FIVE TO WATCH
•A message on the Church of Christ bulletin board in Clarksville, Tenn. this fall advised: GOSSIP RUNS MORE PEOPLE DOWN THAN AUTOMOBILES. Those were apt words, considering the nasty tales going around these days concerning Indiana high school star Sammy Drummer and how he came to play basketball at Clarksville's Austin Peay State University. A David Thompson-type forward who averaged 28 points and 12 rebounds as a prep player last year, Drummer signed his name to three different recruiting documents—a Big Ten letter of intent at Indiana University, a scholarship agreement at NAIA power Gardner-Webb and a national letter of intent at Austin Peay—before deciding to honor the last of them. The Governors, who won 15 of their last 20 games a year ago, get back Guard Charlie Fish-back (18.9 points per game), and three other starters. That and Drummer should be enough to win the Ohio Valley Conference. Why did Drummer choose a small school like Austin Peay? He says Indiana Coach Bob Knight hung up on him during a phone conversation. Then he took a liking to Gardner-Webb Assistant Coach Roger Banks. When Banks became an assistant at Austin Peay, Drummer took the last train to Clarksville.
•Georgetown, which gained fame as the setting for The Exorcist, should also scare some people with its basketball team. No one was graduated from the 18-10 squad that won the ECAC playoffs and appeared in the NCAA tournament last season. Center Merlin Wilson, a 6'9" senior from Washington, D.C., is the core of the team, and Coach John Thompson continues to buck the trend by persuading local high school stars not to stray far from the Capitol. He had an inside track on his latest prize recruit because 6'7" Al Dutch attended John Carroll High School, Thompson's alma mater. Dutch will crowd somebody out of the Hoyas' established front line, and 6'4½" freshman Steve Martin is the big guard Thompson has wanted since he took over at Georgetown three years ago.
•Georgia has been a weak sister in SEC basketball long enough. In the conference's strongest season—Tennessee, Alabama and Auburn are all loaded and Kentucky is still a factor—the Bulldogs should blacken some eyes and bruise some egos. Muscleman Jacky Dorsey is in the George McGinnis mold. At 6'7", 230 pounds he is rugged in close to the bucket, but he also has the soft touch to shoot outside when he wants to. Dorsey's 6'10" classmate, Lucius Foster, ineligible last season, will contribute to Georgia's muscular inside attack. The Bulldogs are only 14-37 under young coach John Guthrie, but he now has assembled a team of nine high school All-Americas. Five of them hail from Georgia, and Guthrie is beginning to dominate his state the way C. M. Newton controls the talent in Alabama.
•Washington's Huskies have a front line that could match up against a forest of Douglas firs and still see the sun—that is, when it bothers to shine in Seattle. (Shouldn't the team's mascot be an umbrella, not a dog?) Coach Marv Harsh-man has four double-figure scorers returning from the team that beat UCLA 103-81, then lost its next three games and finished 16-10. Guard Clarence Ramsey, a 17.8-point scorer, should again be free to tire, with defenses collapsing around 7-foot James Edwards, 6'11" Lars Hansen and 6'9" Larry (Spaceman) Jackson. The Huskies' main problems are UCLA, as usual, and California. A third is the team's itinerary, which reads like Lewis and Clark's. Washington never plays east of Nebraska, and sports editors in the other half of the country who vote in the weekly polls may not discover the Huskies' record until June.
•Holy Cross was a vastly improved team last season, going from an 8-18 record in 1973-74 to 20-8. The Crusaders scored 40% of their points as a result of their defensive pressure, and they were very well balanced on offense. Forwards Chris Potter and Michael Vicens each scored 411 points, while Center Marty Halsey and swingman Bill Doran chipped in with 13.2 and 13.1 averages. They are now joined by freshman Guard Pete Beckenbach who broke all of Rick Barry's scoring records at Roselle Park (N.J.) High School.
After winning 79 of 86 games, two ACC championships and one NCAA title with David Thompson, what can North Carolina State do without him? Plenty, if three top prospects come up to expectations. Joining exceptional Forwards Kenny Carr and Phil Spence are 7'¾" freshman Center Glenn Sudhop and transfer Guards Al Green and Darnell Adell. Wake Forest also could contend for the league title with freshman Center Larry Harrison, 6'10", and All-ACC Guard Skip Brown, a 22.7-point scorer.
