If they can resist the blandishments of the pros until graduation, the stars of the class of 1974 may turn out to be the best college basketball has ever seen. Assuredly, they are the biggest. Tom McMillen of Maryland (right), the nation's most sought-after high school player two years ago, is 6'11", yet he has to look up at such other giants as North Carolina State's 7'4" Tom Burleson (see cover) and 7-footers Tree Grant of New Mexico State and Dave Brent of Jacksonville. More of the new big men who are expected to lead their schools to national ranking appear in and among the scouting reports of 1971-72's best teams and players on the following pages.
Jesus Christ having finally made superstar, it is about time that a school conducted by the Society of Jesus should shape up. The heart of Marquette University has been remodeled and now presents several blocks of sidewalks, benches, trees and a whole lot of other honest-to-goodness college stuff. What is paradise for the romantic is paradox to the rogue, however, and Jack (Chico) Rusnov, a young graduate, has put the look in perspective. "Awful," he says. "The place looks like a campus."
Fortunately for Rusnov and all the rest of Marquette's edge-of-delirium basketball fans, the Warriors once again look like a team most campuses would be happy to own. Since the end of last season when Marquette floated on the verge of fantasy toward its 39-game winning streak, Coach Al McGuire has been itching to try it again. "I'm more excited than ever," he said the week practice started. "It looks like the top of the mountain again."
November 29, 1971
From such peaks McGuire conducts the Marquette program. Because of his myriad outside interests and a wise unwillingness to become involved with the lesser pressures of the job, McGuire spends less time coaching than any man in the business and leaves most of the work to Hank Raymonds, his excellent assistant. It works.
Though the Warriors lost two versatile players in Dean (The Dream) Meminger and Gary Brell, there is better depth overall as well as vast, untapped scoring potential. Successor to the inimitable Brell (recently reported to be "playing kazoo in a freak band downtown") is Larry (Youngblood Hawke) McNeill, a 6'9" rail of a sophomore who shoots like a machine and is, says McGuire, "my next All-America." With Jim Chones and the new team captain, fearsome Bob (Black Swan) Lackey, 6'6", up front, the Warriors have a forward line only a Marquette mother could love. In fine counterpoint the angelic-looking Spider Mills, a 6'9" center last year, will play a lot more, enabling Chones to move to forward at times.
Guard Allie McGuire grew to almost 6'5" over the summer, but if he cannot shake a mysterious illness that limits his oxygen intake, the Warriors may have backcourt trouble. Though speedy Sugar Frazier had a head start in occupying Meminger's position, sophomore Marcus Washington, who moves and thinks like The Dream, looks like the leader the deliberate Warriors must have. Gary Grzesk returns to provide steadiness while rookie Randy (The Gizmo from Omro) Wade can fill the basket from outside. The kazoos in Milwaukee should be deafening.
With four starters back from the NIT champions, North Carolina has reason to look forward to the J new season. Yet not one of the returnees—who include Forward Bill Chamberlain, the NIT's Most Valuable Player—has aroused as much interest and enthusiasm as a tall newcomer from the junior college ranks. The talk in Chapel Hill is all about 6'9" Robert McAdoo. Will he fit smoothly into Coach Dean Smith's disciplined game? Will he be able to hold his own against the likes of Maryland's Tom McMillen? Is he good enough to finally lead the Tar Heels to the championship—the big championship, the NCAA—they have been so close to winning these recent years?
"He has tremendous ability," says Smith cautiously, while Chamberlain adds, "He's so mobile for his size that we might be even better than we were last year." Nobody knows what McAdoo says; Smith has ruled out all formal interviews until after Carolina's first game. "It just wouldn't be fair to the other four kids for him to get all the attention," says Smith.
McAdoo is hardly a stranger in Carolina. He grew up and played his high school ball in Greensboro, only 48 miles down the road from Chapel Hill. When he went to Vincennes Junior College in Indiana, his chances of playing at North Carolina seemed remote since Smith had never recruited a junior college player. "But McAdoo's a good student and he's from the state," says Smith. He's also a 26-point scorer and a fine rebounder, and facts like that don't hurt a fellow's chances.
Last year, 6'10" Lee Dedmon earned his keep by passing and rebounding, leaving the brunt of the scoring to Chamberlain (14.4 points a game) and Dennis Wuycik (18.4). McAdoo will be much more of an offensive factor. Now all Smith has to do is figure out how to take full advantage of McAdoo's scoring without losing any of the cohesiveness, selflessness and aggressiveness that characterized last year's unit.
Probably the most gifted athlete on the team, Chamberlain got off to a slow start this fall because of a tonsillectomy. So did Wuycik, who was testing the right knee he injured early in the NIT. If either falters, North Carolina need look only as far as sophomore Bobby Jones. At 6'8", he is not hard to see, nor is he hard for a coach to take. Already he is being counted on to help McAdoo at center. There are no questions at guard, where 6'3" Steve Previs and 6'2" George Karl continue to amaze Smith with their all-out play, even in practice.
In December the Tar Heels will go to Madrid for a tournament, but it is Los Angeles that interests them. They would admire to be there this March.
LONG BEACH STATE
Never underestimate the great American game of ten pins. Because of a bowling tournament that has booked the downtown arena for two months this winter, the country's most physical and raw-talented basketball team must play 13 of its 17 home games in a tiny campus gym that seats 2,300. This is a pity because Long Beach State Coach Jerry Tarkanian, the Fidel Castro of the college game, has come out of the brush again with some extraordinary guerrilla recruiting.
