As the sunsqueezes through the fog over San Francisco Bay, there is more than a new daydawning. Hard by the freshly scrubbed rabble of Haight-Ashbury, not far fromthe seamy glitter of North Beach and high atop the college basketball pollssits the University of San Francisco, last year's bad bet but this year'swinner. Like California wine, the Dons are good, and getting better.
Most notably, theteam has 19 straight victories, winning with such aplomb that it is untested aswell as undefeated. Quarrelsome as usual, the Dons appear certain to snarltheir way to the West Coast Athletic Conference title and have San Franciscansreminiscing about the days some 20 years ago when Bill Russell and K. C. Jonesgave rise to the phrase "defensive pressure" and led USF toback-to-back NCAA championships and 60 straight victories (see page 28).
Perhaps onlyCalifornia could produce a team as dichotomous as this. At one moment itresembles the Beach Boys, at the next Hell's Angels. But the blithe coach,former USF star Bob Gaillard, hangs out a DO NOT DISTURB sign, sips some wineand says with a wink, "Remember the earthquake."
In a sense theearthquake struck last year. San Francisco lost its final three games, all inovertime, and four of its last five and in doing so approached an NCAA recordfor dissension and rumors. James Hardy, a soft-spoken, chess-playing forwardnicknamed "Trouble," refused to play in the second half of the leaguechampionship game and several other disgruntled players were packing bags.After one particularly depressing loss, Gaillard and his assistant, DanBelluomini, found themselves at 2 a.m. at a truck stop on the outskirts ofCincinnati, drowning their sorrows in weak coffee and commiserating with twowomen bowlers. "Don't worry so much," said one, "you can't hit thehead pin every time."
January 31, 1977
Good advice.Gaillard closed his ears to critics who claimed he should not play so manyfreshmen—he started three—and this year the silence is deafening. The team'saverage margin of victory is 19.3 points, and it is averaging 94.6 points agame. The Dons are also among the nation's leaders in field-goal (.544) andfree-throw (.774) percentage, and are unchallenged at flamboyant dunks,especially those by Hardy, who after one spectacular stuff told the dazeddefenders, "That was over you, and you, and you."
Hardy is one ofthe squad's remarkable sophomores. Two others are Bill Cartwright, the 7-footcenter from Elk Grove, Calif., and Winford Boynes, who was named NorthernCalifornia Player of the Year last season. When the three first arrived oncampus amidst a shower of newspaper clippings, optimistic fans predictedinstant title. Instead they got 22-8, that disastrous finish—including afirst-round loss in the NIT—and were in need of a team psychiatrist. Theproblem was that the veterans did not take kindly to the precocious newcomers.After one fight in practice, Forward Ray Hamilton, an ordained minister,muttered, "The devil's in the gym."
Now things areheavenly. Hardy admits "I thought about transferring," and Boynes wascontacted by both Louisville and Oklahoma, but only Guard Russ Colemanswitched, enrolling at his hometown University of the Pacific. Despite somefeeling that it already had too many players, USF shuffled the deck and came upwith a new ace in playmaker Chubby Cox, a 6'2" transfer guard who was astarter for two years at Villanova. He has replaced the bad shot with the goodpass and is the reason the Dons have 95 more assists and 133 fewer turnoversthan the opposition. To demonstrate his contentions, Cox went through four daysof practice without taking a shot. "There's more respect for each othernow," says Hardy. "Last year we had a lot of bloody practices, but itall worked out."
Occasionally SanFrancisco still gives the impression of a team that doesn't truly care aboutthe game, but this is a facade. Except for a brief spell when he had an ankleinjury, Boynes cannot remember the last day he did not hold a basketball. Hehas a key to the gym and even practiced shooting on Christmas. "Only for 90minutes," he points out. "After all, it was Christmas Day." Thequick and slick guard once injured his ankle jogging on the hilly streets at 11p.m. Frequently he roams the city or sits in hotel lobbies all night when hecannot get his mind off basketball. "I used to have idols," he says."Now I want people to look up to me."
