Basketball fans all over the country—always an excitable lot anyway—are busy this week buying or searching for tickets, automatically yelling at anything in vertical stripes, hotly debating among themselves and generally frothing at the mouth over the NCAA championships. We preview the national tournament for you in this issue (page 32) and next week will present scouting reports on the four teams in the final round. If you clip the chart on page 33 and keep it up to date, you can retain a permanent record of the 1966 NCAAs.
The tournament provides a satisfying season's end for a quintet of our own—basketball Editor Jeremiah Tax, Associate Editor Frank Deford, Staff Writers Mervin Hyman and Joe Jares and Reporter Curry Kirkpatrick, who have been living, breathing, writing and editing college basketball for more than four months. Among them, these five have seen all the NCAA contenders, as well as scores of other teams. Deford has logged 27,000 airline and turnpike miles as he crisscrossed the country several times. He even managed to play a little basketball himself with the Kansas coaching staff. (Poor fellow, his school record of 31 points in one game at Baltimore's Gilman Prep was broken this year, by Sherman Bristow.) Frank enjoyed everything about the season except driving through a blizzard near Malad City, Idaho on the way to visit Idaho State.
Hyman is a regular at Madison Square Garden and other eastern arenas and has seen 30 different teams this season. He also flew to the Coast to see Oregon State and Pacific, between stints of analyzing the weekly stack of reports from our correspondents. Toward the close of last season (to prepare for this one) Merv saw 18 games in 13 days and this year he caught all 12 games in New York's Holiday Festival. Twice in that same week he managed to get home to Englewood, N.J. to watch Dwight Morrow High's team, co-captained by his son David.
Jares and Kirkpatrick have seen Davidson, Loyola of Chicago, Syracuse, Providence, St. Joseph's and Texas Western, among many others, and even Tax, bound to his desk by a chain of paper clips, has managed to see Colorado State, Dayton, Duke, Houston, Providence and St. Joe's. Because they travel so much, our basketball nomads are always cornered by the local fans and coaches at each stop and asked for scouting reports on teams in other areas. Playing no favorites, they are happy to oblige. "The Loyola people were awfully interested in Kentucky and Duke," says Kirkpatrick. "Down at Davidson they wanted to hear about Syracuse and Rhode Island."
Not only do the staff members get quizzed elsewhere but they grill each other, too, constantly. And the discussions and debates have reached peak intensity this week. As you might expect, there was hardly unanimity of opinion when the group got together to hammer out a consensus choice of the best team in this exceptionally open tournament. Tax was leaning to Michigan, our No. 6 pick in the December 6 college basketball issue. Deford came back from Kentucky very impressed with Rupp's Runts but thinking hard about Kansas, our original No. 2 choice. Hyman and Jares liked Kentucky, but Jares remembered with admiration the tenacity of Texas Western. Kirkpatrick, a loyal North Carolina alumnus, swallowed hard and argued for Duke. We'll give you the result of the great debate next week.