The Southern Conference should enjoy its best-balanced race in years. Fur-man, virtually unchallenged the last three seasons, suffered severe graduation losses, while East Carolina, which was 19-9 in 1974-75, William and Mary (16-12) and VMI(13-13) have most of the starters back from their best teams in ages. Richmond introduces Guard Paul Webb, who led junior college scorers with a 35.9-point average last year. Appalachian State, Davidson and The Citadel also are improved.
The loss of Ron Haigler and Bob Bigelow should end Penn's string of Ivy League titles at six. However, the Quakers may still win 20 games if Forward John Engles can recover completely from two operations on the same knee and if 6'5" Forward Keven McDonald can approach the 25.4 scoring average he had on the freshman team.
Defending champion La Salle must hold off American University and Hofstra in the Eastern section of the East Coast Conference. American has four starters back and Hofstra five, including national rebounding leader John Irving (15.4), but La Salle must compensate for severe frontcourt losses. Guard Todd Tripucka leads Lafayette against favored Bucknell in the Western section.
Massachusetts, with junior Jim Town, should survive Connecticut's challenge to win its fourth straight Yankee Conference championship. Vermont, coming off its best season (16-10) in 28 years, has five of its top seven players back, and Rhode Island, 5-20 a year ago, will be considerably better. A real Yankee dandy is Maine's Bob Warner, who averaged 19.7 points and was second in the nation in rebounding (14.1).
Independent Syracuse will not return to the NCAA's final four this year, but speed, defense and Forward Chris Sease make an NIT appearance likely. Providence seeks its sixth straight 20-win season and postseason tournament bid with frontcourt depth and accurate outside shooting from Guard Joe Hassett. George Washington's first year in Smith Center should be a good one as Pat Tallent (20.3 points per game) fills the basket from long range. West Virginia hopes that 6'11" Junius Lewis is worth the 21 recruiting trips it took to sign him. Villanova, an untypical 9-18 a year ago, appears much improved with brothers Larry and Keith Herron, who each averaged nearly 18 points a game last year.
Prospects appear as bleak as the local budgetary outlook for most New York City area teams, including St. John's, which may fail in its bid for a 12th straight postseason tournament.
Florida Stale, 18-8 in each of the last three seasons, may be the best of the Southeastern independents, although Coach Hugh Durham says, "We have a lot of good players, no great ones.' With a pair of seven-footers, Jacksonville recalls the good old days of Artis Gilmore and Pembrook Burrows III. New Coach Don Beasley can also count on solid scoring from JC transfer Guard Kent Glover. South Carolina could return to the 20-win class if it gets good ball handling to go with the shooting of four-year starters Alex English and Mike Dunleavy. New Coach Lee Rose hopes to continue the pattern at UNC-Charlotte, which was 23-3 last season and led the nation in average margin of victory (23.7 points) for the second straight year.
"I've always felt guards are so important," says Purdue Coach Fred Schaus, and all you have to do to discover why he feels that way is to check the Boilermakers' roster. In All-Big Ten Bruce Parkinson, Purdue has its best guard since Rick Mount. Parkinson does what Mount did not—pass and defend—and he shoots well enough to have scored 25 points in one of those frenetic Pan-Am games in Mexico City. He also has broken all the conference assist records.
Another returning backcourt starter is sophomore Eugene Parker, who celebrated last season's 17-11 record by singing This Guy's in Love with You at the team banquet. Unfortunately for Parker, Schaus is in love with two Indiana-style, nail-up-a-basket-and-shoot-12-hours-a-day freshman guards, Jerry Sichting and Kyle Macy. One of them could replace Parker as a starter.
Forward Wayne Walls (6'7") is a good defender, and his frontcourt mate Walter Jordan (6'8") has 42-inch sleeves and an almost unblockable shot, but neither weighs as much as 200 pounds. "We do get manhandled physically at the forwards," Schaus says. So the key to Purdue's season will be the performance of 6'10" Tom Scheffler, who replaces graduated-John Garrett, a 20-point scorer and, more important, a 10-a-game re-bounder. "I see my job as rebounding and defense," says Scheffler. He will have to do plenty of both if Purdue is to bump Michigan for second place in the Big Ten. Iowa, whose starting lineup returns intact, and Ohio State should round out the league's first division. Buckeye Center Craig Taylor twice outplayed Indiana's Kent Benson last year, but Taylor had little support. Now he has less.