That the 6'½"Boynes is a guard confounds some clubs, but just as important, his switch tothe backcourt from forward has allowed 6'6" senior Marlon Redmond to moveback inside where he was all-conference as a sophomore. Gaillard was asked whyCartwright was not getting more rebounds—he led the team only twice in itsfirst 17 games. "Pretty hard to do when you have to go up against Redmondand Hardy every night," the coach answered drily.
It is anindication of the club's strength that its team captain, Jeff Randell, its bestshooter, Rod Williams, and a richly talented guard, Allen Thompson (nicknamed"Mr. Clean" because he does his laundry twice a day), all are on thebench. "Man for man, going down to the 11th man, we got to be thebest," says Boynes. "Sophomore...what is a sophomore? Just a title. Wewere young last year. This year we are ready to do it." Cartwright says,"The only weakness we have is that there aren't enough positions for theplayers."
And a tendency toget bored. Gaillard asked a player about his idea of a good practice."About 2½ hours of scrimmaging," he answered.
"Well, what'sa bad practice?"
"Ten minutesof drills."
And when amisunderstanding caused several players to miss a holiday workout, Chubby Coxshook his head and told the coaches, "I don't think they should bepunished."
"They're outfor five games," answered Belluomini with mock severity.
"Well, we'regetting a new assistant coach then," said Cox.
Because of itsweak schedule the rest of the season, some critics term USF the Rutgers of theWest. But during December, playing most games away from its cramped, 6,000-seatWar Memorial gym, USF beat Tennessee, Utah, Florida State, Oral Roberts, St.John's and Arizona State, whipped Houston twice and won three tournaments. Asthe final seconds ticked off during an 81-63 victory at Seattle, which wassupposed to challenge for the WCAC title, Cox swaggered over to Gaillard andsaid, "That was supposed to be hard?" And near the end of another gamesafely won, Hardy missed the first of two free throws and was chagrined when anopponent clapped derisively.
"You likethat?" said Hardy. "It's no big thing. Here, I'll miss anotherone." Which he did, and Boynes tipped in the rebound.
"See what Imean?" Hardy yelled as he ran downcourt.
This is the sortof behavior that causes Gaillard to refer to Hardy as "the eccentricgenius." When he first saw him in high school, Gaillard told assistantsLarry Gillman and Belluomini, "He's too good. We'll never get him."Last year Hardy led the team in rebounding in 17 of the first 26 games. Then inthe league championship game against Pepperdine, upset because the ball wasn'tmoving around, he refused to play in the second half, and the Dons lost by apoint in overtime. Gaillard benched him throughout the ensuing NIT loss toNorth Carolina-Charlotte. Says Hardy, "The debate was whether it was betterto take 35 shots a game and lose or take 13 shots and win. It made more senseto win."
Hardy projects acomplex image, but his bark may be worse than his bite. The San Franciscopapers regularly use a dour picture of him that belongs on a Most Wanted flyer.Considering his 6'9" size and his nickname, the bravest people in town maybe the burglars who broke into his apartment and stole a stereo and televisionset. He rarely smiles, yet cheers for the USF women's volleyball team in hisrole as its mascot. He dabbles in drama and art, had a 3.4 grade average lastsemester, is considering law school and says, "Any city is bad for you. I'drather live in a treehouse in Alabama. Sometimes basketball injuries scare me.I could wind up playing Lieutenant Ironside."
Hardy is theequivalent of a child prodigy bored with the rudiments of education. Slowdowngames, he says, "make me sick." As for guards, "I don't give themany respect." What gets his attention is the dunk, his spectacularspeciality. One variation is the "squeak dunk," in which he rubs theball against the glass backboard before slamming it home. He had six stuffsagainst Cal Poly-Pomona. "It makes you want to hold onto the rim, stay upthere with your adrenaline flowing," he says. "You want to run, tojump. You can't wait until the next one."
Hardy has anaffinity for the bizarre. In a high school scrimmage, one of his tip-ins wasruled an illegal dunk. A few plays later, with Gaillard sitting wide-eyed inthe stands, he bulled his way to the basket, sprang high, double pumped andferociously slammed the ball through the quivering basket. Then he yelled tothe official, "That's a dunk." This year against Arizona State, he wasundercut while driving to the basket. He went to the foul line to shoot andmotioned the opponents lining the lane to come closer, then told them bitterly,"Don't any of you guys come down the middle." They didn't.
