You walked into the party
like you were walking onto a yacht
your hat strategically dipped below one eye
your scarf it was apricot.
It is a similar entrance that Ol' Pick—as in toothpick, describing his knobby shoulders, disappearing torso, chicken legs and collapsible body—gets away with down at Barney's Caboose alongside the tracks there in Bloomington, Ill., which is outside Normal.
Improperly negotiated, such a passage might cause aggravation and behind-the-back verbal darts, turning into a disaster of sorts, but Ol' Pick brings it off nicely. Indeed, because he is totally unselfconscious, sweetly insouciant, brimming with naiveté and consumed with a certain delight in those testing moments that heroes must endure, he brings it off very nicely. Doug Collins (see cover) of Benton, Ill., Illinois State and the U.S. Olympic basketball team is so maddeningly non-vain he probably won't think this song is about him.
Inside, they are all waiting. Barney's Caboose is a place with "the best fried chicken anywheres, you bet" and where "the honeys get grossed out constantly." Especially it is Pick's element.
January 15, 1973
"Thank you—thanks a lot. What's happenin'? Let's get it on now. I don't drink nothin', no like. Me and my buddies, we don't be jivin' now. Right on, right on, right on. We goin' slide off soon. I'm sellin' me some wolf tickets." Collins greets, acknowledges, questions, instructs and talks to approximately 25 people simultaneously.
In the back room there are friends, salutations and one Leonard Michael Potts. "Leonard my man, my man, my man," Collins shouts. "C'mon over here Leonard. Finest white dancer ever lived. Right, Leonard? Does the splits five times, both ways. Sideways too. Hear you been doin' some gatorin', Leonard. You not sellin' me wolf tickets now, are you? Put it on, boy."
Leonard himself is just warming up. "Ol' Pick, the Pick. It's Doug Collins," Leonard says above the music, mimicking announcers with journalistic clichés as he goes. "Look out, he's going baseline. No. Whew, it's The Torpedo Man. The Benton Blur. There he goes. Whoops. It's Doug the Jet stutter-steppin' down the lane. I just want to say, my man, you paralyzed us tonight."
If this scene can be frozen, let it be done now, for the enthusiastic meetings of Doug Collins and his brigade of partisans in their windblown, out-of-the-way railroad town are necessarily numbered. As a child of the rural Midwest and with a familiar charm that comes from somewhere in the 1950s, 01' Pick is really by Booth Tarkington out of The Last Picture Show. It seems like just the other day that he was stealing pizzas from the delivery truck outside the dorm and he still cannot tie a simple cravat, but Collins will have to move on soon. He is growing, learning more about black people and preparing himself to leave the Illinois cornfields and take his basketball into a world just learning to be paralyzed itself.
Collins' worshipful reception last week, for instance, followed a remarkable performance in a 103-98 victory over Louisiana State University at New Orleans during which he made 24 of 39 shots and scored 57 points. Three nights later he was held to 22 by Ball State as he sat out the last eight minutes with a stomach ailment. His team lost 92-75.
As good as he is—and he may turn out to be a Jerry West all over again—Collins is only one of a handful of masterful senior guards who have taken over the college game this season. Some are shooters; others passers. Some are playing out of position; others have big names that exceed their ability. But just a passing glance at the box scores in the last month indicates that together they make up the finest group of back-court men in some time.
To begin with, there is Easy Ed Ratleff, Mr. Perfect for Long Beach, who—if Collins be West—is himself the next Oscar Robertson. Smooth and effortless, another Olympian, Ratleff has hardly broken a sweat while earning MVP awards in four different tournaments.
Recently the Philadelphia 76ers, who should wind up with the first draft choice, have been trailing Ratleff and Collins closely. They are leaning toward Collins, a decision that would send trivia buffs scurrying to remember who was the last white man to be selected No. 1 (it was Rick Barry of Miami in 1965).
Just behind the first two is Dwight (Bo Pete) Lamar, the flashy dresser and charismatic scorer for Southwestern Louisiana. Already this year Lamar has proved he can do something besides shoot. "I didn't get much pleasure leading the country in scoring," says Bo, "because I knew I could do it and I felt I had to in order to make All-America. I think I'm still the best shooter in college, but now I'm making it on other things." So far in his career down in the bayous Lamar has scored over 35 points in 38 games and over 40 in 26. If his range is not enough for the pros, his looks and threads could get him to Hollywood.
Two Eastern players who went South, Barry Parkhill and Kevin Joyce, have been inconsistent, sometimes downright bad. Both are fearsome competitors who are most effective along the baseline, but they are compelled to lead young teams at Virginia and South Carolina. Parkhill, something of an iconoclast, gets down on himself easily but has a tendency to sparkle in the big games and the Cavs have many left. Joyce does not need the ball as much as Parkhill and he did wreck Indiana with 41 points, but he remains an enigma and that rarity—a player who may be better as a professional than as a collegian.
The sleeper of the crop could be Martin Terry of Arkansas, a 6'3" wisp who has to dodge footballs while playing in virtual isolation among the Ozarks. Terry, whose flourishing Afro "makes me feel taller," sometimes fouls nearly as much as he scores. Nobody watches him anyway. After scoring 43 points in a close loss to Memphis State at Little Rock, Terry was critical of the size of the crowd. "If 40,000 will sit in the snow for football, it looks like 6,000 could come out for basketball," he said. Pig phooey—huh, Martin?
