In such a wide-open year and with so many good players around, established teams—including some of the Top 20—are capable of slipping entirely out of sight. Pushing them into oblivion will be schools many people have never heard of—or have forgotten all about.
Jacksonville, by its own admission America's tallest team, is an example of the former. It also has America's tallest schedule: trips to Miami, New Orleans and—get this, honeymoon fans—Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. "I don't like to play in small towns," says Coach Joe Williams, a young Jimmy Dean-looking fellow who has two new 7-footers and everybody back from last year's team that led the country in free-throw shooting. The Dolphins will beat a lot of out-of-state people this year if Williams can avoid collisions between 7'3" Artis Gilmore and 7' Pembroke Burrows III. The two JC transfers both came late to basketball and are unpolished but as Assistant Coach Tom Wasdin says, can be a "helluva conversation piece."
Another like Jacksonville is California State at Long Beach, down in the southern part of Los Angeles County where the Queen Mary is anchored and the smog banks thin out. State did not open its doors until 1949 but it already has 28,000 students, eight or 10 of whom happen to be good basketball players. Long Beach hired Jerry Tarkanian, the most successful junior-college coach in the state, and where Tarkanian wanders, blue-chip athletes are sure to follow. The 49ers were 23-3 in Tarkanian's first season, and they have all five starters back plus 6'8½" George Trapp, California's JC player of the year. The big scorer, however, will be 6'7" Sam Robinson, who averaged 19.7 points a game despite hobbling around on blistered feet. Long Beach plays a weak schedule—"It's tough to get a real good major schedule," says Tarkanian, who does have Houston, Tulsa and San Jose State for starters—but with his depth it is not surprising that he is sidestepped.
Illinois—remember it?—suffered a slush-fund scandal, NCAA probation and basketball decay. Then two years ago Harv Schmidt, long, lean and gregarious, returned to his alma mater and overcame the recent past with rapidity, cajoling his Illini to a tie for second in the Big Ten last season. Presuming Center Greg Jackson is unhindered by an array of problems, Illinois could do better this time, Purdue notwithstanding. Schmidt has hardworking swingman Mike Price, playmaker Rick Howat and tough Randy Crews to go along with Jackson, a 6'8", 260-pounder who is hard to stop, especially at dinner time. In July, Jackson ballooned to 292 pounds. He also suffers from curvature of the spine, which benches him occasionally, and a tendency to foul early and often, which benches him more. Since football has become so disadvantaged at Champaign, the only ones rivaling the basketball varsity for attention are the basketball freshmen; they may be the best in the land. So this year or next, the Illini are back.
Over in the Western Athletic Conference, where teams win by 30 points at home and lose by that many away, Arizona, with practically an all-sophomore squad, compiled a 5-5 WAC record last season, losing four games by a total of 11 points. The Wildcats' decrepit Bear Down Gym—so named after a dying student's last words—is, by Coach Bruce Larson's own admission, "the worst in the West," but his team is considerably better than that. Mickey Foster, who is all-league, and Bill Warner are excellent one-on-one shooters at the wings while Eddie Myers, 6'10", and Tom Lee, 6'8", who worked together on the low and high posts as rookies last winter, are both quick and can jump. The Wildcats were beaten up early last year but recovered to win 11 straight. This season they open at UCLA and they will have to bear down.
John Wideman, who gained more renown as a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Pennsylvania than as an all-league basketball player, is a budding novelist and associate professor of English at his old school these days, but he is not taking literary license when he talks about the Now team in the Ivy League. "We had some decent teams when I was here," he says, "but they were never, never like this." Penn Coach Dick Harter, after two successful recruiting seasons, has a talented, deep varsity that will make Quaker fans forget not only Wideman but a more famous alumnus, Ernie Beck (vintage 1954). Three of Harter's boys—Guards Steve Bilsky and Dave Wohl and 6'8" Center Jim Wolf-helped Penn to a close third in the Ivy last winter and they will be joined by six rookies, among them 6'7½" Corky Calhoun, who were 21-0 as freshmen. For years Penn has loaned its Palestra to other Philly teams for use as a home court. Now the warning is out: the landlords are as tough as the tenants.
