The All-Star game rosters were printed on red cardboard on the end of little sticks last year because the temperature in Indianapolis was almost 100° and fans are cheaper than air conditioning. Nobody was heard to yell, "You can't tell the players without a fan," and it wasn't quite that hot in Louisville last week, but basketball rosters on cardboard fans tell what the game means in the states of Kentucky and Indiana. Basketball in June, yet.
Saturday it was in the high 80s outside Louisville's Freedom Hall and that night 16,800 were inside watching the high school All-Stars from the two states playing against each other. This was the first 1966 game of a series that has been running for 26 years. The second game, in Indianapolis next week, has been sold out for two months. Unlike fast horses in Kentucky, or fast cars in Indiana, basketball has never been a sometime thing in this area. The Graustarks may come, the Mario Andrettis may go, but people in Louisville and Indianapolis each summer show which of their loves is here to stay.
Two days before Kentucky's All-Stars shocked Indiana's 104-77 (and never mind, all you Californians and Ohioans and New Yorkers, this was the first match for this year's high school championship of the world), four white convertibles roared down Interstate 65 from Indianapolis toward Louisville. In one dozed Marvin Winkler, 6 feet 1, wearing black shades and a red shirt with "Indiana All-Stars" in white letters. Later Winkler captivated several other shades and red shirts with his description of what happened. "Man, I am there in the back seat sleepin'," said Marvin. "You know, just drowsin', and I feel this sort of zig zag. [Marvin gives everybody a shoulder weave and a wink.] Man, I start. We are swervin' off the road! I mean the road is on the left, and we are goin' off on the right. I mean I really start. I am awake now, and I look over and whoa, whoa, my man at the wheel—he is startin, too. My man at the wheel—can you believe this—he's been sleepin like me!"
Marvin Winkler's man at the wheel was the coach of the Indiana All-Stars, Cleon Reynolds, who says Marvin can "stand out there and shoot with anybody." Reynolds isn't talking about high school kids. He means anybody. Marvin can also break off his wit quicker than most, and his demonstration of the uneasy moment on Interstate 65, with the accompanying hand movements and then group mirth, was as close an approach to seriousness as the Indiana team was to make during its stay in Louisville.
"We're here to have fun, that's what this is all about," said Reynolds. "We want to win this game—both of the games—but we aren't going to have any drudgery about it. Winkler, you might say, helps in this respect."
You might say that. And you might say that Reynolds, who somehow manages to look like a distinguished country club president and an elf at the same time, also helps in this respect. "This group," said Major Schnieders, the young trainer who is constantly ragged as to whether his name isn't really Schnieders Major, "is a bunch of nuts."
It was generally assumed that this Indiana team was the best the state had produced for the All-Star series since 1956, when Oscar Robertson scored 75 points as Indiana won twice. It was also said that the Hoosiers were the best shooting team ever, and anyone who coached them and failed to improve upon Indiana's 23-12 lead in the series might just be the worst coach in the state.
Besides Rick Mount, the 6-foot-3 guard from Lebanon (SI, Feb. 14) whose legendary exploits were swamping Ronald Reagan in local newspaper columns, Indiana was crammed with talent. There were 7-foot Chuck Bavis; Mike Noland, a 6-foot-6 forward who shot 53% from the floor in his senior year; 6-foot-4 Mike Niles, who shot 56%; Winkler, who broke Robertson's Indianapolis city season scoring record; Ken Johnson, a 6-foot-6 rebounder and Steve Norris. Steve is 5 feet 8, which is 11¼ inches less than what he has high jumped. Even the short guys on Indiana were tall.
"I know what we have," said Reynolds, who in his 33rd year of coaching—he is now at Marian College—was a rookie in the All-Star series. "But we don't have enough time to work. They say this team can't be beaten. That's why we're in trouble. We have too many shooters."