To begin, there is Nate Stephens, a 7-foot wanderer whose nose for geography has taken him all over the badlands, to such way stations as Weber State, Southern Idaho College, UTEP, New Mexico State and Creighton. He ended up at Long Beach State last season where he proceeded to redshirt, initiate fistic rumbles in the layup drills and set world records for sleeping. Tarkanian says he has got Stephens "under control" now. Whatever that means, the mobile Nate is impressively quick under the basket, rejects shots in spectacular fashion and has razors for elbows. Still, he is relatively tame compared to 6'8", 240-pound Leonard Gray, a transfer from Kansas who becomes eligible the first of February. Gray, says Tarkanian, is "the meanest SOB who ever lived," a ferocious-looking individual whose short fuse and penchant for right uppercuts in rebound battles make him a beautiful and all too believable villain.
Tarkanian has coached the 49ers to 23-3, 24-5 and 24-5 records in the last three years, mostly against candy-cane schedules that hardly did justice to his abilities as a recruiter and as a tongue-lashing coach of stingy zone defenses. The Long Beach zone made UCLA look silly in the finals of the Western Regional last March, but the 49ers blew an 11-point lead; their star, Ed Ratleff, fouled out with five minutes left, a bad shooter took a bad shot and they lost 57-55.
This season it is conceivable that Long Beach will not lose to anybody. Though George Trapp will be missed, Ratleff, a 6'6" junior of supreme passing and shooting skills, Chuck Terry, another solid 6'6" wingman who was the defensive star of the Pan American team, and the rest of their huge teammates will be around—people like Bob Lynn, 6'9", 255 pounds, and leaper Eric McWilliams, 6'7". The 49ers had trouble finding a backcourt leader last winter, but if 6'2" Lamont King, who averaged 34 points a game at something called Southeastern Iowa Area Community College in Keokuk, or redshirt Guard Tom Motley will give up the ball to the rest of the scorers, that problem will be solved. If everybody stays healthy and out of trouble, this could be the year of Long Beach's deliverance.
And now, the Walton Gang. Already they have established themselves in the same mold as their predecessors at UCLA, strong-willed and free-thinking. A week before practice opened, sophomore Bill Walton, the 6'11" redhead upon whom a continuation of the Bruin dynasty depends, was asked to cut his hair for publicity photographs. Since he previously had been given a later deadline for the shearing, Walton demurred. So did sophomore Guard Greg Lee. Having established that point—whatever it may be—they must now prove that they can play basketball. The chances are they can. Some people, in fact, think UCLA's redshirts from last season could leave school, hire Flip Wilson as coach and finish third in the Pacific Eight. The Bruins, as always, are that loaded.
With John Wooden as coach, they should finish first in their conference again. The attack this time will be fast-paced and directed more like a ballet than a bulldozer. Last season's maulers, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe and Steve Patterson, have taken to the pros a weight advantage of 30 pounds a man over their replacements, but Wooden has always preferred a running style and he will have loads of fun with this crew. Walton, a truly awesome defensive player and shot blocker, gets the ball off the board and out on the break quicker than any man alive (yes, including Wes Unseld). With the charismatic Lee in back-court, along with Henry Bibby, who has improved his shooting, the UCLA fast break should go whoooosh.
Because of questionable knees, Walton must spend an extra hour a day at practice, applying heat packs before and ice packs afterward. His hands, though, are always hot; he shot 69% as a freshman. The third rookie in the starting lineup is Keith Wilkes, a player of grace and finesse whose bony frame (6'6", 175 pounds) did not keep Wooden from telling a rival coach that if Wilkes had been available last year he would have started then, too. Junior Cornerman Larry Farmer (6'5") lacks bulk also, but his experience and work on the offensive board puts him ahead of still another sophomore, Gary Franklin, who can swing to backcourt. There, the Bruins are very deep, with Andy Hill and bowlegged Tommy Curtis, a redshirt who might beat out Lee for a starting position. Wooden also can call on 6'11" Swen Nater, a terrific shooter from the high post, as well as superb one-on-one players Larry Hollyfield and Marv Vitatoe.
UCLA has now won five straight national championships and seven of the last eight while keeping on the bench athletes like John Ecker, who is now doing such things in Europe as scoring 29 points against the German All-Stars. What is Wooden trying to do, win a world championship?
The basketball season at the University of Maryland began officially at 12:03 a.m. on Oct. 15. That's when the team assembled on the running track in Byrd Stadium for a mile-and-a-half run. Lighting was provided by automobile headlights; Lefty Driesell and his assistants were there timing the boys, and so were about 200 students, which tells something of the way they feel about basketball this season at College Park.
"We wanted to be the first team in the country to practice," explained a Terrapin, "and we want to be No. 1 at the end of the season, too." According to Len Elmore, the 6'9" sophomore from New York, it was just a publicity gag. "But we expect to go as far as we can," he says, "and that should be all the way."
Coming off a so-so 14-12 season, Maryland will start three—and possibly four—sophomores. Ordinarily that is not the stuff of a national championship, but these are not ordinary sophomores. As freshmen last season they humiliated 16 straight opponents by an average of 30 points, even with Elmore sitting out most games with a broken kneecap. The main reason, of course, was the presence of Washington's newest monument, 6'11" Tom Mc-Millen, the youngster from Mansfield, Pa. who is the college sport's No. 1 name even before his first varsity game.
The focus of one of the most intense, bitter recruiting hassles in history, McMillen led the freshmen with averages of 29.3 points and 15.4 rebounds. He is extraordinarily quick and such a fine shooter that Driesell will play him at a low post—where his soft hooks are virtually unstoppable—or, occasionally, on a wing. Although he still looks thin, McMillen's weight is up to 215 pounds, about 10 more than last season. "And he's jumping better, too," says Elmore. "I can tell that when I go against him in practice and he stuffs me."