Purdue has installed many of his defensive concepts, UCLA invited him out to lecture on the same subject, and still people sell his team short. Drake Coach Maurice John has lost four starters from a club that surprised everybody by holding the Bruins to a three-point win in last year's NCAA semifinals. But John, an incurable optimist, maintains his Bulldogs will be "damn good" if some talented junior college transfers can blend quickly into his harassing man-to-man defense. "Sure we lost some people but we had three outstanding players behind them as a nucleus and we got five dandies from the junior colleges," says John, adding that this team will also have more offensive potential than any he has had. Semiregular Center Rick Wanamaker, 6'9", must battle newcomer Tom Bush, a 6'7" All-America at College of South Idaho, while Bobby Jones, the outstanding player last year at the National JC Tournament for Paducah, Ky., Jeff Halliburton and Carl Salyers look to assume three other spots.
Drake is not the only Missouri Valley school with some potent new faces. Cincinnati has a flaky 6'5" sophomore named John Fraley, a Middletown, Ohio product who claims he will make everybody forget who Middletown's Jerry Lucas was. He averaged 25.1 for the Bearcat freshmen and joins three returning starters, including 6'8" all-conference Center Jim Ard and driver and passer Don Ogletree.
Along with Illinois, the biggest challenge to Purdue in the Big Ten will come from Ohio State, which will face the favorites only once and at Columbus, where Purdue suffered its only conference loss last season. The Buckeyes, producers of seven of the last nine all-conference centers, should have still another in 6'8" Dave Sorenson, an unassuming fellow whose dark, bushy eyebrows will remind everyone of Lucas. He averaged 23.6 points as a junior, many on soft hook shots, and still has 6'3" Jim Cleamons, who many feel is the Big Ten's most complete guard, to deliver him deft feeds underneath. Iowa, a disappointing 12-12 last season, returns its top five, including three strong shooters in John Johnson, Glenn Vidnovic and Chad Calabria, and adds a speedy JC guard named Fred Brown. Michigan still has 6'8" Rudy Tomjanovich, the league's best rebounder (12.8) and second best scorer (25.0), plus a highly regarded sophomore in Lamont King. The rest of the conference should do battle for fifth place, though Michigan State has Ralph Simpson, a sophomore guard whom rival coaches are already planning defenses around.
Notre Dame possibly is the biggest of the Midwest independents—with 6'8" John Plieck at center and 6'8" Sid Catlett teaming with 6'7" Collis Jones at forward—but it also has the biggest schedule. Johnny Dee's charges must face UCLA, Kentucky, Villanova, Duquesne, Marquette, Kansas and St. John's, plus either South Carolina or New Mexico in the Sugar Bowl Classic. Austin Carr, scaled down to 200 pounds, is capable of improving on his 22-point average of last season and could be a better all-round player.
Dayton, De Paul and Loyola of Chicago are the chief threats to Marquette and Notre Dame among the other independents. Dayton has that familiar May magic—Ken, the younger brother of 1968 All-America Don—plus the tradition of five consecutive 20-victory seasons and a slick new field house. De Paul returns four starters from a 14-11 team, including 6'7½" Forward Ken Warzynski with a Rick Barry touch. Coach Ray Meyer may also have a big surprise in 6'8" Paul Pomplun, potentially the school's best pivot since George Mikan. Should Loyola, which sagged to 9-15 last year, get rebounding, its starting five could be scoring much as the 1963 national champions did.
Nobody—or maybe everybody—can share optimism in the Big Eight, where the conference race looms as the most balanced in years. Kansas might provide the strongest challenge to Colorado but will also be the least predictable, primarily because conservative Ted Owens is opening things up, probably with three sophomores in the starting lineup. Last year the Jayhawks plodded downcourt like oversized penguins to a 20-7 record. Now Owens has shifted primarily to a two-guard, single-post moving offense and has inserted a man-to-man defense instead of the old 1-3-1 zone. This means that either 6'9" Dave Robisch, an 18.6 scorer, or 6'10" Roger Brown will draw the inside role. Stocky Aubrey Nash should supply the ball-handling skill so lacking after Jo Jo White's graduation.
