Bowling Green, Ohio celebrates two significant events each year—the day the new line of truck bodies is introduced at the Daybrook-Ottawa Corporation and the opening of the basketball season-ticket sales at Bowling Green State University. The truck bodies may sit around for a while on the dealers' lots, and there are always more where they came from. But with 11,200 students plus enough basketball fans among the faculty and townsfolk to fill three large dairies and a granary, the tickets for the 5,321 seats in tiny BG field house disappear like lovers at the senior prom. When the BG Falcons are winning, every day is payday at the catsup cannery and the farmers even have a good word for the tomato worms. Trouble is, the Falcons haven't been winning much since Harold Anderson, the ancient and revered head coach, turned over the towel to his assistant, Wally Scholler, three years ago. Friends of Anderson like to think the reason is that the team misses Anderson's leadership. The cognoscenti, however, point out that when Anderson departed following back-to-back titles in 1961-62 and 1962-63, he left town on the same train with All-America Center Nate Thurmond, willing Scholler a legacy of mediocrity.
Like the busy campus of this state-supported school, which lies 20 miles south of Toledo, Scholler's basketball team has been abuilding. The campus is strewn with picturesque cement mixers and ivy-covered bulldozers. A gaggle of new buildings is under way, $34 million worth in some stage of construction right now, including a 23,000-seat football stadium, an ice arena, a science building, a 100-bed hospital and an eight-story library. The library sits next to the field house, its concrete-covered facade displaying a stunning eight-story creation in black and white, which the university's artist-in-residence, Donald Drumm, calls a "nonobjective mural." You get other versions.
It is not hard to pick out the squad's two best players. On a clear day you can see them across the flat farmlands all the way from Toledo. In BG's most successful years Anderson always had one big gunner, whom he surrounded with ammo carriers with a standing order to keep the giant supplied with the ball. This year the big roller is a 6-8, 235-pound junior forward from Toledo named Walt Piatkowski, who won the Mid-American scoring title last season with a 19-point average.
In charge of getting the ball to Piatkowski is Center Al Dixon, a myopic 6-9 junior who also comes from Toledo. On these two, plus a couple of junior college transfers, rest the 46-year-old Scholler's hopes for the upper hand in a close race with veteran teams at Western Michigan and Marshall. "Piatkowski has all the shots, all the moves," says Scholler, a stubby, dark-eyed Ohio State graduate who has retained most of the Anderson system at BG. "He can go to the corner with the forwards, drive with the guards and play the high post with most centers. The only thing wrong with the kid is he worries too much. If I come to practice and tell the team I've got an upset stomach, Piatkowski worries about it all afternoon. He's so busy telling the other players what to do on defense, sometimes his own job suffers. He worries for everybody—about their grades, about their jobs. It gets me sometimes. I tell him to think about himself and to hell with everybody else." With a mediocre team, Piatkowski scored 44 points against Marshall early last year, and to prove it was no fluke he also got 24 points against Big Ten champion Michigan, 32 against Syracuse, 26 against Oklahoma City and 23 against DePaul.
Dixon, the quiet giant who wears hornrimmed glasses on court, averaged 11 rebounds a game. His weight worries Scholler. He's only 220 and, spread over 6-9, that's not much more than skin on bones. The transfers are Al Hairston, a 6-1 guard who was the nation's fifth highest junior college scorer (29 points a game) at Port Huron (Mich.) Junior College last year, and Joe Henderson, a 6-5 forward who prepped at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, Calif. for two years. Both will move into starting jobs—Henderson alongside Piatkowski at forward and Hairston teaming with 6-foot junior Rich Hendrix, who started every game for BG last year. Dick Rudgers, a 6-2 sophomore, and Ted Rose, a 6-1 senior, are subs at guard, and Dan Rinicella, a 6-4 senior, can fill in at forward. Another 6-9 sub is Phil Benedict, a 20-year-old sophomore who transferred to BG after his freshman year at Duke and is eligible for the first time this year. BG's prospects, of course, hinge on Dixon getting the ball and Piatkowski shooting it. Dixon has problems around the hoop. In his freshman year his coordination was so poor he couldn't sing and take a shower at the same time. Work has improved his moves. Scholler likes his teams to run, but in the last two years his guards have chugged down the floor as if they were pulling Jackie Gleason in a ricksha. Hairston, a high school flash in Detroit, should improve the fast break.