The scene at the left bears only a slight resemblance to the game of basketball, but it is nevertheless an accurate representation of events that took place this fall in college gymnasiums all over the nation as nearly 1,000 teams prepared for the roundball season that opens this weekend. It shows the players of Los Angeles State College sharpening their timing and increasing their jumping ability, two skills absolutely essential to success in this sport, through the medium of a unique drill. This year as never before, basketball coaches have been concentrating on specialized preseason conditioning exercises to prepare their men for the particular demands shortly to be made of them.
"This," says Navy Coach Ben Carnevale, "is one of the most strenuous team sports in the world. There's no rest between plays. You switch from offense to defense and back to offense without a break. You've got to run to play, and you've got to be in tiptop shape to run all night."
Carnevale's Midshipmen live a strictly regulated life at the Academy, which puts them in good shape to begin with, but they still spend many hours on specific conditioning routines. They climb ropes and ladders to develop arm and chest muscles, and that helps them to take a stronger grip on the ball; they use running machines and sprint up and down stadium steps to strengthen thigh and calf muscles for greater speed and endurance; they flip the heavy medicine ball back and forth endlessly to promote wrist snap for long passes.
Last year all this work paid off when Navy, even though it is handicapped in a basketball way by the Academy's height restrictions, eliminated favored North Carolina in the NCAA championships. Navy was simply better prepared physically for a peak effort at the end of a long season. At Fordham, Coach John Bach employs a series of weight-resistance routines which have produced remarkable results in jumping. One of his centers, who in jumping straight up from a standing start could lift his feet 17½ inches from the floor, improved that to 26½ inches after several weeks of the exercises.
As they have improved their conditioning programs college coaches have also been receiving better-trained players from the nation's high schools, where the sport has become easily the most popular on the athletic schedule. This year's crop of college sophomores, the rookies, is the best in history, and includes such fine prospects as Ohio State's Jerry Lucas, Wake Forest's Len Chappell, Utah's Billy McGill and Providence's Jim Hadnot—all of whom are All-America prospects. Though the nation's 180-odd major colleges (so designated by the NCAA) regularly skim off the cream of each year's high school crop, there is such a wealth of talent available these days that the smaller schools, too, now play a very high caliber of basketball. A few, including Evansville, Wheaton, Southwest Missouri and North Carolina A&T, could compete on favorable terms with the major universities.
Spectators (nearly 15 million saw games in college gyms last year) will be happy to learn that, for the first time in many years, there are no significant changes in rules to confuse them or delay action. The only thing different this season is the color of the ball; where both teams agree, it will be orange, so that fans and players both may better follow its progress.
Since no preview is complete without a prediction of which teams are likely to compete in the national championship round, this year to be held in the Cow Palace in San Francisco, let it be known that Kentucky and Cincinnati should meet in the finals, and that Kentucky should be the winner. This soothsayer does not promise to eat an orange basketball if he's wrong.