Should Kansas' rookies falter, Iowa State, Nebraska and Missouri are all ready with seasoned clubs. Bill Cain, the conference's top rebounder and second best scorer, is an exceptional jumper for 6'7" and he leads an Iowa State team that returns all five starters. If 6'10" sophomore Roger Ahrens can produce too, the Cyclones will have solved their only major problem—lack of height. Nebraska, with most of its scoring punch back, has so much depth that Tom Scantlebury, an 11.5 scorer a year ago, is not counted among the top seven. Missouri has a superb all-round player in Don Tomlinson. It needs only to find a big man.
It is a mark of the changing times that Kentucky's 12,000-seat Memorial Coliseum, once the showplace of Southeastern Conference basketball, now is only the fifth biggest in the league, and will drop to sixth as soon as LSU completes its 13,000-seat arena. There are new, spacious gyms at Alabama (15,000), Tennessee (13,000), Auburn (13,000), Georgia (10,400) and Ole Miss (8,500), and Vanderbilt recently enlarged its capacity to 15,400. It is a mark of the changing SEC, too, that the arenas will be filled. The conference may have more good acts than any league in the country.
If Kentucky is to be kept from winning its 25th SEC title, the teams to do it should be Vanderbilt and Georgia, with Auburn and Tennessee only a dribble behind. Vandy returns 6'7" junior Forward Thorpe Weber, who averaged 14 as a rookie, and coming up from the freshman team is 7'4" Steve Turner of Memphis, the tallest man in the league's history. Not even Coach Roy Skinner is quite sure how good or bad Turner will be, but he must have more than size to keep up with the likes of Kentucky's Dan Issel, Georgia's 6'11" Bob Lienhard and Tennessee's 6'10" Bobby Croft.
Georgia Coach Ken Rosemond, who played for Frank McGuire on North Carolina's New York 1957 NCAA champs, has opened his own underground railroad to New York City. Now more than half of Georgia's varsity speaks Yankee rather than Southern. Most prominent of these interlopers is Lienhard, the giant out of the Bronx whose junior statistics included a 23.8 scoring average, 15.8 rebounds (11th nationally) and a 58.2 shooting percentage (sixth). Lienhard is so quick that Rosemond will also use him at forward this season, with either 6'8" sophomore Randy Mateland or 6'8" senior Cort Nagle from Long Island moving into the pivot. At guard is 6'0" Barry Cohen of Brooklyn, scholastically ineligible last season. "We lost six games in the last 90 seconds of overtime last year," says Rosemond. "Cohen could have made the difference in each of those."
Auburn, making the transition from its famous shuffle to a running game, again will play around 6'5" junior John Mengeldt, who averaged 19.4 last year, but the Tigers as usual will suffer from lack of size. Up from the freshman team is Henry Harris, whose debut will make Auburn the second SEC team to break the color barrier in basketball. Tennessee has back Croft, the big Canadian transplant, and three more of the six players who carried the Vols into the NIT semifinals, but Coach Ray Mears may have trouble replacing the man who ran his disciplined game, Billy Hann. It's SOS—Same Old Story—at LSU, where Pete Maravich once more will be the best show in Dixie, and his supporting cast one of the worst.
In the Atlantic Coast Conference, Lefty Driesell's first varsity squad at Maryland could have trouble beating the freshmen. Driesell got a late start in recruiting, but he and his assistants went on a crash catch-up program. The result: a team for another season. For now there are 6'7" Rod Horst and 6'5" Sparky Still.
At Wake Forest, Coach Jack McCloskey has Charlie Davis, who averaged 22.8 points last year as a sophomore and was fifth nationally with an .882 free-throw percentage. The Deacons lost 21 games two years ago but now—after a respectable 18-9 season—may be ready to challenge the ACC's Big Three.
Only Richmond and George Washington have any sort of chance against Davidson in the Southern Conference, and that is not saying much. In the Ohio Valley Conference, Murray State returns all five starters from last season's championship team, and Eastern Kentucky Coach Guy Strong has back four regulars—including smooth 6'5" Guard Toke Coleman.
