The Commonwealth of Kentucky obviously is suffering from an embarrassment of riches in a number of areas. There is so much political talent around, for example, that the state Democratic financial chairman, Colonel Harlan Sanders, the fried-chicken tycoon, couldn't seem to make up his mind and was caught dispensing $500 of his own to a Republican candidate. The colonel is going to have an even more difficult time this winter deciding which of Kentucky's basketball teams to back and which games to favor with his goateed presence. Although the University of Kentucky was national runner-up last year, the Wildcats appear to be no better than third in their own state—after Western Kentucky and Louisville. Kentucky still seems to be the class of the SEC, however, and a lukewarm early schedule should allow it to stay high in the polls. But if the remarkable old Baron, Adolph Rupp, can bring about even an approximation of last year's performance, it would make all the glory of his first 36 years in Lexington seem pale by comparison.
On paper, to the poll voter in Oregon, the Wildcats may look as impressive as last year. After all, the two All-Americas, Pat Riley and Louie Dampier, are back, and Center Thad (Bear) Jaracz is now a wily junior. The two missing from the first five, Larry Conley and Tommy Kron, were the lowest scorers. But these two made the team go. "We'll certainly miss Conley," Rupp says, "but we'll also miss Kron more than most people realize. Conley set us up with his passes and ball handling, but so did Tommy, and we needed his height on the boards."
Kron's apparent replacement, junior Bob Tallent, is four inches shorter at 6-1. A redhead who plays electric guitar duets with Jaracz, Tallent started this summer when the Wildcats toured the Mediterranean area. For Conley's forward position two juniors, 6-3 Tommy Porter and 6-2 Jim LeMaster, are in contention. Rupp tried moving Jaracz there instead, and starting 6-8 Cliff Berger at center, but the experiment did not work out. So the starting team is going to have less height than last year's, which was called Rupp's Runts, and the Baron will have to depend even more on speed and shooting. At the latter, Dampier and Riley are the two best he has ever had. None of Kentucky's previous 22 All-Americas, or anybody else who ever wore the blue and white, even approached their accuracy. Over two seasons Dampier has hit .515, Riley .481. A powerful 6-5 205-pounder, "The Irishman" also leads the team in rebounds and muscles. One pro football scout watched him play basketball last winter and immediately vowed to draft him as a defensive back even before he learned that Riley had been an All-America quarterback at Linton High in Schenectady, N.Y. Before settling on basketball and Kentucky, he had dreams of becoming an Olympic ice skater or swimmer. He is acknowledged to be the team's best dancer, and this summer, taking a new tack, he worked at Tom Gentry's horse-breeding farm in the Bluegrass.
While every college that fielded so much as a mah-jongg team wanted Riley, Dampier—born and bred right in the heart of Indiana basketball territory—was considered too small by everybody but the Baron. Louie finally grew to 6 feet and, helped by a passion for liver, even fattened up to an iron-chocked 165. He and Riley will have to be better and stronger than ever to keep the Wildcats on top in the SEC.
Tennessee, led by versatile Ron Widby, has all of Coach Ray Mears's imaginative defenses; Florida has its Royal Palm front line back; and Mississippi State may surprise everyone. There will be at least one interesting match-up when State meets Kentucky. Coach Joe Dan Gold, 24, was born when Franklin Roosevelt was President and is eligible for the draft; Coach Rupp, 65, was born in the year Theodore Roosevelt became President and is eligible for Medicare.