Here they stand, on pedestals. The wonder is that there are not two to a column, so packed has the elite of college basketball become. To those who have followed the game over the past few eons, it is no surprise that UCLA again is the choice. What does come as a shocker is that the old Bruin assistant, Denny Crum, now head coach of Louisville (rated sixth), thinks that any of 10 teams can lay hold to the title this year. There is solid reason for this judgment: Competition is stiffer than before and so are the schedules of the major colleges, including UCLA's. As scouting reports on the following pages show, not only are high schools sending up bigger and better-trained players, but an ever-increasing number of coaches are stressing conditioning. Where once it was hard to find 20 logical contenders, it is now difficult to limit the choice to 30. Fanning over the country to weigh the teams' chances are Curry Kirkpatrick on the Pacific Coast; Barry McDermott, Mike DelNagro and Susan Adams in the South; Kent Hannon, Larry Keith and Don Delliquanti in the Midwest and Southwest; Jim Kaplan and Angel Reyes in the East; and, for the small colleges, William White.
In the interest of public service and to keep attention focused on all aspects of the situation, herewith a scouting report on the UCLA student managers past and present. Bob Marcucci, who did the honors during the tenure of Lewis Kareem, was fast with a towel but could not handle warmup jackets. He always took them one at a time. George Morgan, now a Marine based at nearby Camp Pendleton, accomplished chores for the Wicks-Rowe teams and never missed a play or a pun. Les Friedman, who toiled during Bill Walton's first two years and is now in law school, was quick to the chairs but had no left hand. Now Friedman's brother Len, a junior and the new head manager, shows the most potential of the bunch. All he has to do is eat his greens and keep his proper silence.
Eating greens and keeping silent have become uppermost in the minds of the Bruins since they went out the back door of the Arena in St. Louis last spring with their seventh straight national championship. Recently Greg Lee, the senior guard, sold his teammates, notably Walton and Andre McCarter, on the joys of vegetarianism. Walton in turn has seriously taken up Transcendental Meditation. He called a team meeting to convert the players and even Coach John Wooden attended a meditation session. This togetherness, however, did not prevent the two from having it out over Walton's hair length. "When you're under a dictatorship, you do what the boss wants," says Walton. "I even had to get it cut twice. I may be an anarchist, but I'm no dummy."
The Bruins likewise do not lack for smarts in preparation for defense of the title. To replace Forward Larry Farmer there is 6'8" Junior Dave Myers, who came on like a caged savage last year; he can shoot, move and jump through ceilings. Splintery Pete Trgovich gets first crack at the wing spot vacated by Larry Hollyfield, but it is likely that Lee, an outstanding passer, and the occasionally brilliant sophomore McCarter will see more action there. Both have abandoned the point, acceding to the superiority of Tommy (TC) Curtis who, in his yapping, bowlegged way, is running the offense better than ever.
Walton and The Splendid Silkman, Keith Wilkes, who must be the most underrated player in college, will fit the post positions fairly well in their final season together while sophomore Ralph Drollinger and freshmen Richard Washington, Gavin Smith and Marques Johnson wait offstage. "This is the best team I've ever been on," says Lee. Yes, but the manager is a rookie.
2 NORTH CAROLINA STATE
If you have most everybody back, except maybe a cheerleader or two, from a team that last year went 27 and zip, won a conference title, a couple of tournaments and the hearts of thousands, then obviously what you should be practicing is how to defense that congratulatory phone call from the White House.
But North Carolina State is doing no such thing. It may have David Thompson, the man who beat the Russians last summer, and Monte (Captain Crazy) Towe and Tom Burleson, who always can find work as an elevator in a Raleigh skyscraper, but the Wolfpack also has rampant caution. As Burleson puts it, rather without imagination, "We're going to play them one game at a time."
That means North Carolina State is not ready to say it is better than You Know Who, a question that will be partially resolved when YKW and N.C. State go halfway across the country to meet each other in St. Louis on Dec. 15. That game, some say, will be for the real 1973 NCAA championship, a little plum the Wolfpack was not allowed to reach for last season because it was on a year's probation for recruiting violations.
