Last week, while the rest of the country stowed the aluminum trees for one more year, eight college teams gathered in Philadelphia's Palestra for the Quaker City Tournament, another of those holiday ornaments conceived by three wise men and a thousand athletic directors to ease us through the Christmas withdrawal season on cold turkey. The tournament was spicier than any leftovers, what with a stuffing of upsets, close games and even the coming of a newborn babe under a shining star. When it was over, Temple had the title, defeating weary California 51-42 in the championship game. "It's like Camelot," said first-year Temple Coach Don Casey.
He could be excused for the hyperbole. A few weeks ago, when Temple played at Knoxville in the Volunteer Classic, Casey decided to fight the Tennessee zone with a stall that produced an 11-6 loss, national headlines and a firestorm of criticism. Even the Temple fans accused bewildered Casey of being everything but a dirty double dribbler. The victory in the Quaker City helped dim the flames.
The tournament also served as the venue for a new star in Temple's galaxy—Jerry (Hound) Baskerville, who burned just as bright as Kohoutek. A 1970 Philadelphia high school graduate, Baskerville had been a strolling basketball minstrel the last few years, searching for a place to play his tune. After bringing up his grades in the first term, he became—surprise, Harvard!—eligible for Temple's first-round game on Thursday night. Baskerville rebounded and shot all over the court, and the Owls lurched to a two-point victory.
"Casey told me that he had a new kid who was pretty good," said Tom Sanders, the former Boston Celtic who is in his first year of coaching at Harvard. "I had never seen him but it sort of told me something when he made 12 in a row in the warmups. It was like the old days in the neighborhoods. You walked over to their court and along came some ringer you'd never seen before."
Out of condition after his layoff, Baskerville was wheezing the next two nights, but teammate Joe Anderson took charge as Temple beat Cincinnati and California. Anderson is called "the toughest man in town" by Temple fans, and Quaker City opponents found him meaner than a gas station attendant. Anderson scored 22 points in the second half of the semifinals against Cincy and nine during a 13-minute stretch in the title game when Temple rallied from three points down to take a 15-point lead over Cal with a minute left.
Unfortunately, this was Philadelphia's last annual Quaker City Tournament. After 13 years in town, the Eastern College Athletic Conference is moving the event to Providence, R.I., and renaming it, presumably. The tournament began in 1961 and only twice has a school from outside Philadelphia's Big Five—that cluster of Temple, Penn, St. Joseph's, La Salle and Villanova—managed to win the title. This year Penn was the favorite with Cincinnati rated a challenger. Temple was not rated much of anything. The Owls' debacle in Tennessee hung heavily over them, and they had lost to Cincinnati by 12 points in a desultory showing earlier in the year. As it turned out, neither Penn nor Cincy could play up to potential. Penn lost to California in its opener and eventually finished a dismal sixth. Cincinnati, trying to fit together the pieces after a recent spate of injuries to stars Ron Hightower and Lloyd Batts, could not solve the puzzle and was knocked out by Temple in the semis, finishing up fourth after a loss to Penn State in the unconsoling consolation round.
California came to the tournament with a deceiving 3-4 record that included road losses to North Carolina and Dayton by four points and to West Virginia by two. But the Bears had a pair of big, adroit guards who were as slippery as ice cubes and just as cool, a 6'10" freshman with a Hollywood name, Rock Lee, and a couple of late baskets against Penn's zone defense. Carl Meier's free throw won the game 64-63, with no time remaining. When it fell through, Temple's Casey, sitting on the sidelines, smiled like a man who had just remembered where he had hidden some money from his wife. Now he might win, he seemed to be telling himself.
After six years as assistant to Harry Litwack, who had coached Temple forever, Casey at 36 was in charge. But he had not played college ball and he was only a high school coach when he pestered Litwack into hiring him at Temple. For all his good fortune, he was humble. "I feel like I'm up against Aristotle, coaching against these guys, people you've read about and respected all your life," he said one night. He even asked Dick Edwards, the California coach, to send him some notes on his man-to-man offense when the tournament was over.
He did not, however, ask Ray Mears of Tennessee about his zone defense. He merely hated it. "Why should we let them play their game?" he said, still explaining that early-season stall. "They wouldn't come out. As it turned out, we really should have won the game but we missed a couple of shots." Upon which he admits that he would not use the slow-up strategy again. The reaction was intense and, as he says, "I guess it's un-American not to want to attack."
It would be unwise and worse not to attack now that Baskerville is aboard. He has changed Temple's armament, moving it up from the status of the Home Guard to that of the Wehrmacht. "He can turn their team around," Sanders said. "You can see that he's head and shoulders above anybody else in the tournament."
Baskerville is 6'7" and his skills go beyond shooting or rebounding. He handles the ball well enough to play guard, he is an outstanding defensive player and he has a prescient sense on the floor. He came up with 10 steals in the tournament, five in the last game, in which he also blocked four shots.
