Kip Motta, who is 9 years old and blond, collected 211 or 256 or 295 pieces of candy last Halloween. Kip counted them, but he wasn't really sure. The next morning he ate two pieces and marked them off in his head. Kip was sure of one thing—his little sister Jody was not about to grab oft a couple of Tootsie Rolls and cheat him out of some hard-won booty. Kip's father Dick, who coaches the Weber State Wildcats, takes an equally tenacious hold on sweet rewards, the latest of which is an automatic berth in the NCAA tournament for the winner of Weber's Big Sky conference. Dick has been trick-or-treating on that one for years. All he used to get was razor blades in the apples. Now that the bid is there, it is up to Motta to go get it, by tricks or otherwise.
The Big Sky is six schools—Weber, Idaho, Idaho State, Montana, Montana State and Gonzaga—and a lot of, well, big sky. It was born three years ago and has been ignored ever since, except the day awhile back when the Gonzaga bulldog took a bite out of a referee. Montana State won the All-College tournament in Oklahoma City last season, tied for the league championship and, along with a couple of other Big Sky teams, beat some of the good Western independents. Montana State was not invited to the postseason tournaments, however, and the neglect finally riled up league officials to start helping Motta in his annual annoyance of the NCAA offices.
Weber (as in ach du Lieber, never as in lever) has a campus consistent with the rest of a conference that has to be the most picturesque in the land. The school sits proudly on 275 acres at the base of Mount Ogden, nestled in the Wasatch Range with a beautiful view of the Great Salt Lake to the front and the "Greatest Snow On Earth" to the rear. The area is one of the few places in the United States that really does have four seasons. Weber was a junior college just five years ago, but by the end of this year it will have $18 million worth of construction noises filling the air and 9,000 students, all but 350 of them Ogden "townies." On homecoming eve the freshmen climb up the mountain to party and whitewash the big rocks that measure more than 100 feet long and form a "W" and, though that is about the extent of any traditional activities, the school is not so new that a few guys could not come down from Idaho last month and pelt the statue of Weber's founder with some well-chosen eggs.
Dick Motta, who arrived in 1960, has built a strong basketball program mainly on junior college contacts left over from those early years. Recruiting freshmen from the state of Utah has been another story. Motta must compete for prospects in an area that, in 1966, had the winner of the NIT (Brigham Young), an NCAA semifinalist (Utah) and one of the best independents in the land (Utah State). Still, he has won 60 games in the last three seasons, finished on top of the league two years ago and tied for third last season when the Big Sky had one of the closest races in the country. This year it should be the same.
Motta teaches all of his front-line men to hook coming across the key. That's right, hook. The best of them is Center Dan Sparks, 6'8", who averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds a game in his junior year. Also back to provide Weber with what probably will be the biggest team in the league are 6'7" Larry Bergh, 6'7" Ted Bryant and 6'5" Nolan Archibald. Bergh gives the Wildcats plenty of muscle while Bryant, who flopped last season after an outstanding sophomore year, adds finesse. Archibald, however, could be even more valuable. Now 24 years old after a hitch in the Air Force and a Mormon mission in Australia, he still is weak on fundamentals but is a remarkable jumper. Motta will have to find a place for JC transfer Gus Chatmon, 6'7", after he learns the system, and if Willis Bellamy, 6'5", is not red-shirted he also will contribute to the overkill of talent up front. It is in the backcourt that Weber is questionable. The Wildcats lost two guards and will have to go with Monte Vre-Non and little Roger Reid. Another transfer, Justus Thigpen, is a shooter who may help.
When it comes to guards, Idaho State is the most fortified. Coach Claude Retherford (The Prince of Pocatello) has Ron Boone and Chuck Parks, two all-league players there, and a couple of other veterans up front. They should keep the Bengals in contention all season with Montana State, which gets back 6'9" Center Jack Gillespie and adds a whole new team of junior college transfers.
Each team will face its Big Sky rivals three times this season but, because Weber has the worst of the schedule (two away games at Idaho State, Montana State and Gonzaga), that NCAA bid Dick Motta desired for so long may be awfully hard in coming. He speaks of it with reverence, almost as if it were not really the Big Sky's bid at all but his own and Weber State's. "It is my bid," says Motta. "I really feel like it's ours. We did all the work for it, and we deserve it. We'll feel terrible if Weber doesn't get it the first year."