When urbane John Dromo succeeded rustic Peck Hickman as Louisville coach last summer, Hickman handed Dromo a UL schedule and a tin of aspirin. Peck was laughing, but he wasn't kidding. Louisville has the toughest schedule in its history, and one of the most strenuous in the nation, with 12 of the first 14 games on the road, six in its own rugged conference.
Fortunately Dromo, a friendly, articulate man and a sharp dresser, is easily amused (he is compiling a book of sports anecdotes). Dromo recalls that years ago Louisville had difficulty beating rival Dayton and that he once drove with Hickman to a Dayton game. Along the way they stopped for gas. Hickman noticed an elderly gentleman on a nearby playground going through the motions of playing basketball—but without a ball.
"What's that guy up to?" Hickman asked the station attendant.
"Oh, he's just a high school coach who went psycho after a couple of losing seasons," replied the attendant.
"Tell him to stick around," said Hickman. "I'm the Louisville coach on my way to play Dayton, and if they beat us again I'll come back here and guard that guy."
"And I'll referee," said Dromo.
Whether Dromo will be as cool come January 23, when the Cards launch their home stand, remains to be seen. Before then, he has home-and-home engagements with Kansas and must play, in order, at Northwestern, Dayton and St. Louis, in the Madison Square Garden Holiday Festival (drawing LaSalle for openers), at Tulsa, North Texas State, Memphis State, Bradley and Cincinnati.
It is nice, therefore, that in addition to a store of anecdotes Dromo has a pretty fair team to sustain him, starting with Westley Unseld, 6'8" and 240 pounds, who was All-America as a junior last season. Unseld kept his touch with two summer junkets, as a member of the U.S. team at the Pan-American Games in Winnipeg and, along with teammate Butch Beard, at the World University Games in Tokyo. He was the nation's No. 2 rebounder in both his sophomore and junior years, averaging 19 per game last season. Nothing will change for Unseld in that area, but his scoring will. Last year he fired sparingly, averaging 19 points, but, says Dromo, "now we want him to shoot more." This means that Louisville, a high-scoring (82 points a game) outfit that also shot exceptionally well (.498 average), may set a few Valley records.
Three other starters are back: Forward Jerry King, 6'5", Guard Fred Holden and Beard, who is being switched from front to backcourt. Butch hit 20 points a game last year and should do even better in his new spot. The fifth man is Forward Bob Gorius, 6'6", a steady but unspectacular senior. The reserves are slim and inexperienced. But the Cards do have speed. To utilize that and mask an absence of overpowering size, Dromo is going to the full-court press.
"We are going to press all over the place," he says grimly. "Sink or swim." On offense, Louisville will stress the strong pivot and a variety of the shuffle.
Dromo's ace in the hole is 6'9" Mike Grosso, the transfer from South Carolina who will become eligible in the second semester and be available for the last six conference games and, of course, for the NCAA tournament, which Louisville should make. Grosso is taking exercises for his right knee, which was operated on last summer. He has been assured by doctors that he will be ready when he is eligible, and that means he and Unseld will make up a front pair as potent as can be found on any campus. Grosso is extraordinarily quick for a big man; he is also very fast, regardless of size. He can get the defensive rebound, start the break, be part of it and score at the other end.
Until recently it was a toss-up between Cincinnati and Tulsa as to which Valley team could upset Louisville, but now Tulsa has lost Eldridge Webb because of academic troubles. The Bearcats have four of their starters back from a team that lost a lot of close ones last year and easily beat NCAA runner-up Dayton, 62-49. Poor outside shooting was Cincy's problem, and there are two sophomores who may help solve that: Don Ogletree and Bob Schwallie. Another newcomer, Jim Ard, is a strong rebounder and good scorer. He probably will start, along with the dependable veterans Rick Roberson and John Howard.
Unlike Louisville's, the bench here is solid, including Gordon Smith, Dean Foster, Dick Haucke and Raleigh Wynn. Coach Tay Baker plans to run more, hopefully to avoid the ball-handling errors that led to an average of 15 turnovers a game last year.