Ernie DiGregorio of Providence does not worry about fans—just that he gets to live and play at home where his close-knit paisanos can follow him. Despite being just under six feet, Ernie D. has been one of the most interesting players in the land for three years. He scored 37 points against Fairfield and was the MVP of the Utah Classic. He is averaging over 10 assists and seems to have discarded the provincialism evinced in his prep-school days when he had his father bring him water and steaks from home. "Put all the guards in a box," says one pro scout, "and the one most fun to watch is Ernie D."
There are other fine senior guards scattered around the country. From Oral Roberts' Richard Fuqua, still being hounded by his mentors to fire away from 35 feet lest God get him, to Memphis State's Larry Finch, just now recovering from what appeared to be a fat attack. From Tom Inglesby of Villanova and Ted Manakas of Princeton, two wise strategians in the Eastern mold who can shoot with anybody, to little-known Gary Rhoades of Colorado State, who learned the game from his brother Harold, a paraplegic. And from Marshall's Mike D'Antoni to Ohio State's Allan Hornyak, both of whom have carried a major burden for disappointing teams.
In addition, Ron King of Florida State is out with a dislocated ankle. Henry Wilmore of Michigan, probably a true forward, is out of position. And George Karl of North Carolina, a Kamikaze whose best play is the run-and-smash-your-face belly flop, may be out of this world. But they could also show up high on the pro draft lists this spring. As could Duke's Gary Melchionni, the very last of the brothers and the one who, besides constantly being sick, pasty-faced and undernourished, is the most underrated of them all.-"The world has never seen the real Gary Melchionni," says his coach, Bucky Waters.
In like manner, not many had seen or known about Doug Collins either before that early September morn when millions watched him put in the two free throws that won the Olympic gold medal for the U.S. Later, his feat was denied to posterity when the game was given to Russia, but the loss has done nothing to interfere with his burgeoning reputation at home.
As a junior in high school, Collins was but 5'9", chunky and not even a starter on the Benton team. Doctors believe that the mononucleosis that afflicted him that year changed his metabolism. Whatever, he jumped to over 6'2" by the end of his senior year.
At Illinois State he has made amazing progress, becoming the best simply because he does so many things so well. He has terrific quickness both of foot and hand and has continued to grow, now being just short of 6'7". He averaged almost 33 points last year to finish third behind Lamar and Fuqua. Still, Collins shot only 27 times a game and, unlike more itchy-fingered marksmen, he probably was more dangerous away from the ball, for he seemed to be in perpetual motion.
This season, as last, he is on the wing for Coach Will Robinson, leaving that gentleman open to critics who believe Collins should run the offense. Up through the holidays, he also was firing even less (23 shots a game) on orders from Robinson, who wanted to get more people involved in the attack. However, it is all too obvious that the Redbirds' big men are not contributing their share (ISU has lost five of 11 games) and Collins must open up for them to win.
"I've been penetrating and then giving off all season," Collins said after his 57-point outburst. "I just made up my mind to put it on the floor and go. When you feel on, you just gotta go do it. And that's no sellin' wolf tickets." ("Sellin' wolf tickets," it must be explained, is a strange little idiom that Collins uses about once every two breaths to denote crying wolf, putting somebody on or, as he says, "Givin' some dude your main bluff." No sellin' wolf tickets, then, is being honest.)
As once was the case with West, whom he consciously tries to emulate, Collins drives and shoots better off to the left than the right. And he uses the glass more and from farther out than anyone since Sam Jones was banking them in for the Celtics. Robinson says the team's defense "leaves much to be desired," but Collins' favorite tribute is a personal letter from Olympic Coach Henry Iba, who complimented him on playing the best defense of anyone on the squad.
Disagreements do not get in the way of the extremely close relationship between Collins and Robinson—a white star playing under the first black man to coach on the major-college level. Early in college Collins suffered a crushing blow when his parents were divorced. Robinson became the surrogate father and later joined with Collins' fiancée, Kathy Stieger, and his "best buddy," Don Franke, to form practically a brand-new family for the shy youngster and coax him out of his shell.
"I used to be so bashful I couldn't hardly meet people in the face," Collins says in his high-pitched voice laced with country sounds and, although he was raised in an all-white town, word usages usually associated with blacks. The funky dialect, in fact, is a source of constant wonderment to his dark-skinned teammates.
"Pick's got the whole thing down," says Rick Whitlow, a sophomore guard. "Blacks on campus are leery when he comes on with 'Wha's happenin'?' and 'Hoi' on, brother' and 'Be smooth'—stuff like that. But he's genuine and true and he's learned more about black people in the last year than most whites learn in a lifetime."
"I just want to be friends," says Collins. "I started out to understand them and communicate, but let me tell you something. They do that part better than we do. Now it's natural. They be jivin' and I be jivin' along, too."
His Olympic experience seems to have made a greater impact on Collins than anything else in his life. Perhaps it is because of where he came from and how far he has gone; his background was truly small-town and his horizons exceedingly limited. Whatever it is, he was moved deeply by the occasion and now inquires frequently of Robinson, or anyone who might know, how his former Olympic mates are doing.
During the summer Collins made such an impression on Long Beach's Ratleff that the two became fast friends and were hardly apart during the Games. "Me and Easy," Collins is fond of starting off stories to his teammates. "Me and Easy, we be roamin' the Village and here come Spitz."
The other day, after not hearing from Ratleff for weeks, Collins called him on the West Coast. "Easy, you sucker," he shouted into the telephone. "Your hand broke? You owe me a letter." As the two were finishing up, Collins admonished Ratleff to "get it together, get it on. Next year I be seein' you in the pros."
Ol' Pick, he and Easy never be sellin' wolf tickets to each other.