Kentucky, defending Southeastern Conference champion and NCAA finalist, is fresh out of everything but tradition. If Rick Robey and Mike Phillips, both 6'10", can work together in a double-post, the Wildcats might finish as high as 18-8. But that's about it, since they play North Carolina, Indiana, Notre Dame and Kansas even before facing their vastly improved SEC rivals. One of those up-and-coming league teams is Vanderbilt, which has everyone back, including 22-point man Jeff Fosnes.
Western Michigan, with six of its top seven players returning, should win the expanded (10 team) Mid-American Conference. In Claude (Sleepy) Taylor and Tim (The Kokomo Cruncher) Sisneros, Middle Tennessee has enough good players to contest Austin Peay for the Ohio Valley Conference title. Western Kentucky will also be in the running.
Among the independents, Detroit's promotion-minded Coach Dick Vitale spent the fall touting the Mr. Inside (Terry Tyler)-Mr. Outside (John Long) combination that averaged 25.6 points per game and enabled the Titans to win 13 of their last 17 in an otherwise disappointing 17-9 season. DePaul, whose 15-10 record was a letdown, will come back punching with 6'11" Dave Corzine, who drew three technicals in one game, 6'6" Joe Ponsetto, who wants to be a cop, and 6'4" Guard Ron Norwood. Dayton (10-16) had its first losing season in Coach Don Donoher's 11 years; Guard Johnny Davis and a host of good recruits could bring the Flyers back.
Centenary, the smallest (800) Division I school, has one of the biggest players in 7'1" Robert Parish. Rick Sinclair and Al Gardner return to lead South Alabama, the major college scoring leader last year with a 92.8 average.
That incredible shrinking conference known as the Missouri Valley, once the toughest league in the land, has been losing members and replacing them with teams that are hardly famous names. The best of the lot should be old-member Drake, which won the Commissioners Invitational Tournament last year. Despite the loss of two 20-point scorers, accordion-playing, lay-preaching, slogan-spouting Bob Ortegel expects greater success in his second season. "Good things happen to good people," Ortegel says, but his top player, Ken Harris, has his own inspiration: "Girls want to be with a winner, not a bunch of turkeys." Wichita State challenges with five returning lettermen led by 6'10" Bob Elmore, while New Mexico State has a new coach, Ken Hayes, and the league has a badly needed new team with a classy basketball reputation, Southern Illinois.
Memphis State is one of four former Valley clubs that have joined the Metro Six conference. The Tigers have eight of the players who last season won 20 games against a padded schedule that included the likes of Montclair State and Wisconsin-Green Bay. Despite all the experienced talent on hand, Coach Wayne Yates cautions, "We've yet to prove we can beat a really good team," and he's right. Phil Hicks' 22.7-point average helped Tulane to its best record (16-10) since 1957 and the Green Wave expects to do even better this season.
After a three-year experiment during which scoring records were broken and playing tempo increased, the Big Eight is putting its 30-second clock in the closet because the idea did not catch on in any other conference. There is also a new look at Kansas, which lost five seniors from last year's league championship (19-8) team and is not likely to repeat. Missouri, led by Guard Willie Smith, was a surprising third-place finisher last season and should do at least as well again. Nebraska has Guard Jerry Fort, the school's alltime leading scorer with an 18.2 career average, but he is not expected to outshoot Iowa State's Hercle Ivy (28.3 points per game).
Houston acquires full membership in the Southwest Conference and one sign of progress in this second-rank league is that the Cougars are not favored to win the championship, which will be decided by a postseason tournament. Houston does have 24.6-point Guard Otis Bird-song, but he will not be enough to catch Texas A&M, which won the title last year with its first 20-victory season. Arkansas' Eddie Sutton, the SWC's best coach, lacks an experienced big man, but his young recruits, especially Guard Sidney Moncrief, are outstanding. Texas Tech has the best talent overall, including the league's 6'9" MVP, Rick Bullock. Coach Sonny Allen takes over at SMU in time to welcome back 6'8" all-league Forward Ira Terrell from a year's suspension.
