Western Kentucky's Hilltoppers, defending champions of the Ohio Valley Conference, are a team of little brothers and family men. Seven players are married and, since the latest Miss Kentucky is a Western coed, some forward forward is bound to get up the nerve to court her and eventually make it eight. All-America Clem Haskins has moved up to the pros, but his brother Paul is a promising 6'4" sophomore. Dwight Smith, a likely pro prospect, too, was killed last May in an auto crash, but his kid brother Greg survived the accident and is back for his senior year. And Guard Charles (Curly) Selvy is the last of a seemingly endless line of Selvy brothers, the most famous being Frank, of Furman and the Los Angeles Lakers. Even without the older Haskins and the older Smith, Coach John Oldham has a sound team and a guaranteed rooting section of pretty wives, who will follow the Hilltopper tradition and wave red towels at all home games. Or maybe red diapers.
Oldham's reliables should be Greg Smith, who became a father last month, and Forward Wayne Chapman, who passed out cigars two months ago. Smith is 6'5" and very quick, a fine offensive tipper who averaged 11.8 points a game last season. Chapman trailed only Clem the Gem in scoring (15.4), and even though he is 6'6" he is better at guard than at forward. However, Oldham needs him in the forecourt. Chapman went to Kentucky as a freshman but defected to Western as a sophomore and paid his own way that season.
Guard Butch Kaufman, a scrawny 5'10" senior from Louisville, shoots well and may become a professional singer. Guard Rich Hendrick turned down a lucrative job as a tobacco auctioneer to come to college and play basketball. And, as usual at the Kentucky schools, there are many more. Good basketball players in this area seem to come off the assembly line like so many sausages. In fact, Coach Oldham insists he is planning to invest in a local sausage factory and may use his name—Oldham sausages. No joke.
While it is probable that Western will again win the OVC title—for the third season in a row—the Hilltoppers are not kings of the hill on their own campus in Bowling Green. Oldham has a freshman team that is nearly the equal of UCLA's Alcindor group of two seasons ago. It is led by 7-footer Jim McDaniels, who, according to Oldham, "is by far a better outside shot" than Lew. When McDaniels was still in high school, he realized he would need a good supporting cast in college and did some recruiting on his own. He worked on 6'3" Jim Rose of Hazard, Ky., who had announced he was going to Houston. He talked to 6'8" Clarence Glover of Horse Cave, Ky., the second-best big man in the state, and to 6'3" Jerome Perry, the top senior in talent-rich Louisville. They joined Jim at Western, along with two or three other Kentuckians who will serve as more-than-adequate backup men.
McDaniels spent eight years in a primitive, all-Negro grade school, where one of the few things he learned was to keep the potbellied stove stocked with wood. When he moved on to an integrated school, things started happening to him. From the ninth to the 12th grade he grew from 5'11" to 7', once shooting up four inches in three months. The alphabet did not go down far enough to record his early grades, but by his senior year he was making Cs and Bs. Now he is a confident college athlete, although no potential Phi Beta Kappa.
"We don't have any one guy who sticks out," McDaniels said of his team. "We're together all the time, and we talk basketball. We stick pretty close, and that's what makes a great team. We want to win the national championship. That's all we talk about. That's our goal."
Thus, sad days await the other OVC schools, and rival coaches know they must win this season, because there will not be another good chance until about 1972. A team that has a shot is Eastern Kentucky, which hired itself a new coach, Guy Strong. He had a powerful small-college team at Kentucky Wesleyan last season. The Colonels have a fancy junior guard, Bobby Washington, and a good group of sophomores, plus 6'7" Garfield Smith. Morehead State has two good imports from Birmingham, Willie (Hobo) Jackson and 6'7" Lamar Green, and should improve a lot when Bob Hiles, a slick-passing guard who became dissatisfied at Kentucky and transferred, becomes eligible after the first six league games.
Over a meal of fried catfish at a Bowling Green restaurant recently, John Oldham said, "It's going to be a wide-open scramble." It was unclear whether he meant the OVC race or the freshman-varsity scrimmages in his own gym.