The nucleus of the team is Thompson, the man with the jet-assisted takeoff. David is flying higher than ever this year, thanks to an off-season knee operation, and he is a guided missile. It is no secret that he disdained a pro contract for a crack at being No. 1.
About as important are Burleson, at 7'4" almost two feet taller than that 5'5½" rascal Towe. Monte could have posed for a Johnson & Johnson ad at times last season, wrapped as he was so often in swaddling bandages. Thompson may get the praise and Burleson may get the stares but the feisty Towe is the strut that keeps the Wolfpack's plane together and flying right.
Coach Norm Sloan does have a couple of problems. Besides finding a new wardrobe of neon clothing, he has to replace graduated Joe Cafferky in the backcourt and Rick Holdt up front. Junior-college transfer Moe Rivers will move in at guard if he can learn the nuances of Wolfpack strategy. If not, Mark Moeller will do. And Tim Stoddard, who hit 48% from the floor as a sophomore last season, complements Thompson at forward with another transfer, Phil Spence, and with Steve Nuce filling in at forward or center. "We were good last year," says Towe. "We'll be better this year." That means State should survive the perils of the Atlantic Coast Conference where both North Carolina and Maryland will be better, too, but as for that national crown, will better be good enough?
The young couple snuggling under the covers of a bed outside Indiana University's Assembly Hall should, logically, have been posing for a local version of Joey Heatherton's Serta "Perfect Sleeper" mattress ad. However, when the two could be parted for a question they revealed that student basketball tickets were to go on sale in six days and they wanted to be first in line.
With fans like these and players like theirs, the Indiana Hoosiers, who had UCLA puffing in the NCAA semifinals last year, should again be first in line in the Big Ten. Beyond that, it will be up to two individuals to fulfill the challenge of a sign hanging above the Assembly Hall's entrance. It reads: HOME OF THE BIG RED HORDE. BEAT UCLA.
One of the persons is Bobby Knight, the hot-tempered coach whose ingenuous style has produced 39 victories in two seasons; the other is freshman Kent Benson, the auburn-haired center who chose Indiana over 300 other schools and who may become a horde all by himself.
Benson is from Henry County, the locale of Ross Lockridge's Raintree County, and like most every other Indiana "Mr. Basketball" before him, he is accompanied by folklore. A brutish high school player, Benson in one game rammed in 55 points and seized 35 rebounds. He is both Catholic and a member of the highly Protestantized Fellowship of Christian Athletes; he ate 33 pieces of chicken at the 1971 state finals banquet: last summer he managed to play basketball in Germany and still show beef cattle at the Indiana State Fair. At 6'10" and a slimmed-down 230 pounds, he can be as tough and mean on court as he is gentle off it.
Making sure Benson will be rough and ready for jealous opponents who will try to prove he made a mistake in going to Indiana is Scott May, a muscular 6'7" forward who has been all over Benson in practice. Scholastically ineligible as a freshman, May looks and plays more like Sidney Wicks than Benson resembles Bill Walton, which is the popular notion. The rest of the starting five—Forward Steve Green and Guards Jim Crews and Quinn Buckner—is imperturbable. There is not a senior on the team, and John Laskowski and Bob Wilkerson head a list of reserves who all can and do play.
Pro scouts already recognize that what they see in a Bobby Knight player is what they get. He pushes his players to their limit and seldom leaves room for improvement. The Big Red Horde should be the scourge of the Midwest provided it gets by that Big Green Horde from over South Bend way.
4 NOTRE DAME
Notre Dame was a young team last year, laden with sophomores and juniors who seemed, early on, to resemble the 6-20 losers of the season before. But despite a 1-6 start they came on like banshees. Center John Shumate had spells when nothing went up that did not go in, Forward Gary Novak became very defensive and Guard Dwight Clay ran the offense superbly. After two-point losses to Indiana and Kentucky, the Irish apocalyptically earned an NIT berth with wins over Marquette, St. John's and South Carolina and nearly won the tournament with consecutive upsets of Southern Cal, Louisville and North Carolina before a last-second basket gave Virginia Tech the championship in overtime. "It's just as well," says smooth Gary Brokaw, one of five returning starters from the 18-12 team. "We know there's a lot more we can accomplish."
