The T-Bear is gone, The Tree is gone, and The Savage has a kneecap that just won't work. But wait. The Big E is still around, so is The Duck, and here comes The Planet. Houston will live again to fight—and win—another day. Coach Guy Lewis took the Cougars on a 13-game tour of South America last summer, but the trip did not produce the consistent scorer he was looking for to go with Elvin (The Big E) Hayes. Elvin was one of two men to finish in the top ten in both points and rebounds last season, and he will face the other one, Alcindor, in the much-discussed rematch with UCLA on January 20 in the Astrodome. The Big E may have more help this time. Don (The Duck) Chaney is an erratic shooter but he averaged 15 points as a junior and has a wingspan more like a Northeast Airline Yellowbird than a duck. Mars (The Planet) Evans, a 6'10" sophomore, has good potential though he missed a chance for some extra experience when a summer job kept him from making the South American tour. Lewis' major concern is filling the forward spot left by Melvin (The Savage) Bell. A knee operation has shelved Bell for the year, and that leaves 6'7" Theodis Lee, who is tall and can shoot but is no savage. Ken Spain, 6'9", who had a strong final game against North Carolina in the NCAA consolation final, will start the season at center while the guard spot opposite Chaney is being contested by sophomore Tom Gribben, Vern Lewis and two JC transfers, Billy Bane and George Reynolds. The Cougars will again astonish opponents by their size and, after playing 18 of their 28 games at home, will have a large hand in determining the outcome of the Midwest regional playoff. If Spain or Evans works out well in the middle, Hayes can play longer in the corner, where he is at his best. Corner or center, Elvin is the outstanding senior pro prospect in the land.
If Vaughn can get to class and Wayne can get some fire, Syracuse will be way up there on the backboards and right in there with a 20-victory season again. Vaughn is Vaughn Harper, the 6'4" senior forward who burst into full view last season after a couple of journeyman years had obscured the promise he had shown at Boys High School in New York City. Harper averaged 16 points and 14 rebounds a game last season, won the Most Valuable Player award in the Quaker City Tournament over all the stars at Louisville and Princeton and was the Orangemen's best rebounder and passer. Early in this preseason he started passing over the books, too. Effervescent Coach Freddie Lewis (now Dr. Fred, thank you, after earning his Ph.D. in education over the summer) quickly slapped Harper with a "disciplinary suspension" pending the time Vaughn saw fit to take in a couple of 9 o'clocks. Sophomore Wayne Ward, 6'7", will be Lewis' center and he will be a good one, especially if he can be jogged out of his nonchalance. Ward scored and rebounded at will for the undefeated freshmen, who also are sending 6'4" swingman Bill Case and Guard Ernie Austin to the varsity. Lewis has two excellent guards in Richie Cornwall, who passes, and Bob Kouwe, 6'3" junior who missed part of the last year because of illness. George Hicker, who shoots—probably as well as anyone in college—will be opposite Harper, and Tom Ringelmann is another good shooter coming off the bench. Very strong and very deep, Syracuse is one of six eastern teams that will try to beat Louisville out of New York's Holiday Festival championship. If the sophomores come along fast, the Orange may be the ones to do it.
The fate of the Dayton Flyers hinges on the questionable hinges of 6'4" Donnie May, the home-town boy whose 22 points and 17 rebounds a game helped them reach last season's NCAA finals and a rueful collision with UCLA. May could not scrimmage for the first eight days of practice because he had damaged his knee in a pickup game. Doctors have assured Coach Don Donoher that May will soon be healthy, but Donoher cannot wait for soon. His star's rehabilitation program is making him nervous. Dayton has three other starters back, plus three good newcomers from a 20-1 freshman team. The forward opposite May is 6'6" junior Dan Sadlier, who bloomed late and took the job away from 6'6" Glinder Torain, who also is back as a forward-center swingman. It was the brash Torain who boasted he could handle the starting job against Lew Alcindor in the finals—where-upon Lew knocked his first three shots into the sixth row. Junior Center Dan O'Brovac, 6'10", is in danger of losing his job to Chicagoan George Janky, a 6'8", 240-pound sophomore who led the freshmen in scoring and rebounding. A little color is added by the sophomore Gottschall twins, Jim and Jerry, 6'2", who led Chaminade High of Dayton to the Ohio Class AA title two years ago. "We have the experience and depth to make us a better team," says Donoher, "but we've also got the toughest schedule in Dayton's history. We'll have to win 20 [of 26 scheduled games] to get another NCAA bid." And Mr. May will have to get well.