Even without McMillen, the Terrapins would be a national contender. For size they not only have a healed Elmore, but 7-foot sophomore Mark Cartwright, who averaged 27 points in the last four freshman games. Elmore will start and Cartwright probably will play behind 6'8" Jim O'Brien, a strong leaper who led last year's varsity with a 16.3 average. Returning in backcourt is 6'2" Howard White, whose only problem is inconsistency. As a sophomore, White's scoring ranged from 38 points to zero. He probably will start at one guard, unless Driesell decides to use sophomores Rich Porac and Jap Trimble, a fine one-on-one player.
Every Maryland home game already is sold out. As Driesell says, "We could win the championship, but saying that is one thing and doing it is another. One thing for sure: we won't sneak up on anybody."
Fred Taylor, the other coach at Ohio State, is only the No. 2 man in town, even when he tries harder. Like Woody Hayes, he leads his Big Ten colleagues in winning percentages, and Taylor has taken seven conference titles in the 13 years that he has been head coach while Hayes was winning only four. In almost any other place but football-mad Columbus, Ohio, Taylor's name could be marketed as a household word, like Hertz.
If Taylor is concerned about his second-class status, he doesn't show it. He would be pleased, though, if more people paid attention to his Buckeye basketball team that finished 20-6 last year. Not since 1961, when Jerry Lucas, John Havlicek and Co. had already won the NCAA as sophomores, has Taylor welcomed back so much youthful experience. No fewer than six full-time and part-time starters return, only one a senior. They will go far in easing the loss of Jim Cleamons, the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player.
More than the others, 6'11½" Center Luke Witte will determine the extent of Ohio State's success. A .563 shooter last year, Witte spent the summer playing on the U.S. Pan American team and the experience bolstered his self-esteem and added 12 pounds to his frame, which now registers 233 pounds. He is well coordinated, a battler on the boards and certain to improve on his 19 points and 13 rebounds per game.
Muscular Guard Allan Hornyak, the league's fifth leading scorer as a sophomore (23.5) and Ohio's all-time high school scoring leader, has quickly learned to play college defense and team offense. He is the Buckeye boss, quick on the dribble and capable of putting a game away practically by himself, as he proved late last season at Michigan by scoring 17 points in the first five minutes of the first half.
Mark Minor, the team's only senior, and 6'8" Mark Wagar probably will start in the corners, and sophomore Dan Gerhard will push Dave Merchant for the other guard spot. Wardell Jackson missed freshman ball because of poor grades, but he will not spend much time on the bench once he learns a 6'7" forward's duties.
Trying harder this year not only means Fred Taylor must again win the Big Ten, but at least the tough NCAA Mideast Regional that got away last March when Ohio State, after ending Marquette's 39-game winning streak two days before, lost to Western Kentucky in overtime.
Hornyak, who missed the left-handed jumper that would have beaten Western Kentucky in regulation time, has not forgotten the shot over the summer. "I didn't really brood about it," he says. "I just wondered whether I should have taken it in closer. All I can say is maybe next time I'll make it."
"It used to be," says Dwight "Double D" Davis, "that Texas high school basketball was choked to death by football. Football is still very important in this state, but lately we've been growing some trees in Houston and people are taking an interest in us." People like Guy Lewis, whose goal at the University of Houston has always been to assemble a forest. "More than one year," Lewis recalls, "I started five boys from Illinois and Indiana. The biggest change in the college game today is that good basketball players can be found anywhere." But even Lewis never imagined that three of his Cougar starters would have learned their basketball at Houston's Pleasantville Recreation Center or Finnegan Park, both just across town from the Cougar campus.
Davis, a 6'7" leaper who should get clearance from NASA's Mission Control before he launches himself off the Tartan floor at Hofheinz Pavilion ("That guy can jump to the moon," Frank McGuire of South Carolina said last year) is one of the Houstonians. Dwight Jones, a member of the U.S. Pan Am team, is another. "He is a seasoned rookie," Lewis says, "and as fine a sophomore as I've had since Elvin Hayes." Davis, who adds verbal bounce to his talents, praises the 6'10" Jones, too. "I've seen Jim Chones of Marquette and he's a great player. But Dwight can play with him." This is the same Jones who as a 6'3" seventh-grader was cut from his junior-high team. He practiced six hours nightly at the playgrounds and two years later was averaging 40 points and 20 rebounds for the same team. "Dwight Jones," says Dwight Davis, "can be just as good as he wants to be. All he needs is a killer's instinct and we all help by pushing the lamb into the lion's den."
Jerry Bonney, a 6'4" guard who can rebound, is the third local starter. To maintain his recruiting touch, Lewis has Larry Brown of Brooklyn and sharpshooting Donnell Hayes of Camden, N.J., the leading freshman scorer, as other guards, and Steve Newsome of Columbia, Miss., and newcomer Sidney Edwards of Schenectady, N.Y. as forwards. "Hayes is as good an outside shooter as I've had here," Lewis says. "But I need someone to run the team, someone to make the fast break work and to get the ball inside when we slow down the pace." Brown, who averaged 7.1 points last season, has experience in these areas and will probably be a starter until Hayes proves he can move the ball.
For luck, the visitors' dressing room at Hofheinz Pavilion still has the number 13 on the door. "Just a coincidence," Lewis says. But the Cougars are unbeaten in two seasons at the new arena. And outside the trees of Houston keep growing.
Philadelphia is a lovely place to live, and you'd want your basketball team to visit there, too—if you were out of your scrapple-eating mind. It was bad enough when only three Philadelphia teams played national tournament-caliber ball, but in 1970-71 when Penn started operating like the UCLA of the East, that was too everloving much, brother. Coach Dick Harter pushed a different lever every night and out popped a new star. The second team was so frightening it was known as the Earthquakers. Now come the '71-72 Quakers. Harter has gone to Utah and three starters are missing, but opponents aren't fooled a bit.
