Last summer theNCAA laid it onto Lamar Tech. "Now look, fellows," said Big Brother,kindly, "your track team is running with the big boys and the rest of youare small time. Let's pick one pigeonhole for all your troops: small college ormajor college, but just one, and the choice is yours." Now Lamar is inBeaumont, Texas, and you know Texans. The NCAA might as well have asked them toeither fight it out at Sabine Pass or retreat to a life of weaving blankets onan Oklahoma reservation. "Which way do the big boys live?" said thepeople at Lamar, coldly. And the big boys, the ones at places like Tulsa andHouston and Texas A&M, immediately fell down laughing. They were going toplay Lamar in basketball and, well, all of a sudden the breather is struttingaround packing a gun on each hip. That's a real thigh-slapper.
And so therereally were two guns—maybe more. Lamar, picked by one rating service to lose by32, shot down Memphis State by 13. Southwest Conference leader Texas A&M (a28-point favorite by the same rating service) was the next big victim, fallingin its own gym by 11. Tulsa came into Beaumont undefeated. It left shattered byLamar's brilliant full-court press, a loser by 26. By the time Houston reachedBeaumont it had to step over 12 bodies, but the bigcity boys still wereunbelievers.
Tall, cool andtalented, Houston went to work. At halftime Lamar, its racehorse offense foronce out of whack, was down by seven points. With 10 minutes to play, it wasdown by 13, and its star, Earl Dow, loaded down with four fouls, was sitting onthe bench.
Jack Martin, theLamar coach, had recruited Dow out of Wharton Junior College, where he hadaveraged 21 points. "Don't take him, Jack," warned Gene Bahnsen, theWharton coach. "He's an individualist. He won't run your patterns."
February 3, 1969
Martin shuddered.His intricate defenses (17 of them) and his screaming dive-bomber offenses arekeyed on discipline, with every man always moving at top speed and yet knowingexactly where his teammates are and what they are doing. He looked at Dow, whois 6'1" and 155 pounds, and then he remembered his recruiting budget, whichis even skinnier. And he sighed. "I've got to take a chance," hesaid.
Lamar is a stateschool, which means all the money Texas gives it must go for education. Texas(like most states) does not consider athletics as a part of education. And sothe school must make do with what it can pick up from the student body throughservice fees ($22 a semester) and a building-use fee ($14).
The building feesgo to paying off the Student Union and the football stadium, which was builtfor $1 million 100 yards downwind from a chemical plant. The plant alsoproduces a blinding smog and a smell you wouldn't believe. Lamar almost had togive up home football games until the plant agreed to close down on Saturdayafternoons.
"And thestudent service fees," says Dr. Richard Setzer, Lamar's president, "gotoward a lot more than just athletics. There are other things just asimportant: the band, opera, health services, visiting lecturers, the choir, ourdebating team. Did you know that our debating team had been invited to New Yorkto compete in a tournament with Harvard?" ("Oh, good grief," said acoed, when asked for her opinion on the debating trip. "Who cares whatthose creeps do?")
Dr. Setzer winked."Besides, athletics have enough money. We are looking for a well-roundedprogram. Why, we cut $4,000 off the basketball budget this year and gave it toour recreation-and-intramural program. And it's a fine program."
Recreation's gaindropped Martin's budget to $44,000, including the 18 scholarships he has toaccount for, equipment, travel, recruiting and scouting. Ask the people atTulsa or Houston, where there's real money, about their budgets and you get ablank stare.
"We don't havea money tree out here," said Athletic Director J. B. Higgins, "we haveto make do."
So Martin ignoredGene Bahnsen's warning and invited Dow to come and look at the growing (10,500students) engineering-and-liberal-arts school in Beaumont. Dow said fine,borrowed $40 and made the trip. When he arrived Martin told Kenny Haynes, nowhis other starting guard, to take Dow out on the town. Still Dow stayed.
That was lastseason, and right away, as Bahnsen had predicted, the slim, skilled youngsterfrom Bayside, N.Y. was in trouble. Martin and his young assistant, Billy Tubbs,could not believe what they were seeing.
"We thought hewas showboating," said Tubbs. "We almost destroyed him the first halfof the season trying to make him play like a regular player. Then we realizedall his moves were natural. And it took him a half of a season to learn thatbasketball is a team sport. After that, everything was beautiful."
