THE CHOICE...ARIZONA STATE
Rough and rousing notice of the new status of basketball in this south-by-the-border conference came from ARIZONA STATE last season when it not only compiled a 23-and-6 record but thrashed favored and respected Southern California in the NCAA tournament. This season the Sun Devils have added more intersectional games to their schedule and may end up with a high national ranking as well as a conference championship. Coach Ned Wulk has carefully nurtured an impressive dynasty at Tempe. His entire starting team is back, led by little Larry Armstrong, the 5-foot-9 guard who makes a freewheeling fast-break offense (83.1 points per game) function in unusually sure-handed fashion. The most valuable player in the conference last season, he averaged 19.9 points a game. Raul Disarufino is the other experienced guard, with Ollie Payne, 6-foot-6 Jerry Hahn and accurate (.498 field-goal average) Tony Cerkvenik across the forecourt. Add to this the stars from a freshman team that averaged a mere 105 points a game last winter. The most important of these is 6-foot-8 Art Becker, a Phoenix boy who could solve the team's only weakness—lack of height. Two others who might become starters are Joe Caldwell and Denny Dairman, both 6-foot-5 forwards who received national honors as high school players. State is better than last year—and it was good then.
All of which is bad news for last season's co-champion, NEW MEXICO STATE. Coach Presley Askew's squad may make a hard two-team race of it anyway. The conference high scorer, 6-foot-7 George Knighton (22.0 average), and two starting guards, David Brown and Gary Ward, return. The starting forwards will come from an impressive trio of junior-college transfers: Arthur Davis, Wilbert Booker and Frank Loeffler. Another junior-college transfer, 6-foot-2 Guard Allan Eckhoff, adds backcourt depth, and it is no wonder that Coach Askew says, "The transfers are our best hope for defending the title we have won or shared for three straight years." The Aggies defense, a harassing, tight, man-to-man that often begins as a full-court press and retreats until it can solidly jam the middle, will be aggressive and good. So will the rebounding. But the inside scoring looks indifferent at best, hampering the offense.
One of the year's more intriguing situations exists at TEXAS WESTERN. A new coach, Don Haskins, who was raised on the grim defense and snail-slow-offense precepts of Hank Iba at Oklahoma State, is taking over a run-and-shoot team in a run-and-shoot league. Something's got to give, and it just may be the opposition. Three starters, including slick-shooting Forward Nolan Richardson and 6-foot-8 Center Ted Sterrett, will be joined by the best of a half dozen junior-college transfers. Two notable ones are 6-foot-4 forwards, Danny Vaughn and Bobby Joe Hill, the latter considered one of the best Negro prospects in Texas. Haskin's boys will mess up many a fast break by the end of the season.
West Texas State needs a whole new forecourt to operate a fast break and double-post offense in front of lettermen Guards Jim Curtsinger and Sonny Blankenship. Two tall sophomores, Scottie Pierce (6 feet 7) and Frank Schaffer (6 feet 8), will help 6-foot-8 Center Jim Conner up front, while a third sophomore, George Scott, could break into the backcourt on this largely untested squad.
With indifferent rebounding and not much depth or speed, HARDIN-SIMMONS will have a rough time avoiding the cellar spot. Coach Bill Scott will get plenty of hustle, as always, but with 6-foot-7 Richard Nelson the only big man, and Guard Paul Hinds the only other experienced starter, next year looks better than this one.
Officially an independent this season, ARIZONA still plays 10 of its games against its old Border foes and can be compared with them. Coach Bruce Larson will use a rotating post, with his fine junior, 6-foot-5 Joe Skaisgir, bearing much of the scoring burden. Quick Buster Forbes, a 5-foot-9 transfer student, starts at guard, while sophomore Larry Harris, a burly 6-feet-4, may help an obvious rebounding weakness. The Wildcats' major asset is speed, but they aren't fast enough to keep up with the top two teams in their former conference.
THE BACKGROUND is suitably western as Arizona State's All-Conference guard, Larry Armstrong, relaxes in the student lounge with Forward Mike McConnell (right) and their wives.