Notre Dame's turnaround under Coach Digger Phelps was not altogether unpredictable. Only three years ago Phelps was making miracles on Ford-ham's Rose Hill. Although he suffered grievously in his first season at South Bend, he installed a system and instilled pride in the team, and last year he got some honest-to-goodness players. Now he has some more, and for the first time under Phelps the Irish have depth and a more effective pressure defense.
Freshman Forwards Adrian Dantley and Billy Paterno, the best that Washington, D.C. and New Jersey could offer, will take lots of playing time if not starting jobs from Pete Crotty and Novak. Another freshman, Ray Martin, looked comfortable at the point guard, so maybe nobody is safe.
Nobody except Shumate, the very physical 6'9" center who made 38 of 51 shots in the NIT and was the tournament's Most Valuable Player. Shu has occasionally overlooked the virtues of dedication, inspiration and perspiration. To motivate Shumate is Clay's job. "I just wasn't doing anything early last year," says Shumate, "and Dwight came up to me and said, "Big Daddy, I don't care how many shots you miss, I'm going to keep bringing the ball to you because I know you can do it. You've got to do it.' " Not long afterward Big Daddy started doing it. He finished the year averaging 21 points and 12 rebounds per game, both team highs. "It's like this," says Clay, whose basket ended Marquette's 81-game home winning streak last year. "I keep Shu motivated and Digger motivates me."
Phelps is unabashedly turned on by the Golden Dome, under which the joy should be immense this year.
5 NORTH CAROLINA
The quaint community of Chapel Hill is up to the tops of its pine trees in rumors, anticipation and good old-fashioned enthusiasm. What is it that Dean Smith is building in Carmichael Auditorium? Can the freshmen really spot the varsity 10 points?
The reason for the outbreak of galloping fervor is that North Carolina has most of the components back from a team that went 25-8 and finished third in the NIT last year, and it had the best recruiting year ever, bringing in half a dozen freshmen who look like the neatest finds in Carolina since the filter tip.
The neatest of the new bunch is a top banana named Walter Davis, a little green to be sure, but still a 6'5" wizard the home folks like to compare to David Thompson, down the road at North Carolina State. Davis is not that talented, but then who is? Still, he is too good to keep out of the lineup—that is if he can survive the hazing period Smith automatically imposes to newcomers. "We kind of like the freshmen to remember they're freshmen," he says.
The other newcomers will remember who they are simply because the veterans are so good. First off, there is Bobby Jones, who makes a habit of getting sneaky open. Jones does it so well that he made over 60% of his field-goal attempts his first two seasons. "And if there's a better defensive player in the country, I'd like to know who it is," says Smith.
Sophomore Mitch Kupchak and junior Ed Stahl will light it out for another inside spot. Both are big and strong, and Kupchak hit 60% of his shots and played in all 33 of the team's games as a freshman. In fact, the Tar Heels have such a lengthy list of good shooters that they have led the nation in field-goal accuracy the past two years.
North Carolina will have to fill in the backcourt, where the graduation of George Karl hurts the most. And, as usual. Smith plans to use several different lineups, including "big" and "little" models, running players in and out with the speed of an assembly line.
Even the schedule looks good. The Tar Heels travel outside the state limits on only four occasions, and one of those trips is against meek Biscayne.
One sour note in the concerto is the missing beat of talented Donald Washington Last year he was injured, then he fell behind in his studies and could not make up the grades in summer school. Now he is out of school altogether and hoping to return next year. Even so the Tar Heels figure to win 20 games for the seventh time in the last eight years. And maybe win a few more.
For years, first as an assistant at UCLA, next as coach of Louisville, Denny Crum manipulated players. He needled them and played them, appeased them and sat them down, badgered them and juggled them. Then came last year's team with three sophomores and two juniors who had never started a varsity game. Crum was unmanipulating but hardly unhappy. "It was my most rewarding season," he says. The Cardinals beat NCAA runner-up Memphis State 83-69, won 23 games and, for the eighth straight time, appeared in a postseason tournament, this time the NIT.