Phil Hankinson, a 6'8" junior who led the scoring in five games without starting in any of them and made All-Ivy mention while sitting on the bench, settles in at the forward spot vacated by Corky Calhoun, the complete player, who moves to guard, where at 6'7½" he will be one of the country's tallest. The smallest Penn starter, 6'5" Alan Cotler, is aggressively quick and a fine shooter. He goes to the other guard, which will become a point position.
Bobby Morse is a Bill Bradley-type, but bigger (6'8"). He is a scorer and a premed student who spent his summer taking an organic chemistry course from 8:30 to 11:30 a.m. and working a full shift in a quarry before coming back at night for more courses. For the simple reason that Penn just does not need more shooters, 6'6" Craig Littlepage may become a defensive specialist at center. Again, all-staters from Ohio and Illinois—sophomore Whitey Varga and Jack Sonnenberg—are riding the bench, at least temporarily.
Last year, Penn had a highly patterned, intricate, guard-oriented offense. This year that turns into an overpowering inside attack that the team hopes will beat good opponents by 20 points. Bang the ball into the middle, that's the strategy—to Morse or Littlepage stacked on one side of the lane, to Calhoun on the other, to Hankinson thundering down the baseline. Forget the pass back to the point man; airmail the ball overhead.
Some people around Philadelphia think the Quakers have just one flaw, they are too perfect. They never exhibit emotion (Calhoun clapped his hands after a play in one game last year and sent the Palestra into an uproar). New Coach Chuck Daly, who has a talent for following difficult acts (he succeeded Bob Cousy at Boston College) says, "If we lose two or three, I ain't jumping off any bridges." But even he admits that Penn looks like the class of the East.
The recruiting cycle continues to turn in Southern California. To remain competitive with that other school on the far side of the traffic jam, USC went out and got a forward from Denver, a guard from New York and six assorted sizes of players from California. They comprise the best freshman team in the history of the school and will be on hand to watch the finals of the NCAA tournament next March on their home court at the Sports Arena. But are they a year too late? Well, maybe. Last winter was the watershed for Coach Bob Boyd's Trojans, who had as glorious a season as a runner-up could hope for. They won 24 games, lost only to UCLA twice and set the college world on fire by winning 16 straight and moving to the top of the polls before blowing a nine-point lead and The Game to UCLA 64-60. In the process, USC caught the city's fancy. Five years ago, the school sold 98 season tickets for basketball. By the opening game next week USC expects to have sold 2,000.
"We sense excitement, involvement, basketball noise," says Boyd. The USC coaches also sense the odor of a hospital. Early in preseason practice their hopes for a season equal to last year's were jarred when Forwards Bruce Clark and Monroe Nash were done in by old hurts. Clark fractured the same shinbone that kept him off the team last year, and if he returns at all it will not be until early January when the Pacific Eight season opens. Nash is out for the year after undergoing his second operation for a ruptured disc. The injuries definitely decrease team speed, scoring and, most importantly, the depth that Boyd needs to run his pressing, bustling game. All is not lost, however, as the coach admits (18 wins is his prediction even if everything goes horribly). Returning as starters are shooting Forward Joe Mackey, skinny 6'8" Center Ron (Spoon) Riley, who holds all the USC rebound records, and Paul Westphal, the marvelous guard whose flashing, driving, either-hand hook through the key is still the most exciting move in the college game.
USC will miss defender Chris Shrobilgen, sixth man Dana Pagett and, especially, the streak shooting and defense of Dennis Layton, but precocious sophomore Dan Anderson is steadier in the backcourt and complements Westphal better. The problem is inside, where only bulky Bill Taylor helps Riley on the boards. Still, Westphal—now a senior and in his last run at the school (UCLA) he turned down—remains unconcerned. "This is the year I've waited for," he says. "We're going to get them."
To most of the nation. Rhode Island has long been a comic myth, as distant and unbelievable as Lilliput. So back in 1969 when it became known that something called Providence College had won 242 basketball games in 12 years, it was as annoying, say, as having to take antibiotics after a gnat bite. Then Providence went bad and everybody forgot the pest—until last season. The Friars, under handsome Dave Gavitt, rustled up a 20-8 record despite averaging only 6'3" in height. Now four of the best from that team return, and there is new height, too. Real pests.
But to begin with the smallest, the best of those back is 6-foot Guard Ernie DiGregorio, a product of the North Providence playgrounds and so esteemed that he was given an 800-ticket testimonial dinner while still in high school. He was named to the NIT, ECAC Holiday Festival and Tennessee Classic first teams last year as a sophomore. He scored 522 points, but his real strength is his wide-screen passing eye. "I've never seen anybody better in college ball," Gavitt says flatly. "To take full advantage we've done crazy things like lining everybody up at the baseline and having them scatter wildly while Ernie picks off the open man. He's so good it's infectious. Ernie has made Don Lewis a much more confident passer and offensive player."
A defensive classic at the other guard, Lewis in return has made DiGregorio acceptable on defense. Sum Lewis up by saying he was assigned to Massachusetts' one-man team, 6'6" Julius Erving, gave away seven inches and held Erving to 19 points. The pros are having trouble doing that this year. At one forward is Nehru King from Jersey City, N.J., so named because his mother admired the placidity of the Indian Prime Minister. Nehru is an unplacid 6'4" hot dog who as a freshman would vacuum the boards, make a spectacular move—and throw the ball away. Unfortunately for the big powers of the East, Nehru King has curbed his excesses. So has 6'7" Fran Costello, who shot at everything in his freshman year and at nothing the next. Now, with Marvin Barnes, 6'9", and—when he recovers from anemia—Larry Ketvirtis, 6'11", around, he is programmed differently. Among the best sophomores in the country, Barnes has so overwhelmed Rhode Island competition that his main problem has been overcoming boredom. His almost exact opposite is Ketvirtis. Calm, almost priestly, off the court, Ketvirtis goes berserk in competition, his one flaw being that he may seriously injure someone. With their new height, the Friars will be picking, screening and rolling and, in short (and tall, too), will be counting their blessings. There are those in Little Rhody who are counting them providential.