Dow's style wasonce described as that of a Greek belly dancer on a cactus. He has quick legs,quicker hands. When he goes up for a shot—or a pass, and most of the time evenhe is not sure which when he leaves the floor—he draws up his knees, tucks theball against one hip, and, well, he just hangs there, twisting, pumping,turning, driving everybody out of their minds. "I love to fake the big boysout," he says, grinning, "to make them look bad. Then I don't care whatI do with the ball, shoot or just feed it off to one of our guys for an easybasket."
"He's toomuch," says Haynes, a 5'11" junior from Dixon, Ill. "When I get infoul trouble and have to sit on the bench then I really start enjoying thegame. I'm just watching Earl."
"SometimesEarl goes leaping into the air, and I forget what I'm doing," said PhilEndicott, who, with Jim Nicholson, gives Lamar a pair of fine, quick, if nottoo tall, forwards. "When he's up in the air and making five or 10 moveslike he does, instead of charging the basket as you're supposed to you juststand there watching him with your mouth open."
Opponents have thesame problem. "You know how tough Alcindor is," said Houston's KennySpain. "But at least when he went up in the air you knew what he was goingto do. When Dow goes up anything can happen."
What happened toHouston, of course, was Dow. Bothered by that 13-point lead, Martin called timeand motioned to his star. As Dow came off the bench, he turned to Martin andsaid quietly, "Nothing to worry about, coach, this one is as good aswon."
"Somehow,"said Martin, "I didn't quite share his optimism." Martin has beenLamar's only head basketball coach. Since the 1951 season his teams have won255 games (against 182 losses), but in 10 previous tries they had never beatenHouston.
With Dow back inand showing why he is averaging 21.1 points, Lamar began to rally. Wayne Moore,a great bear of a center at 6'8" and 235 pounds, again began to dominatethe boards. For a man his size, Moore is almost unbelievably quick, and he isthe key to the defense.
"Without BigMo," say Haynes and Dow and Endicott and Nicholson, "we're just anotherball club."
"It took thebig fellow three years to learn this game," says Bobby Gunn, thetrainer-jester. "But now he's great. Until his senior year he was just likea bear cub on his first date. He didn't know what he was doing, but he sure ashell was having a good time."
"You have tokeep Mo psyched," says Dow. "Before a game I'll tell him, 'Hey, theygot some big men. You won't get anything tonight.' He just stares at me andsays, 'Little popcorn, you just watch.' I know he's ready."
"Everybody'son me to shoot," grumbles Moore, who hopes to play pro football—as adefensive end, what else? "That's not my job. Let those little fellowsshoot. My job is rebounding and defense. If I don't do them, if I worry aboutshooting, then I'm not doing my job."
In the last 10minutes Lamar out-scored Houston 19-6, sending the game into overtime.
"As soon as wegot within four points of them," says Endicott, "we knew we'd win. Thisteam is in great condition. It has great confidence. In the last few minutes wecan blow past anybody."
This is the sameteam that lost 17 games last season. "That's when they got together andmade a pact," says Martin. "They vowed to be in better shape than anyteam they played this season. On their own they ran and they ran."
"And we hatedit," says Endicott. "We ran until we were in pain, then we ran somemore. But it gave us unity. We suffered together. When we went out againstHouston in that overtime period we were laughing. We were fresh and they wereexhausted. We knew we'd win."
Lamar did, by sixpoints. And the fans came charging out of the stands screaming something aboutNo. 1. But do not look for Lamar in any polls. The wire services, unable todecide whether the Cardinals are major or small, have almost ignored them.
The conflict comesfrom Lamar's schedule, which lists only 11 major-college opponents. The teamplays 23 games, and the statistical arm of the NCAA says a school must scheduleat least half its games against major colleges to be considered major.
After the win overTulsa, Lamar was listed as No. 20—among small colleges. After Houston, it hadmoved up to sixth. "That just upsets me," says Martin. "When theylisted us as 20th I was really annoyed. I'd have just as soon they ignoredus—which the other wire service is doing. What we really want," he says,"is one of those at-large berths to the NCAA tournament. That's ourgoal."
But first there isa small matter of 10 remaining games, and Lamar must face Trinity, always atough rival in their Southland Conference, and a rematch in Houston.
"And six othersmall schools that would just love to play giant killer," says KennyHaynes. "We're not overlooking any of them. It's those small schools thatmake your heart stop." If you don't believe him, just ask Tulsa and TexasA&M and Houston.