Back there in the hills of Blacksburg, Va. the Virginia Polytechnic Institute athletic teams (the VPIs) do not attract much attention. Then they slip out and beat everybody in sight. The football team has been doing it for a couple of seasons and so has Coach Howie Shannon's basketball team. Last year Shannon's Gobblers were very young; they brashly shocked Duke 85-71 in their very first game. And they were quick learners; humiliated by Toledo in the final game of the season, they came right back to beat the Rockets in the Mideast regional. There, Virginia Tech defeated Indiana and had Dayton down by 10 with eight minutes to go. "At that point we couldn't do anything," Shannon recalls. "We missed free throws, we threw the ball away, they tied us and we missed a shot at the buzzer." Dayton won in overtime, and Shannon vowed he'd be back. "We're not going to overpower anybody," he says, "but we'll be quicker. My guys are better right now than when we closed last season in the regional." VPI will not be a big team, but size was not their strong suit last year, either. Valuable Ron Perry is gone from the 20-7 team, but 6'4" Wayne Mallard is a solid replacement and the other four starters are all back. Ken Talley, who has gained an inch at the top and 20 pounds around, is now 6'7" and 225. He will be at center with 6'5" jumper Ted Ware opposite Mallard. Shannon also has 6'9" John Wetzel, bigger than anyone on his first team, to come off the bench. Wetzel played little last season but is the Gobblers' most improved player. In backcourt, Glen Combs is the offensive man while Chris Ellis, a surprise last year, feeds and plays defense. VPI will use the single post offense despite Talley's size, but Combs is the key man. Like many Kentucky schoolboys (Car Creek is his home), Combs is a first-rate shooter. He hit from outside for 21 points a game last season, good enough to discourage opponents from throwing zones at the small Gobblers. Tech will have to continue its strong finish through the early going this season to earn recognition, because the first two games are on the road at Duke and North Carolina. If they win those two, you can start calling the VPIs VIPs.
David Lattin is tall, mean and thick with muscles—just the attributes needed to brawl under baskets—and he also has an accurate corner jump shot. Just how many of those jumpers would have swished through for the University of Texas at El Paso (formerly and more agreeably called Texas Western) will never be known, because Lattin, seldom very dedicated anyway, chose to sign a pro contract and skip his last year of eligibility. He will not be around for Coach Don Haskins to yell at, and the Miners might be better for his absence. "Don't think for one minute that losing Lattin and his attitude is going to hurt that bunch," says a pro scout. "Phil Harris at 6'10" isn't bad, and Willie Cager and Willie Worsley are good college players. That guy [Haskins] does a good coaching job, and they'll be rough." Harris, a junior who lost some fingers in a childhood accident, and seniors Cager and Worsley are all from New York, which is not surprising since most Texans still think basketball is a Yankee plot to ruin football players. Harris averaged only eight points and six rebounds as a somewhat clumsy sophomore, and he is recovering from a knee injury, but he will have help in the backboard melees from 6'7" Tom Issac, up from the freshman team, and JC product Howard McDonald, 6'8". Cager and Worsley (a stumpy guard who can dunk—or could if it were still legal) are well drilled in Haskins' deep-rooted, semi-religious philosophy, which has only one commandment: Thou shalt not let an opponent score without rendering him scarred and bloody. They also can score, Worsley with a formful outside jumper and Cager with an amazing variety of twisting drives he must have learned while dodging ash cans on Bronx playgrounds. Haskins has promising newcomers, including McDonald and New Yorker Nate Archibald, who were stashed away in junior colleges last season, and they will help him with perhaps his finest outside attack. In six years at UTEP, aided by big guys like Lattin, Bad News Barnes and Nevil Shed, Haskins has a 130-32 record and one NCAA title. Attacking inside or out, he should improve his percentage with this bunch.