NEW MEXICO STATE
There were three good basketball teams in Las Cruces last winter and only one happened to be the New Mexico State varsity. The freshmen weighed in with a 6'7" lefty named Hal Robinson and a guard named Austin Lehmann, a pure shooter whose range, in hyperbolic moments, is equated with that of the missiles at White Sands. And on deposit with the Farmers and Merchants Bank, an AAU team, Coach Lou Henson had two Aggies, both ineligible freshmen, who could guarantee almost anybody's mortgage. One was Roland (Tree) Grant, a 7-foot Philadelphian the coach modestly describes as "a player." The second was John Williamson, an Earl Monroe type who is sure to be one of the fine shooters in the nation. Now all four are on the varsity and Henson must decide how to use them. At the moment, he plans to build around Grant. He has such faith in his agile Tree, in fact, that he has installed a single-post pro offense. That means that passes will be lobbed to Grant who will then do his best to remember that the dunk is illegal.
To make the optimum use of Williamson, Robinson and Forward Harry S. Truman Ward (call him Truman, please, because he's not wild about Harry), Henson will shift to his passing offense. Ward led last year's varsity (19-8) in scoring and rebounding and caught passes from Alex Scott, the team playmaker and a lifelong friend of Williamson's from New Haven, Conn. Lehmann, who has shown signs of not wanting to play this season, is being groomed to run the club when the Aggies join the Missouri Valley Conference next year. Against zones he fires 25-footers the way his brother George does for the Carolina Cougars. He spent 14 hours a few months ago shooting 11,181 consecutive free throws in quest of a world record. Before a shoulder cramp stopped him, he netted 87% of his attempts. Henson has deadpanned, "I'll change his style if he ever misses a shot."
Missing—in games—will be the toothpick so often seen in Williamson's mouth. He practices with one and claims he was always chomping on toothpicks when he was averaging 33.4 points a game in his senior year at Wilbur Cross High School. A teacher there once called the toothpick "Williamson's tranquilizer" and Henson does nothing in practice to spoil the 6'2" guard's frame of mind.
The Aggie bench is one of the strongest in the nation, with three experienced hands. Roy Neal, 6'6", was a member of the NCAA third-place club two years ago, and El Green and Bill Moore have proved they can run, shoot and rebound. But (Henson said it, not Joyce Kilmer) there is no bench as lovely as a Tree—or a toothpick. At the least, the Aggies from just north of the border should receive their sixth straight NCAA bid.
Head Coach Denny Crum brings a fresh point of view to the senior-dominated University of Louisville team that has seen disastrous finishes undo early success the last two years. As assistant coach for John Wooden at UCLA the previous three seasons, his major concern was what to do with his NCAA championship watches. He kept one, gave another to his father and is saving the third for his young son. But he wouldn't at all mind winning new watches.
"Here in Kentucky we like to judge by bloodlines," says Athletic Director Peck Hickman, "and with Denny's background you've got to say his is a good one." The players, too, are excited about the 34-year-old Crum, who succeeds the retired John Dromo. "I can't do nothing but listen to the man," says multitalented Guard Jim Price, the best of five double-figure scorers returning from a 20-9 team. "He started pointing out my errors as soon as practice started. That's a man to listen to."
Price and his teammates had best listen closely. An exceptionally confident individual upon whom Wooden depended greatly for in-the-game analysis, Crum is rattling the Cardinal cage. His major move involves 6'3" Henry Bacon, an undersized forward last year, who joins Price in the backcourt. That opens the way for 6'8" sophomore Bill Bunton on a front line that includes Ron Thomas, a 6'5" rebounder, and 6'9" Al Vilcheck, who moves out to a high post. "I like the offense," says Vilcheck, who possibly is the tallest game-bird hunter in Kentucky. "It will force me to shoot from outside and give me the chance to drive. And I think that by crashing the boards I can improve my shooting."
Larry Carter, a two-year regular at guard, is not being overlooked. His 14-point average was third best on the team last year behind Price (16.5) and Vilcheck (15.9) and his outside shooting will still be counted on. So will the reserve talents of swingman Mike Lawhon, who will be playing under a different coach for the eighth straight year. (Since Lawhon is a senior, Crum can relax.)
Defensively, the UCLA influence will be seen in one of several different pressure formations. The Cardinals pressed last year under Dromo but after his midseason heart attack they played man-to-man under interim Coach Howard Stacey.
"I feel a little bit like the bird who has left the nest," says Crum. "All my family ties are in Southern California. But I felt the time had finally come for me to set out on my own and I thought this was the best of three head-coaching opportunities available. I think I know what it takes to build a national championship contender. Now I'm going to try to do it."
During Dave Owens' days at Florida State a friend gave Coach Hugh Durham a symbolic drawing showing a black basketball player with a red Afro who wore tennis shoes and had, obviously, plenty of soul. Cowens, who was the one white starter on a black team, has since moved into a starring role with the Boston Celtics; as a result his alma mater has no redheads left, but it isn't suffering from a shortage of soul.
This year's starters are all black; in fact there are only three white players on the team. State could easily be mistaken for cross-town Florida A&M. But this does not bother the Southern-born Durham at all. "We're not interested in their color," he says. "We want winners and when we win everybody will be happy."
From all indications, the city of Tallahassee is in for a taste of winning, however distasteful that may appear to people whose only appetite has been for football victories. The Seminoles return four of five starters from last year's 17-9 varsity. State should be a lot better.
