"Hey, Bob," Nebraska Coach Joe Cipriano said the other day, welcoming the Converse shoe salesman to his office. "I can always count on you showing up. We must be your best customer." The salesman nodded and went quickly to his left for the order pad. Slippery Joe's full-court, full-game press is as tough on shoes as it is on opponents. Each Cornhusker regular wears out four pairs a season.
This is an article from the Dec. 5, 1966 issue
Two hundred miles to the south, over the cold, dusty plains, is Lawrence, Kansas, where talk about shoes stirs a different response. At Kansas they believe that because of a shoe—a white one—a national championship may have been lost. With the score 69-all in the waning seconds of the first overtime in the Midwest Regional final last March between Kansas and Texas Western, sophomore Jo Jo White popped a desperation 35-footer. It swished. The buzzer rang, pandemonium reigned—and a whistle blew. Just before he shot, White's sneaker had grazed the out-of-bounds line. It was so close a thing, the official said later, that if White had been wearing black shoes, it probably would not have been possible to determine whether his foot had touched the black stripe. The Miners went on to win 81-80 in the second overtime and subsequently, of course, they took the national championship.
Neither Kansas nor Nebraska, the runaway one-two teams last year, appears capable of top national contention this season. But they remain the best in the Big Eight Conference. They will not have things to themselves this time, however, for Colorado, Iowa State, Kansas State and even Missouri all have a chance to win. And why not? In the Big Eight, where only Kansas and K-State have arenas larger than a Holiday Inn bedroom, the home-court advantage is not just your average home-court advantage. It is more of a kangaroo-court advantage. Nebraska was 11-0 last year in its old Coliseum, where the spectators' feet extend to the edge of the court, nudging the players' sneakers. The Huskers have four starters back from last year's surprise 20-5 team, but the bench is thinner, Center Willie Campbell is the tallest starter at 6-5, and you have to wonder just how long their press will continue to upset rivals.
In Nebraska's favor is the fact that the conference still is not used to such tactics. Big Eight play tends toward the more conventional—from the patterned Kansas style all the way down to the stop-look-and-listen game at Oklahoma A&M. Cipriano is shaking things up a bit by moving his quickest player, senior Nate Branch, from safety man to the left-front press position. Guard Jim Damm, the new starter, will be on the other side. Tom Baack, the team's best shooter, returns with his 15-point average and his slicked-down Penrod haircut. Also back is Stuart Lantz, the 6-3 guard who led the team in rebounding.
Nebraska's is an outstanding press, but Kansans think White is good enough to handle it and set up the Jayhawks' own tempo. Nebraskans believe the Huskers are too quick for him, especially since he no longer has Del Lewis and Al Lopes for support. They graduated, along with All-America Center Walt Wesley. But Kansas had a magnificent freshman team last year, and now these mostly skinny sophomores should help White retain the title. Vernon (Pickles) Vanoy is not one of the skinny ones—he was, in fact, an all-Missouri football end—and he will replace Wesley. He is 6-8 and a willing student, but the way he propels line drives toward the basket makes it obvious he will be of more value on defense and off the boards than as a scorer. Besides, the two forwards—Rod Franz and Roger Bohnensteihl—are both good shooters. Senior Pat Davis, who played little last year, must hold off sophomore Phil Harmon to start in the backcourt. Harmon is a good outside shooter, however, and probably would complement White better. As for Nebraska's press, Coach Ted Owens says his boys can run well enough when they have to. Obviously, the Jayhawks are not running scared. They're still wearing white shoes.
RECORD VS. NONCONFERENCE TEAMS