When he went from West Virginia to Duke last spring, Bucky Waters left behind five sophomores who should reassure the folks in Morgantown that Waters is still a good old boy. They could, in fact, make the Mountaineers' new coach, Sonny Moran, one of the surprise winners among Southern independents and help their fans to forget the 13-14 record in 1968-69, the worst in 25 years. Virginia Tech Coach Howie Shannon feels his Gobblers may be "pretty good by Christmas," which could be just so much cold turkey.
With UCLA weakened, if only slightly, and almost every other Pacific Eight team improved, it is going to be an interesting fight in the league that has produced six of the last 11 NCAA champions. California, for instance, has four potential future All-Americas—6' junior Guard Charlie Johnson (fourth in the league in rebounding last season as a sophomore), 6'4½" Forward Jackie Ridgle from Arkansas (top sophomore scorer in Cal history) and two touted men from the freshmen, Phil Chenier and 6'9" Ansley Truitt. "We won't be doormats for anybody," says Coach Jim Padgett. But since there is always the possibility in Berkeley that the Third World Liberation Front will raise some kind of hell, pressuring the black players to join in, Cal's is not an atmosphere conducive to concentrating on UCLA, USC and the rest.
Take-your-sweet-time and defense-conscious Oregon State will no doubt run and shoot a little more because of all the talent Coach Paul Valenti has collected in Corvallis. Excellent shooter Vince Fritz is back after a year out with a back injury, but will move to forward, thanks to the presence of sophomore Guards Billy Nickleberry and Fred Boyd. The Beavers also have a 7' center, Vic Bartolome, who gave Lew Alcindor some of his toughest matches, and 6'9" Forward Gary Freeman, who can shoot with Fritz. Washington Coach Tex Winter has all five starters back, plus 6'9½" Steve Hawes from Mercer Island, just a floating bridge away from Seattle. "At this stage, he is the finest prospect for a big man I've had," says Winter.
Texas at El Paso Coach Don Haskins has a 160-50 record for his eight years in El Paso and he has 6'7" JC transfer Dick Gibbs and quick Nate Archibald to help him keep up his percentage. Defending WAC co-champion Wyoming has 6'6" Carl Ashley (21.0 average) in the pivot and 6'4" Forward Stan Dodds, which does not seem to be enough height to go far nationally. The other co-champ, Brigham Young, has one of the league's better guards, 6'3" Doug Howard, and 6'9" Paul Ruffner to grab a few rebounds.
However, the best team in the high country might be independent Utah State, especially now that the great nickname fuss has subsided. An elaborate campaign to turn the Aggies into Highlanders or Scotsmen failed, perhaps because of the banner unfurled by one group of coeds: "Highlander is faggy, we love Aggie." The Aggie most beloved is Marvin Roberts, a 6'8" forward who averaged 27.6 points a game last year as a sophomore. Utah State also has a sophomore guard, Nate Williams, who can invent three new passes while he's up in the air, select one and hit the open man with it.
San Jose State has left the West Coast Athletic Conference to join the new Pacific Coast Athletic Association, where it might have been a contender had not 6'7½" Center Darnell Hillman been drafted. The Spartans still have 6'11" Coby Dietrick but probably will not be able to cope with Cal State Long Beach. When San Jose and UC Santa Barbara left the WCAC they were replaced by Nevada Las Vegas and Nevada Reno. Reno has one outstanding player, Forward Alex Boyd, and Las Vegas has a good team led by Guard Lou Small, a transfer from Kansas State. Santa Clara's chief opposition in the league should come from Pacific, where Coach Dick Edwards has collected some giant redwoods, 6'8" Bill Strieker, 6'8" Pete Jensen, 6'9" Tom Jones and 6'9" sophomore John Gianelli.
The rumor in the Southwest Conference is that Texas Coach Leon Black has convinced Longhorn alumni that the school should have a basketball team to match its football and baseball teams. Texas finished in a tie for sixth last season yet is favored this time, maybe because of 6'7" JC transfer Lynn Howden, who had a brief stay at LSU. Black has a man from Indiana and a man from Oregon on his squad, too, indicating that he has indeed been recruiting hard. Independent Houston, with jumping-jack New Yorker Ollie Taylor, 6'5" sophomore Jeff Hickman, and one of the country's finest JC transfers in James (Poo) Welch, will play in the new Hofheinz Pavilion. Backboards were installed recently and Coach Guy Lewis made the first basket. "After waiting for this place for 40 years," he said, "you don't think I'd choke now!" No, and neither should his team through an easy schedule.
