All of the roles you have ever seen Sidney Poitier play on the screen, the Guess Who's Coming ones, are filled by Charles Scott on a basketball court. Outside, weaving through the lanes, he is smooth and silken—Guess Who's Coming to the Convent, sisters. In tight, high on the boards, muscling, he is strength and power—Guess Who's Busting out of Prison, warden. In an era of wholesale transition and against a backdrop of an otherwise all-white atmosphere, young Charles has taken Southern basketball as old Sidney took the movies, quietly at first, delicately, and now by storm.
Last year he bided his time with uneven play at North Carolina while a teammate, Larry Miller, closed out his own fine career as the Tar Heels' bellwether; this season it is a different game. Scott is newly married, bejeweled with Olympic gold and a national sports hero of some magnitude. He is the first black man to play varsity basketball for his school and, black or white, most likely the best, too. Now, in the heat of any game night, he has become, as Poitier in another medium before him, the mainstay, the catalyst of the performance, the man. Scott carries the Tar Heels as surely as any player before him, and last Saturday night in Lexington he carried them right past Kentucky and onward to a level of play that, surprisingly, seems already above that of the North Carolina NCAA second-place team of last season.
Against Kentucky Scott was a darting, drifting patch of blue, Carolina blue, in every aspect of the game as his team ran away from the Wildcats 87-77 in a matchup that, after the first five minutes of the second half, was nowhere near that close. Only through the opening 10 minutes did Kentucky seem equal to the task, and even then the visitors' big men—Rusty Clark, Bill Bunting and a sparkling rookie, 6'10" Lee Dedmon—were asserting superiority off the boards while Scott led the defense and fed the fast break. By the end of the night men from the Blue Grass were happy that the Cats "got the score down to respectability."
Like horses and bourbon, basketball cannot be overexposed in Kentucky. One local TV station delayed its tape of the game, then showed it right after the live broadcast of the UCLA-Notre Dame contest as part of a video "Poll Bowl" doubleheader featuring the first and fourth ranked teams, according to the wire services, and the second and third.
December 16, 1968
The high ranking of both Southern teams added luster to a series that in recent years has come to be somewhat of a grudge pairing. Of the four major schools that have a winning edge against Kentucky, North Carolina, 7-4 going into Saturday's game, was the most impressive. The second-ranked Tar Heels, in fact, had won the last three games, and Dean Smith, the bright young Carolina coach, was personally 4-1 against Adolph Rupp. Interestingly enough, both men played at the knees of Phog Allen of Kansas, Rupp in 1923, Smith in 1953; the disparity in the results seemed to indicate that, in 30 years, old Phog may have taught some new tricks.
North Carolina's victory in Lexington two years ago, achieved by the sophomores who are now such highly rated seniors, was the landmark from which the Tar Heels went on to later successes in conference competition and the NCAA playoffs. They did not seem intimidated by Kentucky's home grounds. "This is bigger than being second in the polls," said Clark upon arriving in Lexington. "This is between two sections—which one plays better basketball. We could come in here down and out and still fight like hell to beat Kentucky."
For their part, the No. 3 Wildcats were aching to get at North Carolina. Stung by newspaper reports that exaggerated their weaknesses, they remembered last year when they lost at Greensboro in a game they thought they gave away through immaturity and mistakes. "They've beaten us close the last two years," said Phil Argento, Kentucky's only senior. "We think we should have won both, and we've been waiting. I thought we'd get Carolina in the NCAA last March, but it didn't work out. Well, here they are, and we're ready."
Old Master Rupp was outwardly unmoved by the talk of retaliation. It was obvious that his unquenchable ego had been burned by North Carolina.
"Adolph's really worried about this one," went the word around town. "Scared, he's scared." For three days prior to the game Rupp praised the opponent, giving himself only ghost chances to win and, as is his wont, erecting a pedestal for the enemy off the court before burning him on it. "People are going to see a much weaker Kentucky team than they thought they'd see," he would say, swaying his magnificent scowl from side to side. "We're outsized at every position, we're immature and we can't handle the press. Our boys panicked at Miami of Ohio and North Carolina saw that."