Before he met his team in Indianapolis 10 days prior to the game, Cleon had heard about the players' shooting ability. It was another thing to see it. "Why, they come across that midline and the ball is in the air!" he said. "Somebody asked me, where does Mount shoot from. I'm trying to figure out where he doesn't shoot from. Everybody—they go right to the ball like a magnet. It's "gimme it, gimme it' all the time. They're looking to shoot from 30-35 feet. You think these guys ever heard of assists? I thought—uh-oh, we may be the first team in history to go through a game without a pass."
Joe Reibel, a crew-cut 28-year-old who looked like one of his players' kid brother, coached the Kentucky team, and his problem was similar. He has built an impressive record at St. Xavier's High in Louisville, has been associated with this series for three years and in 1965, as head coach, beat Indiana twice. Rewarded with a return invitation from the Lions Club (which sponsors the games for charity), Joe felt things would not be as easy as last year.
"I had a couple of boys then that I coached during the year," he said. "They helped a lot in keeping this team close. We aren't as close this year. We also aren't as balanced, nor as tall. And we know why all these advance tickets have been sold, too."
Much of the early sale for both games was a tribute to the accomplishments of Mount, who, because of appearance and manner as well as ability, is plainly destined to become more than just a provincial idol. His horizons of glorification, indeed, seem limitless. There are singers and there is Frank Sinatra. Rick Mount's style is such that you would pick him out from among a group of guys horsing around or just standing there and say: "That one, that's the star," no matter in what particular capacity you might be wanting a star. Mount had been involved in a motorcycle accident a few weeks earlier, had scratched himself up and was off in his shooting (7 for 26 attempts) in Indiana's big pre-game scrimmage. But Kentucky's Joe Reibel was plainly worried about him.
"I know they're big and they have the great shooters," Reibel said. "But Mount is the difference. We can't let him have his 25 without a struggle. We've been talking about him. We're anxious to see what we can do against him."
The anxiety was increased by the fact that nobody associated with the Kentucky team had seen much of Mount except Tyrone Bedford, the 6-foot-4 center who was up for a look at Purdue the same time Rick was. "But I didn't even see him work out," said Tyrone. "I just met him. He's a nice guy. But we're enemies this week."
Kentucky's No. 1 man, 6-foot-4 Mike Casey, and Guard Bill Busey, who together led Shelby County to the state championship and will both attend the University of Kentucky next year, had never seen Mount. Neither had Forwards Ron Gathright and Toke Coleman, both headed for the University of Louisville. Reibel hadn't even seen films of him. But he'd heard the talk. The talk was getting to Gene Smith, 6 feet 1½, the floor leader of the host team and the man who was to guard Rick.
"We hear so much about Mr. Mount," Eugene said at practice one day. "I know he can shoot. But I want to find out if that cat can take care of the ball. If he can take care of that ball as well as he can shoot, then my hat is off to the gentleman. But I want to see."
Casey and Busey had played a total of 24 innings of baseball in the state tournament on the second day of All-Star practice, but that was the only departure from Reibel's plan of preparation for the game. He had an exceptionally quick and fast group, one that seemed capable of being easily molded into a smooth-functioning unit.
Reibel's schedule was as carefully regimented as is feasible with high school kids, what with training-table meals and disciplined patterns in practice. In contrast, Indiana's preparation appeared pleasantly haphazard. The team's meals, before the arrival in Louisville, were eaten in a different Indianapolis restaurant each time. And the players trooped into the dining rooms of the Executive Inn at Louisville just like any bunch of wayfarers. Early along in the practice sessions, in fact, Cleon Reynolds had wondered about the diets of teen-agers. "You talk about regimen," he said. "This little kid Norris—you won't believe this—goes in to breakfast and has six eggs, 12 strips of bacon, a big orange juice, toast and then an order of pancakes on the side. This kid is 5 feet 8. Then big Bavis walks in one day and says he's not too hungry. All he orders is two enormous shrimp salads, a ham sandwich and, get this, 12 of those big double glasses of Coke, orange, grape, all that soda. That's about a gallon of soda, isn't it? This is a snack for him. Well, it was getting ridiculous. These kids in training were getting fat. I called them in, and we had an understanding about that."
