He was walking out of a Louisville motel, and the basic questions of the day—Vietnam? Are cars safe? Is Ursula Andress real?—were not what was on his mind. He was an Indiana basketball fan, and he was wondering, "How in hell did we get beat so bad?" The question was valid, considering the circumstances, and it was still being asked all last week in Indianapolis, home of the "500," suffocating summer heat and other questionable exigencies of American life, where the second game of the Indiana-Kentucky high school series for the championship of basketball-by-rotisserie was to be played.
Kentucky had run away with the first match, much to the chagrin of all Indianans, who, very incidentally, were celebrating 150 years of statehood. "The 150th anniversary of Indiana does not exactly turn me on," said Larry Walker, Indiana's student manager out of Crisp-us Attucks High. Larry is one of mankind's alltime patient guys, for he has endured the wrath and frustrations of both Cleon Reynolds, coach of the Indiana All-Stars, and his players, which last week was a considerable burden to be carrying. The least of this was cradling three basketballs in his arms and getting four more thrown at him in concert.
"Cut it out," said Larry.
"Sorry about that," said Mike Price or Chuck Bavis or Jim Cadwell or Marv Winkler, whoever happened to be throwing the balls. They are all really Larry's friends and welcome him to their coterie away from the court. But there were times when Larry wasn't so sure.
Indiana basketball fans are knowledgeable, and the question kept hanging there. How? With so much talent, how could they have been humiliated as they were (104-77)? They had been wrong about two things. First, Kentucky was not in a "down" year as many had believed. Indeed, this year's team may be one of the best the state has fielded for sheer speed, cohesiveness and competitive drive. In addition, Indianans had not given enough weight to the coaching in a game like this, specifically the coaching of Kentucky's Joe Reibel and his assistant, Don Morris.
Reibel, at 28, already has the basketball savvy, the presence, the poise and temperament that many college coaches never acquire in a lifetime. It is safe to assume that before long some large and prosperous university, thirsty for victory, will come calling with the right offer. The way he molded the diverse talents of his Kentucky kids was something to behold. It was apparently too much for Indiana, for nasty rumors floated around Indianapolis that Kentucky had been practicing much longer than the agreed-upon 10 days. "If they went by the rules, then Reibel is the best high school coach in the country," said one Indiana man. That could be.
The prevailing opinion about the collapse of Indiana in the first game was that it was caused by the unwillingness of a bunch of gunners to sacrifice and play together. Now, with the second game coming up, Indiana's Cleon Reynolds was saying he had his team in a more serious mood and the players were beginning to bear down and concentrate on teamwork. Cleon was whistling in the dark. The atmosphere around his team still resembled Hellzapoppin'. And there were other problems.
"Mount?" said Winkler one day. "Rick Mount is a great shooter. But that is all. Sure he passes—on occasions. But only if you're open. And I mean wide, wide open." Then, typically, a gag: "I am the only passer on this team."
"Nobody around here knows who's going to start," said Price. "The old man's mad at me. He wouldn't wait for me to go to practice. He left without me. I'm not talking to him anymore."
Bavis, the 7-footer and only white boy admitted to the "soul-brothers" society of Winkler, Price, Ken Johnson and O'Neil Simmons (all brothers wear soul sunglasses tinted in blue, yellow or lavender and listen to soul station WGEE, which plays soul records by the biggest soul cat of them all, James Brown), was moping around homesick for Leslie Levin, his very striking girl friend.
Worst of all, the training-table idea Reynolds had talked about after the Louisville debacle had dissolved into mockery. At a banquet the night before the second game the soul brothers—and co-captain Mike Noland—had secretly downed six scoops of sherbet apiece. "You think this is sumpin'," said Winkler. "Me and Chucky, we got cans of Mountain Dew and grape and black-cherry pop under ice in our bathroom wastebasket. I told the maid not to touch that basket. And Fritos, man, lots of Fritos. Party tonight in our room—go-go girls, everything. Twenty-five-cent admission." Some thought Marv was putting them on. But only the go-go girls and the price were fraudulent. Admission was free.
The beginning of the game, with 15,000 fans sweating and gasping for air in the 100° of the Butler University field house, brought back memories of Louisville. Kentucky, starting its second team, jumped off quickly and led 8-0. Reynolds had come up with a 1-2-2 zone to combat Kentucky's skillful screens, but Reibel countered with a floating offense that had Mike Casey operating along the baseline. It was so hot that big Bavis, after signaling to be replaced, passed out on the bench midway through the half. Meanwhile Reibel was platooning two teams and, with Ted Rose hitting corner jumpers, Kentucky led 40-30 at the half. Mount had been silenced, but Winkler and Price had demonstrated some beautiful moves on offense.
Marv, for all his talk, was showing the kind of leadership that Kentucky got from Eugene Smith, and Price was hitting on switch-handed drives underneath as Indiana, in the second half, got back in the series for the first time since last June. The Hoosiers came up to 55-50 with 10 minutes left, but it still looked as if Kentucky would run away again. Then it happened, and it was remarkable.
Rick Mount came down and cranked a 30-footer. Swish. He drove the length of the court, twisting. Swish. After a time-out by Kentucky he dribbled into the corner, turning in midair. Swish. Indiana was ahead. The noise that followed was the field-house roof being blown apart.
Seven minutes later, with Kentucky leading 69-67 after Smith hit two fouls on a one-and-one, Rick came down again, twisting, turning, changing direction, into the corner. Jump. Let 'er rip. Oops. The ball popped out of the basket. Kentucky, playing deliberately, took it down, scored and won going away 77-67.
Rose scored 25 for Kentucky, Mount had 21 for Indiana, Kentucky went home happy and Indiana, perhaps, learned something about teamwork. In the equipment room next to the Indiana team's lockers there was a white sign that read: "No Enemy Dare Bomb This Place and End This Confusion." Rick Mount had ended Indiana's confusion, but he was one-and-three-quarter games too late.