Landmarks abound in the vicinity of the University of Rhode Island. Thirty Acre Pond is one of New England's premier sites for parked-car romance. Narragansett Pier was one of the social centers of the East at the turn of the century. A few millionaires still play tennis at the nearby Newport Casino. And Rodman Hall, now used for women's physical education, was the birthplace of breakneck basketball. It was there that Frank W. Keaney, who died last month in a Wakefield, R.I. hospital, pioneered the art of the fast break with such players as Pawtucket's Ernie Calverley.
The Rams are still running up and down the floor at maximum speed, but they are doing it in roomier Keaney Gymnasium, which is not a palace but does have a sauna. The man who winds them up these days is Calverley, somewhat heftier than during his college career and his years with the old Providence Steamrollers. Unfortunately, Ernie himself was about the last good basketball prospect to come out of the state's high schools, so he must constantly go prospecting in New York City and New Jersey to find the rare boys with enlarged lung capacities and radar-guided jump shots. He has a good enough crop this season to win the league title before losing early in the NCAA Eastern Regionals.
Calverley has a history of heart problems. He went into the service after his freshman season at Rhode Island, but he was let out because of a heart murmur. Still, doctors allowed him to play run-run-run basketball for Keaney and continue playing pro and semipro ball, from 1946 to 1955, and nothing untoward occurred. Then five years ago he suffered a heart attack, from which he recovered nicely. His heart must be O.K. now because last season he survived an agonizing eight-day period in which Rhode Island lost three two-point games on the road, two at the final buzzer.
If the close ones are to go the other way this time, in such far-flung places as Albuquerque and Irvine, Calif., Calverley must continue to get good performances from his 6'5" center, Art Stephenson, who averaged 20.9 points as a junior and scored 40 against St. Bonaventure in Madison Square Garden. Stephenson is built like a football lineman, but a large lump on his left thigh looks like just too much muscle to be believed. The muscle has pulled away from the bone, and doctors have decided that since it docs not bother Art they will let it be. Not surprisingly, Stephenson is from New York City. The second-leading scorer, Larry Johnson, who averaged 17.1 last season, is from Newark. The two other returning players (Tom Hoyle and Joe Zaranka) are from the fertile asphalt jungles farther south. Somehow a promising sophomore named John Fultz sneaked in from Natick, Mass.
Calverley has tapped Philadelphia for a chubby-looking but quick guard, Mike Schanne, who actually was recruited out of Ferrum (Va.) Junior College. He has an unusual but accurate jump shot that seems to be released two-handed. Ernie plays it cozy when it comes to predictions. "From what everybody tells me," he will concede, "we should be O.K."
Elsewhere in Grandma Moses country, defending champion Connecticut lost too many good players through graduation, but Vermont and Now Hampshire finally have something to brag about besides the maple fudge. The Vermont Catamounts (a catamount is a Green Mountain version of a cougar) have a supersoph named Frank Martiniuk, who is from New Jersey, naturally. They won only one league game last season, however, so it is obvious they needed help. Coach Arthur Loche has numerous holdovers, including Dave Lapointe, whose father was a shortstop for the 1947 Phillies. In Durham, the New Hampshire Wildcats may have their first winning season in 16 years. One reason for New Hampshire optimism is the recent emphasis on recruiting. Another is the return of 6'3" Jeff Bannister of West Scarborough, Me., national AAU pentathlon champion in 1966, high school All-America in basketball, athlete of the year at Worcester Academy and 27-point scorer for the UNH freshmen. His grades slipped last fall, but he has brought them back to respectability and still has three varsity seasons left for Coach Bill Haubrich, who says, "Bannister is one of the finest boys I know. He'll be a starting cornerman and is still shooting for the Olympics in the decathlon." In the other corner will be Bob Glover, 6'5", with Steve Seay, also 6'5" and a starter last season, as sixth man. The backcourt consists of Captain Denny Hodgdon and Brian Peters; alternates are Tom Cushman and Phil Blum. Center Bob Schultze is hard put to keep up with the others, but he is big (6'7") and strong. "We have no basketball tradition here," says Haubrich. "Before every game we have to convince ourselves that we can win. But I think you'd say there's a note of guarded optimism. My objective this season is not to lose 10."
Which is pretty guarded, all right.