Basketball in Toledo—the Glass Capital of the World—has a shatterproof tradition. Most games at the university are sellouts, whether the team is a smash or a bust. Still, even in Toledo it is better to win than to lose, which is what Max Gerber observed when he arrived on campus in 1960 as the new sports publicist and was greeted with a 15-8 season. In Toledo that is a bad year, so Gerber, a scholarly-looking man who would seem more at home behind a lectern than a press-box typewriter, cast about for something to take people's minds off his troubles. Not one to ignore the obvious, he gathered around him 30 of the shapeliest coeds in the Mid-American Conference, organized them into a Music Hall-style chorus line, dubbed them the Toledo Rockets, and put them on at half time. While the basketball Rockets labored through one 14-10 season and four successive years of 13-11, the Rockets were making it big, appearing with the team in places like Madison Square Garden and traveling to Europe alone. On their home court they were, naturally, unbeatable.
Now the basketball team has finally caught up with the Rock-ets. Bobby Nichols, a quiet, reserved man who was hired as head coach three years ago, is chiefly responsible. Nichols takes his basketball seriously, and with six young children at home he just had to do well at his alma mater. He inherited a group picked to finish last by a consensus of conference observers because its members did not function as a unit. He made a team out of those individualists and they finished second. Last year the Rockets were supposed to place sixth, but they lost only one game and went on to the NCAA tournament, where they lost in the first round. And every game was a sellout. They ought to have about the same conference record this time, and should do well in outside games also, since they do not have one of the more difficult schedules in the nation. It includes Hillsdale, Morris Harvey, Baldwin-Wallace and the Coast Guard. "We try to schedule the better-known teams," says Nichols, "but we have two things going against us. First, when good teams play us they feel they gain nothing by winning but can lose a lot by losing. Second, it is hard to arrange home-and-home games because of our field house." The 4,100-seat Toledo field house is one of the two oldest buildings on campus, and it looks like a dimly lit World War I airplane hangar. It will be packed, as usual, all season, and there will be at least as much interest in the games as in the half-time shows.
Steve Mix is the key to the Toledo offense. A 6'7", 230-pound center, he operates from one of the two low post positions, and the No. 1 Toledo option is to get the ball in to him. When the Rockets succeed, it is an almost automatic two points. Mix is far more agile than the run of big centers; his moves underneath often make them look embarrassingly slow. He and Alcindor were the only two players last year to rank in the top 20 in rebounding, scoring and field-goal accuracy. Steve's figures were 13.5 in rebounding, 23 points and .563.
Working at the other low post is 6'5" John Brisker, possibly the tallest tuba player in the world. John's tuba is essential to the blended bass of Toledo's marching band. He had to miss basketball practice three times a week during football season in order to attend rehearsals. At the post he is more of a decoy than a scorer because Mix is so good. If 7-footer Doug Hess improves, Brisker may be shifted to guard because he is a competent ball handler. Another 6'5" forward, Bob Miller, will operate from the high post, where he has the opportunity to make his favorite shot, a turn-around jumper from about 15 feet. Toledo has quick guards: 5'9" John Rudley and 6'2" Willie Babione, who shoots well with either hand or both.
The only team to beat Toledo during the regular season last year was Marshall, and the five players who did it are back. The Thundering Herd—at least they're not one of a dozen Tigers or Wildcats or some kind of Bear—had a 20-8 record and went to the NIT as the MAC runner-up. With a better bench this year, they will give Toledo the roughest time again. Forward George Stone, probably the league's best shooter, will provide most of the offense with help from Forward Jim Davidson and steady, poised Guard Bob Redd. "I think Redd does the most damage to opponents during the entire game," says Miami of Ohio Coach Tates Locke. "The games they should have lost last year—he cooled them down." Center Bob Allen starts Marshall's fast break with his strong defensive rebounding, and 12-point scorer Dan D'Antoni is the other back-court man. These five were called the Iron Men last year because Coach Ellis Johnson was forced to keep them in most of the time. Opposing teams would try either to run them to exhaustion or foul them out. Only one succeeded—in a double overtime against More-head State, all five Iron Men fouled out. Johnson won't have to worry so much this season about losing some of his starters. He has excellent reserves in sophomore Ricky Hall, a 6'4", 195-pound forward who averaged 21 points and 14 rebounds a game as a freshman, and 6'8" Bob Didur.