Crum built that record on ice, a pogo stick and a neophyte—and each returns. The ice, Allen Murphy, averaged 16 points a game as a forward, shot a cool 52% and was so quick that he always defended against guards. Bill Butler, the pogo stick, is the other forward and maybe the most intimidating one in college basketball. The last line of defense in Louisville's zone press, he will uncoil under the basket to swat away shots two feet over the rim—and he is only 6'1". In 16 games Butler led the Cardinals in scoring, rebounding or both. The neophyte is now a two-way junior, Junior Bridgeman by name. He so enjoyed his first season at guard that he made all-conference.
Bridgeman rejoins Terry Howard who after a slow start was voted the most valuable player in the Rainbow Classic even though Louisville placed second. Also on hand is reserve Phillip Bond, who used to gum up scoring on both ends of the court but has been the leading percentage shooter in practice this fall.
Even with all this talent available, a freshman has been getting the loudest raves. Wesley Cox could be as magical to Louisville fans as the Derby. A two-time all-state selection from nearby Male High, he chose Louisville from the usual 5,000 colleges because, he said, he wanted his family to watch him play. While he or Ike Whitfield, a 6'8" junior-college All-America from California, could move into the three-man front line right away, Crum prefers to start Cox. At 6'5", he would make the average height under the boards only 6'3½" but Crum has concluded that smallness is not bad per se. Indeed, he has become a firm believer in little teams that can. He harbors special memories of the UCLA team in 1964. It did not start a player more than 6'5" tall and yet won the national title. Since then Crum has viewed enough championship races to speak with authority. "There are always 10 teams capable of winning the national title," he says. "Now we are one of them."
7 SAN FRANCISCO
Willie McCovey is gone: John Brodie is going. Even Mayor Alioto wants out of San Francisco, preferring the governor's mansion in Sacramento. All the old boys seem to be leaving the city by the bay. But it is young boys that concern Bob Gaillard, the bright, mustachioed coach at USF; he needs them to start arriving. The Dons have won two straight WCAC titles almost entirely with players from within a radius of 15 miles of all those bridges. Now, with Jerry Tarkanian bringing his recruiting road show to league-member Las Vegas, Gaillard feels he must go national to keep up. "The City doesn't mean much to high school kids," he says. "If we recruited 25-year-olds, we'd rule the world."
Gaillard does well enough; this year the Dons have their best team since Bill Russell left to shoot hoops for LONG D-I-S-T-A-N-C-E. Of USF's five defeats last year, two were to UCLA on the Bruins' court and two others were by a single basket. Gone from that team are Snake Jones and Mike Quick, whose outside shooting will be hard to replace. But the team does keep smooth Phil Smith, a senior who three years ago walked onto the campus unnoticed and without scholarship and became USF's best backcourt player since K.C. Jones. Smith is sinewy, deadpan, unselfish and still unnoticed—except in the box scores. The UCLA people consider him the best player they faced last year and he may be the first guard drafted by the pros. John Boro returns to play sixth man and shoot against zones, and newcomer Russ Coleman is a pleasant surprise, but Quick's starting spot should go to 6'1" Tony Styles, a blur with the ball out of Iowa Central Community College who will take some pressure off Smith's bony shoulders.
In Kevin Restani and Eric Fernsten the Dons have up front two big men (they're both 6'9") who complement each other perfectly. Restani lacks fire and is slow, but he is an excellent shooter-passer and a threat to score from anywhere. Fernsten does not score but he doesn't let anybody else do it, either. Depth prevails at the other corner Where sophomores Howard Smith and Richard Johnson and multitalented freshman Jeff Randell are competing. Rebounder Smith looked good in preseason, but the 6'5" Johnson is a valuable swing man and Randell also will play a lot.
It is a confident, intelligent, close-knit group that Gaillard has assembled on The Hilltop—probably to play UCLA twice again (in the Bruin Classic and the NCAA regionals). Too bad. Gently flow the Dons, who otherwise might rage through the West.