Lawrence McCray, a 6'11" sophomore who averaged 18.6 points and 22.2 rebounds on the freshman team, replaces FSU's one loss, 6'4" Vernell Ellzy, at low post. McCray broke Cowens' freshman rebounding record with 510 and is as good a defensive player as there is in college ball. Wingman Ron King is back. Last year he made over 50% of his shots and had a team-leading 22.7 average. At the high post is aggressive Reggie Royals, who averaged 15 rebounds each game, 13th in the nation. Rowland Garrett, the best jumper on the squad, mans the other wing. Although averaging only 12.5 points on a team that scored 91.5 (seventh in the nation), Garrett should have a strong final year. The only position that has not been settled is at the point, where tiny 5'7" Otto Petty has the edge. He was one of three good sophomores last season and set a school record with 227 assists. But he is being pushed mightily by a new sophomore, Otis Cole, who is just as aggressive as Petty, seven inches taller and a better defensive player. On offense, Cole is a slick ball handler who can also be used at the wing. Senior Ron Harris, last year's sixth man and a sometime starter the year before, and Greg Samuel, a transfer, will see plenty of action.
"All I want to do is to get the players to perform up to their capabilities," says Durham. "The wins will take care of themselves." Perhaps, but the wins Durham speaks of will not take care of themselves if the team again gives up 80.2 points a game. State has a new lease on life because after three years it is off NCAA probation for recruiting infractions and is eligible for postseason tournament play. It could be a soulful year.
For the past three seasons South Carolina has been about the most frustrated—and frustrating—team in the country. Led by All-America Guard John Roche, he of the floppy hair and quick temper, the Gamecocks clawed their way to a 69-16 record, the most successful era in the school's history. But twice they failed to survive that game of Russian roulette, otherwise known as the Atlantic Coast Conference's postseason tournament, and gain an NCAA berth. Last year, when they did prevail, they expended so much blood in the process that they played more like refugees from Colonel Sanders than Gamecocks and Penn pulled them apart 79-64 in the first round of the East Regional.
Now, as Coach Frank McGuire has it, South Carolina is ' "beginning a new era." Gone are Roche and the ACC—South Carolina will play as an independent—but not even McGuire knows for sure whether the new era will be entirely beneficial to his team. Sure, at last he is free of the tournament and the ACC, but now he picks up the problems of the independents, such as scheduling and longer trips into alien country. Clemson was the only ACC team willing to play South Carolina, for instance, so McGuire had to use all his charm and contacts to line up a representative slate of opponents. On second thought, representative might not be the precise word. The Gamecocks have scheduled themselves into the likes of Marquette, St. Bonaventure, Houston and Notre Dame and they will be seen in San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, the Astrodome and, of course, New York. That's representative of something, all right. Like hara-kiri.
"We're playing much tougher teams that we were in the ACC," says McGuire, unable to resist winging a barb into his former colleagues. Happily, SC will be playing them with the help of two strong Long Islanders, 6'10" senior Tom Riker and 6'3" junior Kevin Joyce. Now that he is wearing contact lenses, Riker figures to improve his 14-point scoring average. Joyce, who will inherit much of Roche's leadership responsibilities, is noteworthy for his prodigious jumping and from-the-hip shooting. Helping Riker under the board will be 7-foot junior Danny Traylor, who should be more than adequate at center once he gains experience. If Traylor develops as rapidly as expected, the new day at South Carolina ought to be a winning one—perhaps a superlative one. This year's team will run more without Roche and have more offensive movement. Nobody seems "heartbroken," as Riker puts it, about being out of the ACC. "In fact, I'm sort of happy we're out," he says. "Now we can go and see what the country looks like." If all goes well, it should look like about 23-3, wins and losses, that is. And no Russian roulette.
Coach Stan Watts has taken to heart the sign that greets visitors to his mountainside retreat in Provo, Utah, THE WORLD IS OUR CAMPUS, it says, and Watts could pencil in "playing and recruiting territory." During his 22 years at Brigham Young he has taken teams to the ends of the earth. Occasionally he brings the ends of the earth to Provo. This year there are four internationalists, a 6'11" Yugoslav center, a 6'6" Canadian and reserves from Finland and England. With their help, the Cougars should earn another NCAA tournament bid.
Three starters return from an 18-11 team that lost seven games by six or fewer points. Two of them, Guard Bernie Fryer, with a 19.2 scoring average, and Kresimir Cosic, who brought down 12.6 rebounds a game, are among the school's best ever. This Brigham Young team may, in fact, rank with the NIT titlists of 1951 and 1966. "We'll be good," the genial Watts says. "We have the things we missed last year, such as experience, guard depth, better rebounding at forward and better outside shooting."
Strangely, what Brigham Young may not have is its customary home court advantage. Over the last seven seasons the Cougars have won 88% of their games at Smith Field House. Now they move into the new Marriott Activities Center. Its 22,500 seats make it one of the largest school facilities in the country. Construction workers have pushed to get it ready for the opening tournament that features a team from each of the four time zones. "Our opponents will know that place as well as we will," says Watts. "Playing there will take getting used to."
At least as exciting as the new gym is Cosic (pronounced Cho-sich), the Yugoslav who averaged 15 points per game and was truly outstanding by the end of the season. "His only problem is his independence," says Watts. "He certainly knows the game, but he tries to do things a big kid shouldn't do, like lead the fast break. Of course he does a lot of things very well, like shoot from the outside. I don't think there is a big man around who can stay with him because of his quickness and agility."
Cosic, whose exploits were reported back to Yugoslavia last year by a writer named Boris Pasternak (no relation), admits that "All the time I like to handle the ball." Fryer says it is a case of a 6'11" center believing he is a guard. In reality, Fryer's guardmate will be one of three sophomores up from a freshman team that averaged over 100 points a game. The best bet is Doug Richards. The team's forwards are its Canadian import, Phil Tollestrup, who averaged 11.5 points, and 6'8" Jay Bunker, a reserve who scored 27 points and had 17 rebounds in an impressive win over Villanova.