Lacking only the big pivotman, Marquette still has three men who "can play over the rim," as Coach Al McGuire puts it. The most important of the leapers is 6'2" Forward George Thompson, who led the team to the finals of the NIT last season. McGuire says he asked Thompson to do only one thing this past summer—develop an outside shot. George has done it, which will help against opponents like Dayton, Denver and St. John's. The other over-the-rimmers are 6'3" Pat Smith and a new man, 6'4" Joe Thomas. Smith is a nearsighted center who cannot see the basket unless he is up close, but he plays the position as if he were 6'9". The team captain and steadiest of the Warriors is Brian Brunkhorst, who at 6'6" is also the tallest man. And McGuire has a strong bench. "The killer instinct is there this year," he says, "and we all can feel it. There's pride in the team now, and talent enough so we are capable of playing with anyone."
Bob Cousy deserves all the respect he gets, but sometimes it comes at the strangest moments, like the day a few years ago when he was working out with his Boston College team. He came up with the ball near his defensive basket and, suddenly, there was a shout from the other end of the court. All-America John Austin yelled, "Down here, Mr. Cousy! Down here, Mr. Cousy!" During his years with the Celtics, Cousy became accustomed to an odd display of esteem from another source. As he drove from Boston to Worcester early in the morning after a game, he would be pulled over by the state police. "I've had the same license plate [BC-1] for years, and all the policemen know it," he says. "They'd get lonely at 2 or 3 in the morning and would stop me just to talk." At BC now, Cousy senses that, as he puts it, "the awe has begun to wear off." His players are more apt to call him Coach than Mr. Cousy. Which is also logical, in a sense, as he continues to earn respect as a coach. His team this year will surely earn it. Only two players are missing from last season's 21-3 squad, and the slack will be taken up by youngsters from the 18-1 freshman group. Sophomore Bob Dukiet comes up with a 26-point average and enough moves to challenge Forwards Jim Kissane and Steve Adelman, whose nifty hook shot helped him hit 19 a game For close-in scoring and rebounds there are a pair of big centers—6'7" Terry Driscoll and 6'10" Tom Pacynski, who has trimmed down to a semisvelte 215. Billy Evans and Jack Kvancz, two lefty guards, make the offense go. It is fair to say of Evans that his ball handling and all-round play make him worthy to wear the No. 14 that Cousy wore for years. Cousy prefers a fast-break offense but will also use a 2-1-2 and a tandem in which two players line up on either side of the free-throw lane, then break pell-mell in a set play. Cousy calls it "organized freelancing." To make the 2-1-2 work, Driscoll must develop more maneuverability. As they have in the past, the Eagles will score a lot of points, but their defense is far from leakproof. This seems to be a common failing of high-scoring teams, and it offers a test of Coach Cousy's skill this year.
Two gangs of Aggies will also be capable of playing anyone this year. At Utah State, Shaler (Super Shay) Halimon is a lean and fluid 6'6" guard, one of the most versatile—and exciting—players in college. Super Shay wears his hair in a high, exaggerated pompadour at the front, in the manner of the rhythm 'n' blues singer Little Richard, and he moves with the grace of a large, ebony colt. And New Mexico State, another advocate of the badlands ambush, gets back four men from the surprise team of last year that almost beat Houston out of an NCAA berth. Both States will be good again; this time it won't be a surprise.