Publish date:



Partly to be funny and partly out of superstition, 6-7, 235-pound Keith Swagerty strutted around the University of the Pacific looker room before games last season wearing the standard basketball garb, augmented by Halloweenish black-and-orange, vertical-striped tiger socks. At the last moment he would replace them with plain old sweat socks and sneakers and rumble out onto the floor.

The silly routine just might have been the secret behind the Tigers' first West Coast Athletic Conference championship, but more likely it was a combination of Coach Dick Edwards' thinking and some splendid basketball players, not the least of whom was Socks Swagerty himself. Keith is back at center this year, along with three other starters from the happy 22-6 season and the cream from an 18-2 freshman powerhouse, making the little Stockton private school a strong favorite to repeat in the WCAC. Swagerty averaged 21.9 points last season and was third in the nation in rebounds with 18.3 a game, moving up from fifth the year before. He is a good shooter, surprisingly quick around the basket, and can hoist his bulk so high that, the coaching staff claims, he did not lose a single tip-off as a junior.

The school has a photograph of Swagerty outleaping Houston's 6-8 Elvin Hayes by more than two feet. Naturally, he was the hero of the controversial overtime win at San Jose State last season. With one second left on the clock in regulation time, Pacific was two points down and had the ball out of bounds under its own basket. A Pacific guard heaved the ball downcourt, Keith leaped and caught it near the top of the key and put in a jump shot at the buzzer. San Jose fans are still trying to figure out how all that transpired in one second and from what tree they should hang their timekeeper. It was typical of Swagerty to have been where the ball and the spotlight were.

Ex-Eagle Scout Bob Krulish, who roomed with Socks until the latter got married recently, has been somewhat ignored, except by the beleaguered WCAC coaches, who must figure out how to stop Pacific. Krulish is 6-6, a "good shooter from anywhere on the court," says Edwards, and is the team's best frontline defender. Swagerty and Krulish toured Asia last summer with a group of athletes sponsored by Venture for Victory. One memorable stop was at an institution in Formosa where the American collegians expected only to talk, not play. But they found the local team suited up and anxious for competition, so they obligingly kicked off their shoes, played in their street clothes and lost. This put them in the embarrassing position of being among the very few players ever to lose a pickup game to a leper colony.

Pacific's talent supply goes beyond the two travelers. Guard David Fox, a home-town boy, averaged 17.8 points in league play, Robby DeWitt and Bob Jones, both 6-5, are up from the frosh, and two good veteran guards, Bruce Parsons and Joe Ferguson, will battle to start in the backcourt with Fox. Edwards has so many lower-case tigers that he plans to red-shirt 6-9 Tom Jones.

Basketball fever is new to the Pacific campus, where the Calaveras River trickles along and a lot of pretty coeds stroll between Oxford-type "cluster colleges." Pacific was once a fine football school (Eddie Lebaron and Dick Bass went there), but it was about as big a basketball power as Bryn Mawr. When Dick Edwards arrived in 1963 the school gave only 13 scholarships. Now the number is up to 20. Last year Pacific sold 350 season tickets (home games are in Stockton Civic Auditorium). There will be no problem selling all 1,000 this season. Edwards revived the long-dead Pacific Casaba Club, a booster group that was so thrilled with the championship it sent the coach and his whole family to Hawaii for an all-expenses-paid vacation. He has a free membership to the country club and life is sweet.

Which means it is not so sweet over at USF, where former Don Star Phil Vukicevich is in his first year as head coach. The team's three best players were graduated and Phil must rebuild around Forward Dennis Black, a fine board man, and Guard Larry Blum. None of the other league teams should be able to handle Pacific either, unless the defending champs get fatheaded. If the Tigers do win the WCAC title, it would be wise for the students at Oxford-on-the-Calaveras to celebrate right away by ringing the carillon in Burns Tower and snake-dancing through downtown Stockton. For the next step is the Far West Regionals, where Lew Alcindor and UCLA should be waiting. Yet Pacific players are not overly nervous about meeting the Bruins. "They have to meet us," says Bob Krulish.