Still, Reynolds' chief concern was with defense ("God knows who plays defense on this team," he said) and working together. At the same time practice sessions in Louisville were devoted almost solely to shooting, making it difficult to fathom how the Indiana problem was being solved. Happiness is a jump shot, O.K., and the team that is happy together plays together. But in practice, everyone gets a ball to play with. In a game there is only one ball.
Reynolds kept up a running banter with Winkler and Mike Price, another Indianapolis boy who bears a strong resemblance to Robertson. Price can do everything with a ball around the basket except feed off, and he may break up many games for the University of Illinois in the future. But his forte is the verbal jab or, as Reynolds calls it, "bad-mouthing."
Each player had a number that reflected his rank in the sportswriters' voting for the team. Mount, for instance, was No. 1. Reynolds escalated the numbers of Winkler and Price each time he got any back talk—which was all the time. "If I add any more numbers, they won't get in the gym," he said at one practice.
"My number is currently about 805," said Winkler.
Occasionally Winkler and Price would be aided by little O'Neil Simmons, 5 feet 9 and fast, and practice would become a circus. Winkler called Simmons "Bullet Head"—"Well, look at his head"—and Simmons called Winkler "Pickle Nose" because Marv was always eating pickles. All the while they would be shooting that ball. The people at Southwestern Louisiana, where Pickle Nose says he is going to college, should be prepared to see that ball going in.
"Yeah, Coach told us we've got to pass or we don't win," said Winkler one day. "He says play as a team. That's the best way, I guess. But I'd shoot all day if they let me. Let's face it, man. On this team, the first man to see daylight fires."
So much for Indiana's regimen. And, unfortunately, so much for Indiana's performance Saturday night. Reynolds' worst fears were all borne out as his Hoosier team was nearly run off the court in the middle of the first half. It never got back in the game.
Kentucky's Casey, a fluid and elusive forward who will be an All-America for Adolph Rupp, got away for eight of his team's first 10 points by breaking off simple picks from 15 feet out. Then the rest of the Kentucky team started doing the same thing, working Reibel's offense perfectly, and Indiana became flustered and ultimately panicky. Smith, Gathright and a few other Kentuckians were also defending better than expected, and the Indiana players were not helping each other. Kentucky's speed and group anticipation were too much.
Kentucky went from an 18-15 lead to 29-16 by hitting that man off the pick with ridiculous ease and hurrying Indiana's shooters. Mount, meanwhile, was not getting the ball enough, due mostly to Smith's defense but partly to head-down play by his teammates. At one point Mike Noland unconsciously set a screen directly in front of Rick, then turned and shot himself from 25 feet. The ball went in, but most of the 3,000 Mount fans down from Lebanon were furious. "Go back to Indianapolis, Noland, where you belong," one yelled.
Mount hit five of seven in the first half, but that didn't help much. Kentucky led 52-35 (Casey getting 18) at intermission and had committed only four errors to Indiana's 16. The host team also had taken 17 more shots, though it had only five more rebounds. "I told you you were not a defensive team," said Reynolds in the dressing room, "and you sure have proved it."
Indiana found a relatively successful unit in the second half, consisting of Mount, Bavis, Winkler, Price and Johnson, but this was not a defensive team either. Rick was off early in the period, then stopped shooting. But Marvelous Marv hit three long one-handers in a row, surely making his trip worthwhile. He had found daylight.
Casey was high man with 23 as Kentucky broke the team scoring record for the series. But it was Kentucky's defense that won the game.
Cleon Reynolds says there will be a few changes before the game in Indianapolis. A training table, for one thing. And if the weather for that game turns out to be no warmer than it was outside Freedom Hall, the action certainly promises to be.