Most coacheswouldn't put up with that kind of mouthing, but as Gaillard says, "This isnot a military site." USF has no curfew, does not look at films, practicesloosely, disdains calisthenics and running drills, has no playbooks, uses lesschalk than any team in the nation and fails to close the locker room door forpostgame meetings. "They wouldn't pay attention anyway," says thecoach. "They're worried about what they got going on the outside. All theguys who didn't play are mad, and the others are figuring out how I messedup."
"You neverknow what our guys are going to do," says Assistant Coach Gillman. Theystill quarrel among themselves, grouse when they are taken out, and hunch up atthe far end of the bench, casting ominous looks. During halftime one night allthe players except Redmond were gathered around a disgruntled teammate who saidhe had "heard voices" in the first half telling him not to shoot.Redmond just shook his head.
"Lots ofyoung boys in here," he said. Gaillard, meanwhile, is worried about coacheswho drill their players while making them carry bricks in each hand, wonderingabout the wisdom of allowing potentially dangerous weapons in the gym.
Many theorieshave been advanced as to why the Dons are so improved. Hardy may have summed itup best when he said, "We are we." That means talented. And last yearGaillard used a free substitution system—if no one was kneeling at the scorer'stable, it must have been halftime. Now he has settled on a seven-manrotation.
But the majorchange is in Cartwright. He was a sensational high school player in the ruralCalifornia community of Elk Grove, scoring 66 points in one game, but he wasnot strong enough for college and spent his first year doing "thehesitation step." During the summer he worked with weights and now is adifferent player. He leads the team in scoring, is second in rebounding, brokea school record (held by Gaillard) when he poured in 43 points against FloridaState, is shooting .564 and is All-Nice. "I never claimed to be thatgood," Cartwright says.
For his part,Gaillard is All-Cool, an unconventional man who showed up for a recent writers'luncheon wearing jeans, sneakers and tennis sweater. His penchant for honestyleaves his tracks uncovered and bridges burning behind him. He has the gall toterm the basic fan racially prejudiced, admits he got into coaching because ofa sickly fear of "wearing wing tips in the financial district" andsnorts that "recruiting is 80% of coaching. If a player makes a free throw,I'm smart. If not, does that make me stupid?"
Gaillard startedwhat he calls "brainwashing" Cartwright as a sophomore in high school,making perhaps 100 trips to see him, speaking at Elk Grove school banquets andscheduling the school in preliminary games at USF. He gave Hardy advice on hisgirl friend, attended his sister's wedding and wound up helping to cook dinnerin the family's Long Beach, Calif. home. Boynes is from Oklahoma City and wasone of the nation's most recruited players. Gillman wore out a checkerboardplaying games with Boynes' family, but it seemed that every time the prep starwas about to sign with USF, Louisville Coach Denny Crum would show up and takehim on a long automobile ride, leaving Gaillard with poised pen on the porch,talking to Boynes' mother. That was Crum's mistake. "We have recruited alot of mothers at USF," says Gaillard. "We have an All-America motherteam."
Much aboutbasketball bores Gaillard. His whistle is probably rusty. When the officials,somewhat gleefully, discovered an opposing team had committed a minor scorebookviolation and called a technical foul, Gaillard yelled crossly at them,"Forget the T. Play the game. You're cutting into my drinkingtime."
Last yearGaillard, stung by criticism, considered taking the athletic director's job atthe University of Hawaii, but now he is enjoying life as the Prince of UnionStreet, the hip section of town. Recently pro football players Larry Schreiberand Gene Washington offered him membership card No. 1 in their new, plushprivate club called Mumms. The number fitted Gaillard's style as well as histeam's ranking.
Gaillard's majorasset is his comfortable relationship with the players—he coaches the way theywould if their roles were reversed. And he needed it when Hardy rebelled. Whilethey were thrashing out the problem, Hardy distilled it to its essence when hetold the coach, "People forget I'm still a kid in a man's body."
That could besaid for most of the Dons. Only now they are beginning to mature, to put asidetheir petty quarrels and grow up, and unless someone can stop them soon, oroffer Hardy that treehouse in Alabama, it seems that USF is the new monster onthe West Coast for years, and years, and years....