Let us say you want to make up a basketball team from thin air, which is right where you'd find this one, since it is a thousand miles from anywhere and at least 65 from Buffalo. To make it totally unreal, say it is a major college team whose tallest man is 6'5". That's an upset right there. Then say this 6'5" biggie, who has some gunslinger name like Matt Gantt, is out of action six games and severely hampered in the rest by a problem of the heart: not over some 5'2" chickie but a genuine heartsickness, an inflammation of the pericardial tissues. So this team is out there performing absolutely topless. Sometimes its biggest man is 6'3". Now say it wins 21 games, takes the Gator Bowl tournament and runs Georgia Tech to two overtimes in the NIT semifinals. And what would you name such a team? St. Bonaventure, of course.
But that was last year. For 1971-72 the Bonnies have added some bit of height to the act, 6'9" Glenn Price, which should help. The sophomore center has quickness, a good outside shot and excellent moves underneath. He will play high post but is not ready for low, where Bob Lanier used to operate. Gantt, completely healed, goes back to forward, where his kangaroo shots are deadly. ("Jump shots" is an understatement; Gantt sometimes jumped center even when the 6'11" Lanier was around.) Coach Larry Weise will be able to zone more convincingly and his 3-2 continuity offense, stressing more options off the high post, will look very believable.
Paul Hoffman was believable all along. Here is a 6'1" guard who averages 51% of his shots from the floor, sets up plays with exceptional coolness, revs up the rah-rah quotient and gets 144 rebounds, too. At the other forward, Carl Jackson averaged 48% and 14.1 points and got 209 rebounds last season. And there is the good ball handler, Guard Vic Thomas, who averaged a very respectable 44% from the field. St. Bonaventure may lack depth, but sophomore Guard Rick Murray, for one, combines good scoring potential with sound defense.
The Bonnies seldom leave their isolated part of the country. They play only nine "away" games this season, and five of those are so nearby as to barely count. But it is not only the home court advantage they enjoy. It's that abominable weather, which provides a perfect setting for ambushing visitors. "That wind," Gantt says. "You duck behind a building to escape it, and it comes all the way around and smacks you in the butt. One day they called off classes because it was snowing so hard you couldn't see the buildings to get to them." When South Florida snowshoes in on Jan. 31, its big worry will not be winning (it won't), but whether it will ever get out again.
The old sign seems particularly appropriate hanging there in the Jacksonville dressing room: "The improbable we can do immediately, the impossible might take us awhile." With only two starters back, the Dolphins may yet pull off the improbable. But the impossible concerns ignoring the loss of Artis Gilmore. He blocked 269 shots last season, which is considerably more shots than will be blocked by the entire Dolphin team in 1971-72.
The blocks the Dolphins can count on no doubt will come from 7-foot Dave Brent. So far he is no Gilmore but in time he may bat down his share. Brent is more of a scorer, however. He led the freshman team with 25.8 points a game, 20.5 rebounds and a .571 field goal percentage en route to being voted Freshman Player of the Year in the Southeast. Obviously, he will not give you the back of his hand, like Gilmore, but the front of his hand, even from 15 feet, is being counted on heavily. "He has the talent to be one of the best players ever in college basketball," Coach Tom Wasdin claims. In a varsity-freshman game last year Brent scored 45 points against Gilmore (7'2") and Pembrook Burrows (7'0").
Point Guard Harold Fox changes from being the most sought-after JC player in the country two years ago to one of the most wanted senior guards. He can shoot and he can play defense. Last season he averaged 19 points a game while sinking exactly half of his shots and he put in almost three-quarters of his free throws, all the while terrorizing would-be scorers
Joining Fox as co-captain is Forward Ernie Fleming, a 6'7" senior who has already been drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Fleming and Gilmore were teammates in junior college and worked out together over the summer. Although Flem will not command the multimillion-dollar contract that Gilmore did, he knows that his value will appreciate with his effectiveness this year.
Should Wasdin utilize the two-guard front, the second will be sophomore Leon Benbow, a 6'5" leaper who shoots with amazing accuracy (in one practice session he connected on 19 of 20 field goals from 15 feet out). Because of disciplinary problems, Benbow played on an AAU team last year instead of the freshman squad and the exposure did nothing to hurt him. At the wing opposite Fleming will be either Abe Steward, a first-team junior college All-America, or Kevin O'Riordan, a starter at Miami before that school dropped basketball.
For all his talented players, Wasdin has to have some impossible luck to survive his improbable schedule, which includes such heavies as Furman, Marquette, Florida State, Providence and Houston.
There is no indignity that Adolph Rupp has not suffered at least once. Asked about the early departure of 7-foot Tom Payne, who abandoned Kentucky—after only one season—to play pro ball, Rupp dusted off memories of another escape of 37 years before. "The boy's name was Leroy Edwards," he began. "A good player and big for his day and the reason the three-second rule was created. He quit to join one of those pro teams around then. But we were able to get over it."
The absence of Payne, along with two other starters from Rupp's 26th SEC championship team, nevertheless raises bothersome questions about the upcoming season. The Wildcats are thin in numbers and, most unusual, count four out-of-staters among the likely starting five. One of them is a lad who swears not to have heard of Rupp until he was a senior in high school. The lone Kentuckian is 6'6" Larry Stamper from Beattyville who had an undistinguished sophomore season.
Payne will be replaced by promising but foul-prone Jim Andrews, a frequently used 6'11" reserve last year whose rebounds-per-minute average was actually the best on the team. He even appeared brilliant on occasion, as in the game against Auburn when, as the story goes, he followed a missed shot by leaping from the foul line, turning around in midair and putting the ball in with his back to the basket. "Well, not exactly," Andrews admits today. "I was trying to pass."