His background, all too reminiscent, is of an inner-city youngster who became a bit player in a melancholy high school charade. Entered in a work-study program, he supposedly attended classes in the mornings, worked at a women's store in the afternoons and evenings and caught up on his schoolwork late at night. Somehow the books kept outrunning him. "The only thing I was thinking about in those days was surviving," he says. "You had to work to put something in your pocket, to keep clothes on your back."
Baskerville played ball only in his senior year and wound up at Nevada-Las Vegas after a coach spotted him in a summer league. He was academically ineligible his freshman year although he practiced a lot. He and another player used to jimmy the door to the school gym and shoot baskets until well past midnight. He played some in his sophomore year, then started squabbling with the coach and transferred to Temple where he had to sit out last year. His odyssey still wasn't completed, however, because of low grades. Not until midday last Thursday, when he learned he had made an A in one of his communications courses, did he receive certification to play, too late for his name to make the program. "I love the game of basketball," he said later. "It's my life."
After Penn was eliminated, once-beaten Cincinnati lurked as the tourney favorite, especially since Temple had managed to beat Harvard by only two points. From 1958 through 1963, Cincinnati won nine out of every 10 games it played, took two national championships, was runner-up once, went to the NCAA tournament every year and manufactured half a dozen All-Americas. Since then, however, the team's fortunes have declined. Two coaches, Ed Jucker and Tay Baker, resigned, the Cats dropped out of the Missouri Valley Conference and only occasionally did their name appear in the polls.
The newest head coach, Gale Catlett, is in his second year and he has a droll sense of humor. He recalled his days at West Virginia when Fred Schaus recruited him out of Hedgesville, W. Va. and told him he wanted him "to replace Jerry West." Said Catlett, "I was impressed—until I found out he had told six other guys the same thing." Catlett did learn a lesson from the experience: always try harder when recruiting.
One night last week he found himself on the New Jersey Turnpike, one eye glued to the rearview mirror, partly because he did not have a driver's license, partly because he was exceeding the speed limit by an uncomfortable margin. He had left Cincinnati with his team early that morning, but bad weather had stranded the Bearcats in Pittsburgh and now they were trailing him in a bus that periodically was forced to stop to repair its windshield wiper.
As he drove, Catlett talked about his team. Hightower, a senior forward and at the time the second leading scorer and rebounder, suffered a knee injury that required an operation last month and is out for the season. "Losing Hightower really hurt us," said the coach. "He was good on the boards and on defense. He could take guys right out of games, make them disappear. Right now we're trying to find out how much his loss means."
Not enough, it developed on Thursday night, to allow edgy St. Bonaventure, which had 28 turnovers, to squeak by Cincinnati, but too much to beat Temple on Friday. With Anderson toughing it out, the Owls muscled past Cincinnati's zone press like kids trying to see Santa Claus. They broke open the game after Cincy's top scorer, Batts, playing with a chipped bone in a finger, then jammed the finger again four minutes into the second half. He had scored 30 points in the opener against St. Bonaventure, but now he tried only one more outside jump shot. "It reacted like a hook shot when I let it go," he said. "I couldn't get the ball in my fingers. It went through the hoop, I don't know how. But I decided then not to shoot any more unless I broke open close to the basket."
Meanwhile, California knocked out Penn State in a replay of its game with Penn on Thursday. The score was the same, 64-63, and so was the script, the Californians getting a three-point lead on two free throws with just 12 seconds left. The two wins continued the season-long pattern for California: only once has a score been anything but tight. Puffing nervously on a cigarette afterward, Cal's Edwards snorted, "I figure what's the difference. You die of cancer or you die of ulcers."
California arrived in Philadelphia on Christmas Eve after finishing second in the Dayton Invitational and having already been on another long road trip to North Carolina and West Virginia. "I mean, how much deodorant can you spray on one shirt?" asked Forward Sam Krupsky. "The guys smell like midget wrestlers."
Against Temple, Cal played like a team that had finally traveled too far too long. The Bears scored only four points in the first 12 minutes and had but 14 at half-time. Yet somehow they trailed by only five points. "That's when I really thought we were going to get them," said Edwards. "I felt more confident tonight than I did any other night."
His team came out in the second half and played as if it were on an oxygen binge, running off eight straight points, acquired with the aid of three Temple turnovers and an Anderson playing with four fouls. "You can't just give up," Anderson said later. "It looked bad. But you just have to keep trying until something happens."
Earlier in the day, Anderson had said of Baskerville, who is an old Philadelphia playground buddy, "I don't think there's a word for it. He does some crazy things." Well, not quite crazy. In a nine-minute span, just when they were needed most, Baskerville came up with four steals and Temple busted out to an eight-point lead. California wound up making just 18 of 50 shots, which is no way to win games, particularly in Philadelphia. The victory put Temple into basketball heaven with its second Quaker City title; its coach was in fairyland and Jerry Baskerville was back doing what he does best, out-slicking everybody.