Professional basketball comes up to its traditional midseason pause, the All-Star Game in Boston this week, with both Eastern and Western Division standings bearing but slight resemblance to early estimates. At the same time, individuals (evidently more predictable than teams) are giving expected performances.
In the West, Rochester's collection of rookies and second-year men are surprising even Manager Bobby Wanzer (equally youthful, incidentally) by scrapping for the lead despite the loss of prize Rookie Si Green. Search for a single responsible factor turns up Maurice Stokes's fine average of 16-plus rebounds per game and emphasizes the key value of this department of the game. Boston, which hoped for a strong, second-half-of-the-season surge after Bill Russell and Frank Ramsey joined the team, had instead presented these two young men with a substantial Eastern League lead they appear well capable of helping to preserve.
It might also have been anticipated that Russell's immediate success on defense would spawn rumblings of discontent around the league along the "he-must-be-doing-something-illegal" line. But Philadelphia Owner Ed Gottlieb's complaints about Russell's alleged goal-tending and playing a one-man zone defense (what's that?) seem downright silly. To be charitable about it, Gottlieb simply put his foot in his mouth and should take it out forthwith. Maybe apologize, too.
Relaxing the other day before joining the All-Stars in Boston (he's been selected for the game every year it's been played) one of the NBA's alltime stars tried to explain what it is that repeatedly brings out peak performances from players in this lightning-fast pastime which many consider the most exacting, physically, of all. This is Dolph Schayes talking—the 6-foot-8, 220-pound Syracuse National who has been chosen on more All-Star squads than any player in NBA history and whose all-round skill is attested by consistent near-the-top leadership in three areas: allover scoring, the precise art of free throws, and rebounding. To some his words will carry a ring of naiveté, which in this instance is, sadly, the price of sincerity:
"The most important thing any athlete does is 'get up' mentally before the competition starts. It's the difference between the ordinary, average performance and the extra effort that wins the game, the race, or whatever he's going to do. I used to start 'getting up' the afternoon before a game, but I found that long effort too exhausting. Now I start working on myself about an hour before game time."
THE KEY WORDS
"I keep repeating a few things to myself, over and over, before and during the game. It's only 48 minutes, I say, only 48 minutes I've got to deliver. Most of those people watching me have to deliver for eight hours every day on their jobs. I've got 48 minutes. That should be easy. I tell myself how lucky I am to be getting paid for playing a game. And then the fans. It's more of a feeling toward them than actual talking. They've paid to watch me and I want them to see my best. A lot of players in our league aren't really trying. Don't get me wrong, they give everything they've got—physically. But they just haven't learned how to get that extra something that comes from being 'up' mentally. The ones I admire most are guys like [Bill] Sharman and [Neil] Johnston. It's the psychological edge they bring along that makes them great."
Schayes himself, still in his teens when he was graduated from NYU, had been an awkward, unsure athlete for four years, with desire alone counterbalancing his immaturity. "Dolph was all adolescent arms and legs in college," says NYU Coach Howard Cann. "He was a good player—no more than that. But his mind was set on being great. He was in the gym practicing every spare minute. We had to chase him out." Today, after seven years as a pro, Schayes is still pushing himself; according to Coach Paul Seymour, they have to turn out the lights at the Syracuse gym where the Nationals practice before he quits for the day.
But it was an accident that helped turn him into the marvel of accuracy he is with both hands in the set shot and with either hand on pushes and layups. Halfway through the 1950-51 season he broke a bone in his right wrist. For a while, with a special plastic cast on the wrist, he practiced exclusively with his left hand, making of it the sure weapon it is today. Then, compensating for the weight of the cast, he began shooting with both hands, but the cast prevented him from holding the ball with his whole right hand. He learned to balance and guide the ball with just his fingertips and found that this method gave him greater accuracy than he'd ever enjoyed. To this day that's the way he shoots. He's sure it's the best way and results achieved by others like Sharman and Bob Pettit bear him out.
Aside from his driving, aggressive play, the thing that catches the eye about Schayes when he's out on the court is the long, wavy hair he wears like a crown—especially since most NBA players sport crew cuts. "My wife," he says (didn't you guess?), "talked me into trying it long, and when it grew in she said she'd divorce me if I ever had it cut short again." In addition to Naomi Schayes (whom he met at a basketball game in Syracuse) the family includes Debra, 4; Carolyn, 1½ and David, 2 months. For all of them basketball will be paying the bills for many years to come. Dolph will play for at least three more and this summer he's taking over an adult resort (Valcour) near Plattsburg, N.Y. and turning it into a summer camp for boys where instruction in basketball will be the main attraction. It seems a sure bet those boys will be taught to give that extra something that distinguishes the great from the good.
In the wake of the feverish holiday season activity (SI, Jan. 7) college teams enjoyed fairly light schedules for the week. West Virginia's Rod Hundley recovered from his unexplainably dismal play in the Dixie Classic, set a new local record with 54 points as the Mountaineers beat Furman 110-95. Kansas proved SPORTS ILLUSTRATED'S point (Dec. 17) that the team could win even with a so-so performance by Chamberlain. Wilt was outscored by Gene Elstun 26 to 23 and Maurice King hit for 20 in their 92-79 victory over Missouri. Guard Gene Brown returned to San Francisco's lineup and helped dispel notions that the Dons would collapse after their record winning streak was broken. They beat strong San Jose State 66-51. UCLA and Washington were reinstated in the Pacific Coast Conference, which should tighten that race considerably. All-America Vernon Hatton went to the hospital for an appendectomy, but Kentucky still swamped Georgia Tech 95-72. Several other top teams upset in early games, scrambled back into national prominence with strong, winning efforts: St. Louis 81, St. John's 77; Louisville 86, DePaul 67; Canisius 73, Fordham 60; Western Kentucky 90, Murray State 78. The Big Ten results proved one thing: the upset door is always open. Iowa lost to Ohio State 72-60, Minnesota bumped Illinois 91-88 and Northwestern easily handled Wisconsin 75-54. Biggest surprise of all, however, was Yale's 66-64 victory over Connecticut, winner of the Orange Bowl and Yankee Conference champion.
GOING UP HIGHEST, Dolph Schayes snares rebound during NBA playoff game.