The last thing Kansas Coach Ted Owens does before he leaves his house to go to work is stuff the pockets of his jacket with Gelusil tablets. Owens has a chronic duodenal ulcer. From April through September he gets by with six or seven tablets a day. But from October through most of March his daily intake hovers around 25.
"Maybe it's because I'm only in my fourth year as a head coach," says Owens, "but I haven't yet learned how to lose well. I can never blame anyone but myself. Defeat just eats me up. It's the end of the world."
Owens' experience with defeat is limited. Starting this season he stands 63 and 16. His percentage of .797 is even better than that of one of his predecessors at Kansas, the storied Phog Allen, whose 771 and 233 record puts him at .768. Allen won more games than any other college coach, although Adolph Rupp, who starts this season with 760 victories, seems certain to overtake the man for whom he played at Kansas.
If Owens is going to be eaten up by defeat this season, it most likely will happen in December and March. The Jayhawks play Louisville twice within 16 days in December and also take on Cincinnati, figured to fight it out with Louisville in the strong Missouri Valley. Once the Big Eight season gets under way Owens should be able to cut his Gelusil consumption. Kansas should have little to worry about until it hits the March regionals at Wichita. If Houston is assigned to this regional, it's possible that three of the top five teams in the country will contend at Wichita. The Missouri Valley champion will be there, and so, almost assuredly, will Kansas.
Remembering a towering zone defense, which caused Kansas players to alter their shooting trajectory and lose accuracy in their defeat by Houston last season, Owens has had his boys shooting over something called the "iron defender," a rectangular iron frame whose top bar is 12 feet above the floor. It forces a player to increase the arc of his shot.
"We used it some last season," recalls Owens, "but it was kind of theoretical. Not until we ran into Elvin Hayes and the rest of that big Houston front line did we realize that the iron defender really does have human counterparts."
While Kansas may have the job of getting ready for Hayes and, it hopes, for Lew Alcindor, the Jayhawks' opponents have the almost equally formidible task of getting ready to contend with Jo Jo White. In the words of Phog Allen, who was 82 this month and never misses a Kansas game, "White does everything better than any man of his size I have ever seen. Watch him and you think he's floating in oil."
White led U.S. scorers in the Pan-American Games last summer and went on to Tokyo to be a big factor in the U.S. victory in the World University Games. His devotion to basketball is total. His reaction to his trip to Japan underscores how basketball dominates his life. A recent visitor to the Kansas locker room asked White, "How did you like Tokyo?" hoping to ease the conversation momentarily away from basketball. "Not much of a town," replied White. "It was so humid the ball kept slipping out of my hands."
Joining White, who leads Kansas' fearsome half-court pressing defense and usually brings the ball upcourt single-handedly—even against a zone press—will be all of Kansas' starters from last year except Ron Franz, the team's third leading scorer but also one of its least consistent players. Rodger Bohnenstiehl, last year's high scorer (16-point average) and most accurate field-goal shooter (.541), will be at one forward. Bruce Sloan, who came on strong to wrest a guard position away from Phil Harmon, will be moved to forward. Powerful Vernon Vanoy, last season's Big Eight sophomore of the year, will again be available to play the post. Contending for a guard position alongside White will be Harmon and a brilliant sophomore, Rich Bradshaw, who can do everything White does, only a shade less well. In the event of injuries or foul trouble for White, Owens will not hesitate to turn over to Bradshaw the job of running the offense. As a freshman, Bradshaw averaged 16 points a game and, although he is only 6'3", he led the team in rebounding with 122 in eight games.
Owens also has two new giants, 6'8" Greg Douglas and 6'10" Dave Nash. Douglas was a high school star at Keokuk, Iowa, where he averaged 27 points and 19 re-bounds his last year. Nash spent two seasons at Dallas Baptist, a Texas junior college that was 46 and 14 while he played there.
If Kansas wins the Big Eight, it will be the first time that any conference team will have won as many as three consecutive unshared titles since Phog Allen's team won four in a row beginning in 1931. Allen thinks Kansas will do it and that Rupp will smash his record of 771 victories. He is unperturbed by these possibilities. His reaction to Rupp's probable takeover is, "Bless his bones."