"Freshmen, now they're jest fine," says Peck Hickman, the voluble, volatile Louisville coach, "but by the next year they know all the tricks, all the shortcuts. There's nobody in the world knows so much as a damn sophomore." And the things sophomores do to Peck! Last year, in each of the two games played against Louisville, a Cincinnati sophomore—Dean Foster, then John Howard—made a desperation basket at the buzzer. Those two shots by sophomores cost the Cardinals the title and gave it to the Bearcats. This season sophomores again comprise the balance of power in the Missouri Valley, and since Louisville has the best one, Butch Beard, and still has last year's best, Westley Unseld, it should beat out Cincinnati for the title. But a race in the Valley is always as unpredictable as a barrel of sophomores. Last year, for example winner Cincinnati was nearly everyone's choice for seventh place. So everybody has a chance this year. Drake has Bob Netolicky eligible again, and he makes the fourth returning starter. Wichita State has four also, but the Wheatshockers' top sophomore, 6-8 Simmy Hill, flunked out, and there went the answer to Unseld. North Texas, win-less in the Valley last year, is the darkest horse of all.
Unseld, who averaged 20 points and 19 rebounds, should be even more effective with Beard and yet another sophomore, Jerry King, at the forwards to take the pressure off him. King is rugged—6-5, 205—and a terrific shot; Beard is only 6-3 and 175 and is not a great shooter, but he has marvelous quickness. He occasionally will switch places with Guard Fred Holden, and Butch would like to play there all the time. "He and Holden both would," Hickman says, proving that coaches know more about sophomores than sophomores think they do. "They both jest want to be wherever they can piddle with the ball more," Hickman explains.
Holden was a sophomore in 1965, the archetype of the species: either brilliant or atrocious on offense, plain sophomoric on defense and temperamental enough to be set down for one whole game. Now a settled junior—he says so himself—Holden will open in the back-court with Dave Gilbert or possibly, if you please, with another sharpshooting sophomore, Denny Deeken.
The knee that bothered Unseld last year is fully healed; he is able to press and run with his teammates. Cincinnati's hopes for a repeat, then, hinge in large part on whether 6-9 Ricky Roberson, a sophomore, of course, can handle Unseld. Roberson is already such an accomplished defender that Coach Tay Baker chastises him for blocking shots—he smashes them so hard they go out of bounds. "Tip 'em, just tip 'em, Rick!" Baker pleads, as another Roberson slam goes into the seats.
Baker also has newcomers Gordon Smith and Raleigh Wynn fighting for the open backcourt spot and Dick Haucke battling up front. Mike Rolf returns at one forward and Guard Roland West will be eligible in January. Dean Foster steers the team. After Foster's running hook shot beat Louisville last year, Cincinnati headed right home, busing its way slowly through a midnight blizzard. Baker, in a hurry to return, planned to push straight through, but a hand found his shoulder in the dark. It was Foster. He was hungry, he said, and pleaded for a stop for food. Baker knew very well the others had selected Foster as their advocate—but how can a coach refuse a sophomore who has just won a game for him? The bus pulled in at the next diner.
Hickman longs for the chance to be so generous to his sophomores. "Hey, Peck," a visitor heckled after practice one day this fall, "you'd never start two sophomores, would ya?"
"No," Hickman replied. Then, placing his hands on his hips, "Might jest start three. How'dja like that?" The visitor paled.
NORTH TEXAS STATE
RECORD VS. NONCONFERENCE TEAMS