Coaches along the Eastern seaboard have a problem. Too many other people around the country love their playgrounds. The best and the biggest playgrounders of them all these days go to college almost any place but in the East—to South Carolina and New Mexico, to name two of the most voracious plunderers. As a result the East, outside of its three top candidates, is weak this year. But prospects are looking up. There are a flock of good freshmen in Eastern schools. The day when almost everybody flew the coop could be at an end and the era of homebodies at hand. The coaches hope so.
In the meantime, there is St. John's, an enigma in any season. Seldom highly rated, the Redmen almost always finish with a flourish. This year Lou Carnesecca, who will coach the pro Nets beginning next fall, is ending a five-year career during which his team never failed to appear in a postseason tournament. He would love to go out a winner, and he just could despite the loss of Carmine Calzonetti and John Warren, who is now with the Knicks. Joe DePre, a flamboyant player, should increase his 16.1 scoring average and get shooting help from improved 6'10" Center Bill Paultz and wingman Jim Smyth, the self-proclaimed "Best Shooter in the World" who is not that far off in assessing his gift. Sophomore Rich Lyons, short on experience, has the ability to replace Calzonetti. Bowing out, Carnesecca should make it five-for-five.
Fordham and Manhattan, whose basketball fortunes are on the upswing, will challenge St. John's for top rating among New York City independents. Rams' Coach Ed Conlin has two good 6'4" sophomores, George Zambetti and Tommy Sullivan, to go with four starters from last year's solid 17-9 team. The Jaspers lost only two lettermen and have 6'8" Center John Marren along with eight sophomores, led by superb swing-man Henry Seawright, from a 21-2 freshman team. And for the wearin' o' the green, their team colors, they have Dennis Routledge from Cork City, Ireland.
In the Ivy League, Princeton and Columbia will battle Penn. The Tigers, who won the league last year with the first undefeated record since 1951, were stunned during preseason drills when league scoring champ Jeff Petrie (20.8 points a game) ruptured his spine playing pool and was put in traction. If he recovers, Petrie will join 6'9" John Hummer, who switches to pivot, and sophomore Guard Reggie Bird to make the Tigers a strong challenger. Columbia's seniors, bullish 6'5" Jim McMillian and quick Guard Haywood Dotson, led their team to a 20-4 record last season, including a win over Purdue. The Lions were hurt in the Ivy race by their weak rebounding and are looking to unproven Bob Gailus, a transfer from Pitt, to strengthen it.
Even old ladies in pillbox hats know who will score for Niagara. In two seasons 5'10" Calvin Murphy fired in 1,694 points, yet the Purple Eagles were unable to win half their games. Now that might all change with the newly arrived Marshall Wingate, 6'4", to take the defensive pressure away from Murphy. The Eagles have four other starters returning and should break .500.
Among the three strong New England independents Boston College and Providence have new coaches, but Holy Cross most likely has the team. The Crusaders lost their top rebounder and scorer, Ed Siudut. However, 6'8" Forward Bob Kissane, runner-up in both categories, returns along with two other regulars, at least one of whom may have a time keeping his job away from one of the new sophomores: Buddy Venne, who averaged 27.9 as a freshman, 6'4" rebounder Stan Grayson, who scored 21, and slick Joe Baron.
Charles Daly, replacing Bob Cousy at BC, has only Bob Dukiet to ease the loss of Terry Driscoll, who led the Eagles to 19 consecutive victories last season. Dave Gavitt is better off at Providence. Joe Mullaney left him three of last year's starters, including Jim Larranaga and Vic Collucci, and from the freshman team comes Gary Wilkens, who averaged 31.7 points a game.
La Salle misses four starters from its 23-1 team of a year ago, but Coach Tom Gola still has two top players in 6'7" Ken Durrett and Fran Dunphy. The Explorers' biggest problem could be Gola himself. Running, in effect, as "Nobody's Boy," he was elected controller of Philadelphia, the city's fourth-highest office. He may not be La Salle's boy very much longer.