Rupp moans a lot—the better to sneak up on you and win nearly 800 games—but his problems were not entirely illusory. Mike Pratt, a 6'4" bear up front who may be Kentucky's best all-round player, shattered the ring finger of his left (nonshooting) hand 12 days before the season opened and had not even dressed for Kentucky's first two games.
"A week before Mike's injury we were coming so well I thought it would be like '66," said Assistant Coach Joe Hall, who does not moan. "We had all that ability, and pride, too. Then the whole organization digressed." Since Kentucky is weak in the other corner, where Larry Steele is skinny and inexperienced, Rupp moved his star shooter, Mike Casey, to a forward and played red-shirt Terry Mills in backcourt opposite Argento. Though Steele gave Kentucky a good first game, he died against Miami. Rupp tried four different men at the position and got a total of seven points and five rebounds. Against the press the Wildcats blew most of a 20-point lead, seeing it shrink to two before Casey bailed them out to win the game in the last minute. Rupp was concerned.
At those infamous closed practices, barred to visitors by the type of iron gates Ivanhoe used to have a tough time cracking, the Baron was furious and calm at the same time.
"Do you know where we were in Ohio?" he asked a young charge the day after the Miami game. "Yes, sir. Oxford, sir," said the charge. "Well, now, that's real nice, son," said Rupp, tiny rivulets of sarcasm dripping to the floor, "because you didn't know where in the world you were last night. Pratt here can play better one-handed than the rest of you put together."
It was probably right then that Rupp decided he had to have his one-handed man for North Carolina. The coach kept denying that Pratt would see much action, but in practice Pratt worked hard and showed few ill effects of the injury. Still, North Carolina looked to be the more solid team, mostly because of its size and Scott. "They're even better than last year," said Hall, "and it's Scott who does it. He shoots, he feeds, he goes everywhere for his points and he gives them defense. Really, it is impossible to stop him."
While Kentucky hoped to block off Scott's cutting lanes and to hold North Carolina down on the boards, the Tar Heels' needs were more general. Their past successes had come in forcing Kentucky out of its well-established patterns and in denying second shots. Smith uses combinations of zone and man-to-man presses, both half-court and full. He wanted to make Kentucky free lance on offense and to keep 6'8½" Dan Issel away from rebounds on defense, where he is quick to release and start the break. The Wildcats, on the other hand, could not match up well defensively because of Scott, and they were afraid their 1-3-1 trap zone would permit the Carolina big men too many shots underneath.
Pratt did start and played most of the game with Casey in the other corner; Rupp's backcourt, however, was badly outplayed. Early on, Carolina hurt the zone by hitting easy shots in close. Casey, meanwhile, was throttled by Scott on defense. The Tar Heel guards, Dick Gruber and Ed Fogler, were harassing the Kentucky backcourt men and the latter could not find Casey. Mysteriously, North Carolina then switched defenses, and Casey tore apart the zone press, hitting 10 of his game-leading 26 points in the last six minutes to bring Kentucky to within four points at half time.
At the outset of the second period, however, Scott scored two quick baskets, and North Carolina fired out to a 12-point lead. The Tar Heels seemed to pick up overmatched fast breaks at will as Kentucky was caught with its guards crashing the boards and nobody else back. Rupp went to a man-to-man—and got some movement on offense with sophomore Greg Starrick—but Fogler guided the Tar Heel 1-4 offense right through the Wildcats, and the spread was carried to a staggering 19 points with seven minutes left. Issel, who had tired noticeably and was not a factor, got a second wind, but it was too late.
When it was over, Carolina had won the rebounds 45-34 (Clark had 16, Scott 9) and had shot 54%. Scott scored a modest 19 points but was responsible for countless more; one scouting report of the Tar Heels had said, "Keep them outside." What it meant was keep Charles Scott and the North Carolina team outside the gym.