He was outof the game for five minutes, and Baylor whittled the 12-point SMU lead down toone before he could return. Now with both ankles taped and moving slowly, Krebspulled together the SMU defense, the big hands moving as quickly as ever,flicking out like a snake's tongue to bat away shots. Once he stole the ballcleanly, passed out quickly to start a fast break for an SMU score. Twice inthe frantic, roaring final minutes, he stood calmly at the free-throw line amidbedlam and sank two free throws each time. When it was all over, SMU had won83-76.
Hayes, stillunwinding from the terrific tension, took time to consider before he answered awriter who had asked why Krebs is good.
Finally he said,thoughtfully and seriously, "How could you say 'desire' in great bigletters?"
[This articlecontains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]
Jim Krebs's 24-point average put him 13th in NCAAscoring last week. The nation's top five:
1) Grady Wallace, South Carolina
2) Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas
3) Chet Forte, Columbia
4) Jim Ashmore, Mississippi State
5) Elgin Baylor, Seattle