Samantha has sad eyes. She also has long, floppy ears. Nobody at Vanderbilt really thinks that Samantha is beautiful, but they have hope for her. After all, she is only a year old, and it takes a while for the inner beauty of a basset hound to emerge. Like George's did. George is remembered around campus with an admiration that borders on reverence. He, too, had sad eyes and long, floppy ears. But deep inside, ol' George had something, and long before he challenged a milk truck mano a mano he showed everybody that what it was was class, lots of class.
Unable to come up with a bona fide commodore for a mascot, Vanderbilt athletic teams adopted George a few years ago. They still talk about the yowls that George used to emit at games, yowls that came not on mere whim but at precisely the right moment. George had yowls to scare an opposing end about to latch on to a pass and yowls that reverberated through the field-house rafters and sent encouragement gushing through basketball players at the moment they needed a lift. But his best act was Vanderbilt's equivalent of the Red Auerbach cigar-lighting ceremony. When George saw that his boys had a victory safely tucked away, he would rouse himself from his position near the bench and then, with pomp and slow stride, amble across the court and into the locker room. Yes, George had class, and everyone in Nashville is sure Samantha will be showing hers shortly.
Unfortunately, class is something that Vanderbilt basketball teams themselves lacked until fairly recently. Then along came Roy Skinner. During the past five seasons, Skinner's run-and-shoot teams have never been lower than fourth in the SEC, and three seasons ago Vandy finished on top for the first time. Back from last season are the team's three leading scorers—Guard Tom Hagan, Forward Bob Warren and Bo Wyenandt, a forward-turned-guard. Hagan was tops with a 17 average. Against Florida he had a bad first half, scoring just six and losing a contact lens. Typical of his spunkiness, he came back in the second half wearing a lens borrowed from the student trainer and scored 23. Skinner needs another first-rate forward to pair off with Warren but he has, in 6'5" sophomore Perry Wallace, a fine center. Wallace, who will be the first Negro to play basketball in the SEC, goes up like a helium balloon and should provide the Commodores with the rebounding they lacked last year. If he can overcome a tendency to palm his jump shots, he also should score heavily, with a deft touch in close.
Nothing, not even the aching back that has nagged him for three decades, causes Adolph Rupp of Kentucky more excruciating pain than insinuations about his coaching ability. For 36 seasons prior to the last one, Rupp took pride in the eloquent manner in which his record spoke of his talents. But last season's 13-13 mark (his worst) set some people to saying out loud that maybe Adolph had lost his touch. Rupp, hurt where it hurts him most, had a few words to say about his detractors recently: "What people forget is that the year before I won eight of eight coaching awards, and that's all they give. I didn't forget that much basketball in one year." And he has approached this season with the old, forceful, no-nonsense attitude, shunning the light-hearted image of the "Rupp's Runts" era.
"I'm trying to put together a new threshing machine," he says. "I've got a lot of parts lying around, and I'm trying to put them all together."
Leftover parts include 6'5" Thad Jaracz and 6'8" Cliff Berger. Rupp's reputation, though, will depend on the new parts—11 sophomores. Best of the lot are Mike Casey, Mike Pratt and 6'8" Dan Issel, who is being tested at Jaracz' center position. The problem here is whether Jaracz can switch to forward. If not, he will go back to center and Issel will play forward. Rupp isn't saying just how good his team is or can be, but it is certainly better than 13-13.
Vanderbilt and Kentucky will have to get past defending champion Tennessee if either is to win the SEC title. High-scoring Ron Widby of the Volunteers has been graduated, but 7' Tom Boerwinkle and the remnants of the nation's best defense (54 points a game) are back. Coach Ray Mears, who favors a very deliberate style, was supposed to be worried about the new rule designed to cut down on holding the ball for more than five seconds in the area from midcourt to just above the foul circle. "Some say it will hurt us because we play a pattern offense and take time to set up shots," Mears says. "But we're used to being pressured, and I still think the best way to get the ball through this no man's land is with pattern play."