Everybody knows about Maryland: crab cakes, Spiro and Ball-er-mer Street. Now there is another spicy item. The Maryland basketball team is as tasty as a chef's delight; it can draw raves like a Broadway smash—and at times is as disappointing as bad burlesque.
True the Terps have tweaked opponents for 50 victories, an NIT championship and an NCAA berth in the last two years, but somehow there were greater expectations. This could be the year of fulfillment.
Those super-sophs of a few years back are now superduper seniors. Tom McMillen should become the school's alltime scoring leader sometime this season, and his partner on the front line, Len Elmore, has recovered from a foot injury that crimped the team's style late last year. McMillen has put on weight, Elmore has taken some off, and that means a balanced diet that opponents should have difficulty digesting.
After a freshman debut that was simply sensational, floor leader John Lucas is looking to improve on the Terrapins' finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference. "I think the team will be closer together this year," says Lucas, who spent his summer "playing ball three times a day, morning, noon and night. It's a funny feeling not being on top. I've always been on top all my life."
For Maryland to get there, it will have to replace graduated Jim O'Brien and Bob Bodell. Junior Owen Brown was slated to fill O'Brien's wing spot. He is quick and 6'8", but he injured a foot in preseason workouts and will not return until the very start of the season. McMillen has moved outside in the interim, allowing young Tom Roy a chance at a starting position down deep with Elmore. And Jap Trimble, who is experienced, will fill Bodell's guard slot if he can regain his form of two years ago following knee surgery last season. If not, Maurice Howard will play there.
The team has only one freshman on its 10-man roster, Wilson Washington, a big man who probably will have to sit and learn behind Elmore, McMillen and Roy.
Maryland lost three games after Elmore injured his foot last year, and all together dropped four games by four or fewer points, so it may have been better than its 23-7 record. But it had a characteristically poor year in the ACC (it has not lost a regular-season game outside the conference in a three-year span) and on the road, losing six games away from Cole Fieldhouse. This team looks too good for that sort of burlesque. Start the music.
Fred Snowden had been 80-0 as a junior varsity coach at Detroit's Northwestern High, 109-7 with the varsity while winning five straight city championships and a fine recruiter as an assistant at the University of Michigan. Yet the young, gifted black coach had never been offered a major college job of his own.
"Old friends from Motown would stop by and ask when I was going to make a move," says Snowden, who played against the Four Tops, whose high school typist became a Supreme, and who coached people like Alex and Ron Johnson, Willie Horton, John Mayberry and two of the Temptations before Arizona Athletic Director Dave Strack tempted him to Tucson last year.
To be certain he was equal to the rebuilding task ahead (Arizona had been 6-20), Snowden brought with him two kids who had been teammates at Detroit's Kettering High. "Neither Coniel Norman nor Eric Money looked terribly impressive when they got off the plane," Snowden recalls. "My assistant, Jerry Holmes, took one look and said, 'That's the franchise?' "
Local reporters were equally skeptical, possibly because they thought Money was the star, and were upset when Arizona, low on Money publicity photos, gave them pictures of Norman instead. As luck—or just possibly ability—would have it, it was Norman who popped in 24 points a game as the Western Athletic Conference's Most Valuable Player. All Money did was average 19 points.
Snowden sometimes started five freshmen as the Wildcats won 16 games and finished in a three-way tie for second place in the conference. But his new harvest is so rich that the only other sophomore who definitely will start is 6'8" Forward Al Fleming, whose mother's given name is Arizona. Freshman Herman Harris will play opposite Fleming. Another newcomer, 6'10" Bob Elliott from Ann Arbor, is so ready that last year's starting center married and transferred.
The Michigan regime has settled in nicely at Arizona although, as Norman says, "When a lizard walks across the street you know you're not in Detroit." To make his teen-agers more at home, Snowden does things like dropping in on them for a piece of pizza and a friendly rap, which does not hurt his reputation. Kids from all over the country call him.
For the moment, though, Snowden appears to have all the talent he needs to reach the NCAA West Regionals in March. They will be played at Arizona's new McKale Center—sort of a home away from home, lizards and all.
