When we last left the Marquette Warriors on their holy crusade through another undefeated regular season, Bob (Black Swan) Lackey was licking his wounded feathers from the South Carolina battle, Jim Chones was so busy sifting pro offers he nearly forgot how to play basketball, and Allie McGuire (see cover) was collapsing all over the place with every disease known to man except the heartbreak of psoriasis.
It has been that kind of year for Marquette. The team struggles to victory (five of their 19 straight wins have been by two or fewer points), the followers wonder why and, in the middle of it all, Allie McGuire, weak and pale from some mononucleosis here, a touch of hepatitis there, bears up. He is handsome, brave and reverent. The perfect model of Casabianca at the battle of the Nile about whom it was written:
The boy stood on the burning deck,
Whence all but he had fled.
The flames rolled on; he would not go
Without his father's word.
More often than not, the word of his father and coach, Al, goes something like "Get da shoodah, Allie." Bellowed into the tense silence of the Milwaukee Arena, it is the older McGuire's way of harassing an opposing player about to take a free throw. Minnesota's Jim Brewer heard "Get da shoodah, Allie" at the top of his shot early this season and never reached the rim. Mostly, enemy shoodahs just flinch, laugh or miss conservatively.
In truth, Marquette opponents have not been missing often enough for the Warriors to take it easy. They have done so anyway—leaving their coach's boy to fight back the rolling flames alone. Against Marshall, Allie made two free throws with 17 seconds remaining to clinch a 74-72 win. Against Detroit he drove for a short jump shot with five seconds to go, and Marquette won 68-66. And against South Carolina he made two foul shots with 1:15 left. His points held up for a 72-71 victory while Allie sat on the bench, faint, dizzy and crying from a mysterious hyperventilation problem that messes up his oxygen intake and forces him to breathe into a paper bag for relief. When Allie McGuire seals a Marquette game, it is always a "breathless" victory.
For a team that has been so used to winning so often—53 consecutive regular-season games, 69 straight in the Arena—the Warriors have gone along this year as if they hoped to lose a whole bunch and prove that their much-maligned schedule is no joke. Close inspection of their list of opponents, however, shows that the team has no apologizing to do. The Warriors have played six schools with a combined record of 91-26. Before the season ends, they will have met as many as nine teams that might play in postseason tournaments.
Still, statistics give the Warriors' bumbling, stumbling record away. In one stretch of several games they shot over 40% just once. They have been outrebounded and outshot six times and outhustled more than that. A bothersome inability to play as a team, to mesh, to concentrate and get down to business, has plagued them to the extent that doubters seriously question their capacity to challenge UCLA.
Recently, in fact, Marquette put six miserable games together before breaking out of the slump with a decisive victory at DePaul, where young McGuire scored 20 points. Then last week the team savaged Xavier 89-59 and Air Force 79-56 to get it back together.
There were several reasons for the temporary demise. After the South Carolina game, Marquette's imposing front line went soft on the offensive boards. Lackey, having sustained a three-stitch cut and a bruise over his eye (the Swan had a mouse), especially bore the wrath of his coach, who began calling him "Three Stitch." Chones, meanwhile, has grown restive in college over what he says is a "candy game."
"I have pride and ability," Chones said last week, "but I can't show it because of fouls. When I get bumped and bump back, I get childish calls. Are the refs watching me because of my name? I know I can beat anybody one-on-one, and block shots like nobody has blocked them. But I never get the chance. I can't take any more of this. All I want is out."
If this sounds suspiciously like Chones is fleeing from a burning deck, let it be known that the big man was never so dominant as last week when he had 46 points and 35 rebounds. But as their catalyst, as the man who cements them together and complements all their one-on-one stars, the Warriors look to the ailing McGuire.
When Allie reached the varsity last year the son was handed a starting position, contrary to the father's usual practice of making a man work for it. Consequently, Al the elder took much heat, and George (Sugar) Frazier, a player more talented than Allie in many respects, took a seat on the bench.
That first year the sensitivity of the familial thing weighed heavily on both parties. Al fretted over Allie. Allie, a highly nervous sort, worried about his role on the team, shot poorly (36%) and "tried to stay out of everybody's way and not cause problems." One senior gave him a particularly hard time; he wrote on the locker-room blackboard, "Number 12 [McGuire's number]—if you don't hustle, you'll be in the hospital," and later he picked a fight.
When Frazier complained to the coach about not starting, McGuire replied (with a line he has echoed at numerous speaking engagements), "Sugar, I love my son. For you to start, it has to be a clear knockout. A push goes to Allie."
This season, after another fine guard, Randy Wade, quit the team because he couldn't start in the face of McGuire's presence, Assistant Coach Hank Raymonds' son was added to the roster. That made Marquette basketball the brightest cradle of nepotism since Dino, Desi and Billy were foisted on the record-buying public. (When young Raymonds scored his first goal the other day, McGuire leaned over and said to his assistant, "Feels nice, doesn't it?")
Young McGuire's constant anemic condition put him in the hospital for eight days early in the season and has kept him below strength all year. But the father, who considered redshirting him, decided to play his son simply because he needed him.
"I think Allie has earned their respect, finally," McGuire says. "I'll take care of Sugar later and give him his identity. But Allie does things for us that nobody else can. He hits Chones better than the others, protects the backcourt, keeps continuity, plays good D and is an unbelievable foul-shooter. When the game is close at the end, my kid wants the ball. He didn't get that from me. I ran and hid from it."
McGuire also insists that, without Allie, his team would turn into a "solo, gang-ball operation"—an opinion that the black players do not share.
"We need Allie's shot," says Frazier. "But we're a good team anyway. Without him, we wouldn't go to pot. When he's in there, the brothers want to see Allie do it just as much as anybody. There's no hostility. Sometimes, though, it hurts to sit. It would be less touchy if he wasn't the coach's son. But Allie is not a snotty person; he makes it easier. Coach says he takes care of his seniors. I hope he remembers me next year."
For his own part, young McGuire is much more easygoing and self-assured than in the past. "I couldn't have gone through another season like last year," he says. "My illness, then, would have torn me apart. Now I don't take the game so seriously. There's no doubt in my mind I help this team and should start. The brothers are really tight, but I think I satisfy them. I was the only white guy on the court in the Detroit game. No problems."
The McGuires, young and old, sometimes seem to flaunt their situation. Allie lives more at home than in the dorm. He rides to school with his father, calls him "Dad," never "Coach," and seldom joins in locker-room criticism of practice sessions and coaching technique.
"If I ran a mill, I wouldn't start my kid sweeping sawdust," says Al. "But it hasn't been a picnic for him. It's difficult to be so close at our ages, but my biggest thrill is just watching it all unfold: the pride and respect he gets from the players; the fact that he didn't become just a follower."
On one occasion, following the Notre Dame game at South Bend, the son even sang for his father. Guys with the hot dogs and cookies and sharp objects were waiting for Al, ready to bomb him from above the runway. Allie, who had gone off first, sent a message back: "Tell Dad they're throwing stuff; watch out."
"Can you imagine that?" said the father. "What a moral guy. What consideration. What marvelous thoughtfulness."