James Q. Allen, an optimist, leaned across the dashboard of his 1969 Cadillac and raised a finger heavenward. "Give me the material," he said, "and I'll go to Lexington tomorrow night and get 125 against Kentucky or anybody else, because we can get it and we can move it."
Allen meant move the ball, and he had visions of it flying around the court like a heat-crazed gnat as his suddenly lofty heroes from tiny Mississippi College ran Adolph Rupp's Pratts and Issels ragged on their own stomping grounds. But this is not a perfect world, as Allen knows. "If they'd only outlaw the zone defense," he sighed, "we'd have some good basketball teams. Why, I wouldn't drive from here over the top of the next hill to watch Tennessee play."
Some people think that Allen's quarrel is not with the zone defense so much as it is with any defense at all. While his players have gained reputations as the runningest, gunningest hombres since Butch and the Kid, like those delightful desperadoes they have tended to end their free and easy ways slightly more gunned against than their would-be victims. The boys from Clinton, Miss., in fact, may be the highest-scoring losers in NCAA history.
Disbelief that things could be that bad with the predominantly white, Baptist-supported school of 2,300 students began early in the season when the NCAA reported that Mississippi College, averaging 112 points a game, led the nation in scoring and was 0-5. A mistake, surely, long-distance callers said to MC's public-relations man, Norman Gough. "What could I tell them?" Gough says.
Gough could have told them about MC's first game. The Choctaws (or "Chocs," as their friends call them) opened the season with a loss to Livingston (Ala.) University 160-146. They followed this with a 135-131 lacing at the hands of Southeastern Louisiana. Allen, whose 1960-61 team set the mark for season average (114.2) and single game total (166), found the scores bracing but feels he would have been a winner, too, if his only rebounding power, two 6'6" starters and a 6'5" substitute, had not left the team. He was forced to move four freshmen into the lineup.
"We're at our lowest ebb ever," he says. "During those first few games they'd be playing those clubs and sitting on 130 and you'd be wondering how they got there. But we're too small and too slow. I'm afraid it's hopeless."
Things have picked up a bit. The Chocs have won three of their 24 games, but they are down to 98 points a game, which is, sadly, six points less than Jacksonville, the major college leader. MC opposition is averaging 109.5.
Among other vexations Allen has had to endure is the long net trick. To hold down the scoring, Allen says, rivals tighten the nets with a drawstring at the bottom. "Every time the ball goes through," he says, "the ball sticks, wasting time. We started carrying a pocketknife. During warmup when they weren't looking we'd send a boy in for a layup and he'd cut the string." Other schools would either slap the ball every time it came through the hoop or hand it to the referee. "Technical fouls," Allen claims. "But you get away from home and they won't call them."
Home is a gym called "the Crackerbox." A new roof was tacked on this summer after The Night of the Great Leak, when the players found themselves sloshing upcourt through a February rain. A few weeks ago a water pipe burst and the lobby ceiling caved in—fortunately not on Jehu Brabham, a 6' junior who is the star of the team. Jehu was the Biblical figure who thought the best way to reform people was to annihilate them. When he is not annihilating himself—Brabham falls about 20 times a game—he plays havoc with close to 30 points a game, mostly 25-footers.
Brabham has become philosophical about seasons like this and the last one, when MC averaged 100.6 and finished 5-18. "I hate to lose even in tiddledywinks, but it's a challenge to go out there and fight those big guys to death. They know they've been in a ball game when their lungs are exploding five times more than usual."
Allen goes to unique lengths to shatter lungs. His daily long floor drill is a race against the scoreboard clock to see how many points five men can score in three minutes, churning full court with two passes every time. The school record is 130. This season against Northeast Louisiana State, at the time the nation's 20th-ranked small-college team, MC scored 27 in the last three minutes and lost only 112-100.
Allen's philosophy became ingrained around 1929 when, as a 6'4" guard for Mississippi College, he helped beat the original New York Celtics in Meridian, Miss. "We just kept forcing and forcing 'em," he recalls. "That made 'em mad, and they beat us by 25 the next night.
"People say we don't have any defense," he says. "But you look at our statistics and we get outrebounded every time and still take more shots. That means we have to get some turnovers."
That night the Chocs lost again to Livingston, this time 133-113. "Ah, well, it makes all the difference when they can stand there and lob 'em over your head," said James Allen, who still could see a point in points.