The mainstay of Kentucky's team is 6'7" Tom Parker, whose 17.6 average topped the Wildcats during the 22-6 campaign. He is as durable and consistent as he is talented, and something of an optimist about the new season. "We can be better this year because Eve never been on a team that got along so well. We've got plenty of talent and Andrews will help improve the defense."
Kent Hollenbeck, a 6'4" guard who averaged 14 points per game, is Kentucky's only other returning starter. He will be joined in the backcourt by Bob McGowan, who was caught bellying up to the bar a season and a half ago and sent into exile. At the time he was a frequent starter who had been chosen Most Valuable Player of that season's UK Invitational Tournament. The reserves are headed by a pair of sophomores, 6'7" Rick Drewitz and little Ronnie Lyons, Kentucky's outstanding high school player two years ago, who averaged over 24 points a game as a freshman.
At 70, Rupp seems to be enjoying his best health in years. His last season, you dare wonder? Rupp has said nothing, but it appears that after several so-so recruiting years he has a ballyhooed freshman team that could be his best ever and, well, you know....
Twenty years ago St. John's went to the NCAA final before losing to Kansas and Clyde Lovellette. The Redmen have not climbed quite that high since, but this season the subway-riding students, the Vincentian Fathers and even The Great Stone Face himself, second-year Coach Frank Mulzoff, have hopes that the team will be the best in school history. That would be a singular accomplishment since St. John's has won exactly 1,001 games in 64 seasons and earned 20 NIT invitations. Only two other schools have a better winning percentage over the years.
The main reason for all the optimism on the Borough of Queens campus is 6'7" junior Forward Mel Davis from Boys High of Brooklyn, one of the most famous player incubators in the country. As a sophomore, Davis averaged 20.7 points and 17.8 rebounds while the Redmen were winning 18 and losing nine. Davis goes up so high that he wears five pairs of socks to ease the shock when he comes down. But that's nothing at all for the Redmen. His teammate, 6'6" sophomore Ed Searcy, wears seven pairs of socks, meaning he leaps higher than Davis—or maybe his shoes are too big.
Searcy played for a powerful team at New York City's Power Memorial High, alma mater of Lew Alcindor. Two of his illustrious teammates went to Maryland, but Searcy opted for Duquesne University in Pittsburgh. He was unhappy, transferred to St. John's and sat out last season. His presence (he's eligible for the last 13 games) will ease Davis' rebounding responsibilities. But just in case those two do not grab every carom in sight, there is 7-foot Billy Phillips and 6'9" Greg Cluess, the team captain, both starters last year. The St. John's backcourt is only slightly less impressive. The main candidates are 6'5" Bill Schaeffer (second high scorer last season at forward), Kevin Raftery, Larry Jenkins and Richie Lyons. "We'll have some vicious practices because we have eight or nine men," says Mulzoff, his usually immobile face cracking into a broad grin.
There are some minuses, of course. The Redmen have only three home games in December, playing tournament dates in Maryland, West Virginia and New Mexico. They will have to face such top teams as Davidson, Vanderbilt and the tourney opponents before Searcy becomes eligible. Schaeffer has yet to prove he can make the transition to guard, and Davis must start driving to the basket once in a while to keep the defenses honest. He knows the problem, says Mulzoff, and is working to correct it.
But quibble not about St. John's. The Redmen are so well stocked that Coach Mulzoff allowed one big prospect (he was 6'10") to stay with the fencing team.
It was not anything like this at Minnesota a year ago. Oh, the football team was losing and Max Shulman was having his digs at the place, but the school had not won a Big Ten title outright in basketball since the year after the signing of the World War I Armistice and there was no immediate prospect of winning one. And there certainly wasn't all this awesome young talent clappin' and jivin' and gettin' ready under maximum security in Williams Arena, where the Gophers play basketball and where Bill Musselman is about to end all that losing business. Musselman is the guy who brought excitement into the lives of the citizens of Ashland, Ohio—he won 129 college division games there in six years—and now at 31 he is Minnesota's fifth basketball coach in five years.
Musselman most likely will begin the big change by starting five blacks, four over 6'8" and all from out of state. Two of them, Ron Behagen and Clyde Turner, were among the four best junior-college players in the country last year. A third, Center Jim Brewer, is the core of the team and supreme around the basket, particularly on defense. He shot only .402 last year, primarily because he had to come outside to get the ball away from his guards. In the process he missed precious tip-ins and offensive rebounds and Minnesota staggered to an 11-13 year. Brewer almost left school in midseason or at least he let it be known he was disappointed enough in the coaching staff to consider leaving. The whole thing was really just a tactical move to shake up the status quo, he says now.
A fanatic on defense and fundamentals, Musselman firmly believes his one-guard offense will work with sophomore Keith Young or possibly Bob Nix at the point. Corky Taylor is his fourth big man, now that his knee injury seems healed. In addition he wants to see how opposing coaches will like Behagen, a 6'9" mad stork, flapping all over their biggest guard. Behagen is light enough on his feet to cover most guards in the country.
At practice Musselman appears brutal, constantly blowing his whistle like a drill sergeant and barking like one too. He swears he is not asking his men to do anything he would not do, and one day proved his point by ripping the knees of his $35 flares diving for a loose ball. But off court he treats his players like younger brothers, dressing alongside them in their locker room where his last name is stenciled on his locker as it is on anyone else's. He even buys some of the rock 45s the team plays during the kind of ball-handling drills he made famous at Ashland. One of Behagen's favorites, by Sly and the Family Stone, is I Want To Take You Higher. That has got to be Mussel-man's theme for the year.