The wraps are also off two Southland Conference teams, defending champion McNeese State, which was barred from postseason tournaments last season, and Southwestern Louisiana, which is suiting up its first club in three years. The Cajuns still must wait two seasons before participating in postseason play.
Among the independents, Pan American and Oral Roberts are capable of winning 20 games again. Guard Marshall Rogers, a 26.7-point scorer, gives the Broncs an easy ride, while Forward Anthony Roberts leads the Titans.
Arizona State dynamited away part of a mountain to build Coach Ned Wulk's dream basketball palace. When the place finally opened last season, the Sun Devils returned the favor by blasting all 14 of their opponents in the 14,227-seat ASU Activity Center. There will be 15 games in "Ned's Place" this year, and the Sun Devils must win practically all of them to have a chance in the WAC race. Guard Lionel (Train) Hollins and Forwards Rudy White and Jack Shrader have turned pro. The only returning starter from last year's conference champions is 6'10" Center Scott Lloyd, who averaged 12 points and 6.7 rebounds a game. He will get some help from 6'5" Forward Gary Jackson, who scored 17 points in 22 minutes during ASU's 84-81 NCAA regional win over Nevada-Las Vegas. "The loss of Hollins has cost us some of our explosiveness," Wulk says. "We can compensate with rebounding." A couple of compensators, 6'7", 220-pound Ken Wright and 6'4", 205-pound Nate Drayton will see plenty of action, allowing 6'4" James Holliman to relocate at guard and run the search-and-destroy offense.
Another contender for the WAC title is New Mexico, which has recruited four top junior college players. The best of them should be 6'7' Larry Gray, provided he can overcome knee problems.
If Cal and Washington are unable to challenge UCLA in the Pac-8, Oregon may be the last line of defense. McArthur Court, alias The Pit, has been expanded by 1,400 seats and sold out for the season. Ron Lee, who should become the first four-year All-Pac-8 selection, is the main reason for the booming sales.
The Big Sky title will go to the school that survives the league's new four-team postseason playoff. Idaho State will be most visible in the Sky, thanks to seven-foot Steve Hayes (20.4 points a game, 13.3 rebounds and .542 accuracy). With four starters back from a .500 team, Boise State will contend. And Weber State, which has double-figure scorers and re-bounders in Jimmy Watts and Al De-Witt, could be a surprise after winning only 11 games last year.
No one will seriously challenge San Francisco in the WCAC, but Pepperdine has four regulars returning from a 17-8 team and figures to finish second. The PCAA should be more interesting to watch now that Long Beach State's six-year reign appears to be over. For the superstitious, Fresno State, whose all-PCAA Forward Roy Jones won $17,000 in prizes on The Price Is Right, is a good bet. Even luckier was San Diego State. It went to the NCAA playoffs last spring despite a 14-13 record. The Aztecs have all five starters back and might even deserve a tournament spot this season.
Newly independent Nevada-Las Vegas has improved its schedule but still might come close to the 24-5 record it had last year. The Rebels' new itinerary calls for 19 homes games, and that will help ease the loss of Ricky Sobers, the school's first All-America. Four other double-figure scorers are back, and the new recruits include 6'6" Reggie Theus, a high school All-America from Inglewood, Calif., and 6'4" Sam Smith, a 32-point scorer from Seminole (Okla.) JC. Only a pessimist like Jerry Tarkanian, the most consistent winner among active coaches in the NCAA (.843), could view such prospects with alarm.
Utah State (21-6) lost 40 points and 16 rebounds a game when Jimmy Moore and Rich Haws graduated and probably will not receive another NCAA bid. The remaining Aggies are as uneven in talent as the best returnees, seven-foot Ed Gregg and 5'11" Oscar Williams, are in height. With four-year starter Merlton Werts and its own seven-foot center, Tommy Barker, Hawaii has hopes of improving its 14-11 record, but the departure of scoring leader Jimmie Baker and the Rainbows' toughest schedule ever are apt to make the task hopeless.