Since it is impossible to write a report about the Friars without somehow mentioning Ernie DiGregorio, reflect for a moment on vintage Ernie D—before he signed with Buffalo and people began to question everything but his Italian ancestry. Here comes Ernie, dribbling up court against Memphis State early in the NCAA semifinal game. Kevin Stacom is on the end of the fastbreak and DiGregorio whips him one of his wonder passes for a layup. Stacom is the curly-headed and indefatigable kid who rejected lucrative professional offers to return to Providence.
Here comes Ernie D again. This time it is a behind-the-back half-court bounce pass to Marvin Barnes, who vaults with the ball above the rim to put in a basket. Barnes hurt a knee later in that loss to Memphis State but recovered to play in both the U.S.A.-Russia series and the World University Games in Moscow. He was the leading rebounder and finished second in scoring at the World Games. He, too, could have turned professional as a hardship case, but he also chose to play a final season with Providence.
So while it is goodby to Ernie D—and to Fran Costello and Nehru King and Charlie Crawford—Coach Dave Gavitt can look forward to another year of Stacom and Barnes. In monetary terms that amounts to more than a million dollars in players. The question is: For all that obvious dedication, can the Friars be as good without Ernie D?
Just maybe. In Barnes, who blocked 137 shots and was second nationally in rebounding (19.0), Gavitt has a dominant center that any team in the country other than UCLA would covet. In Stacom, who hit 55% of his shots, he has a prized shooter who additionally is solid defensively. Depending upon who plays the other guard position, Stacom also can run the club, but he would be better off as the shooting guard.
Gary Bello, a junior who saw little action last year, and Rick Santos, a junior-college transfer, are candidates as DiGregorio's replacement. Santos is the favorite, but there is also 6'4½" freshman Joe Hassett to consider. The best high school player in Rhode Island last year, he has a DiGregorio reputation as a passer and, remarkably, lives even closer to the campus than his backcourt predecessor did—which is to say he practically came out of the boiler room. Barnes can expect rebounding help from forwards Mark McAndrew and Bob Cooper, a two-time All-Service and three-time All-Navy selection whose chief job was recruiting boots. That's a switch the Friars hope will help boot them home.
There are days when Coach Al McGuire, burdened as he is with the responsibilities of fame and wealth, does not come to practice. And there have been days, like a recent one, in which he came late and departed early. During his few minutes courtside he gave $30 to a former player and fell into a loud argument with a current one. The final thrust was the player's, a 5'10" bench warmer. He told the coach to shut up. McGuire smiled. Later, while eating shrimp in a restaurant he partially owns, the coach said he did not even know what the fuss was about. "I am," said McGuire, "75% bull and 25% serious."
And who isn't at that traveling road show on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee? Mary Beth, Al's lollipop-licking secretary? Mike, the information director, who says that creeping foliage will be the ruin of the concrete and asphalt school he once loved? Chris, the 384-pound student sports editor who skipped picture day to buy a case of beer? And certainly not the zanies clad in fringe-tinged Sand-Knits with the Menomini Indian stripes who will likely appear at an arena near you this fall.
The Warriors are small, young, inexperienced and not very deep. The only senior starter, Guard Marcus Washington, is a poor shooter from anywhere on the court. But he offers the mature leadership the team needs. "There were jealousies last year," he says. "This year there won't be so much hassle."
It is difficult to presume who would hassle 6'9" Maurice Lucas, whose 11 rebounds and 15 points per game credentials are the team's best. When last observed, Maurice was pitching quarters on the gym floor, clad only in nylon briefs. Lucas needs the sartorial advice that freshman Bo Ellis can offer. Skinny Bo is interested in fashion design. Better, he can score. Earl Tatum, who played little as a 6'5" guard, switches to forward.
The real guards are Washington and Lloyd Walton, who sat out last year after transferring from Moberly JC and signing, for a while at least, at Jacksonville. Walton (doesn't everybody have one?) wants to break Dean Meminger's three-year assist record in two years. Somebody tell Lloyd that Allie McGuire holds the Marquette assist record.