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Original Issue

The travelin' Jays

Eddie Sutton's Creighton team is flying high—and often far afield

Somebody should tell Creighton's Travelin' Bluejays to stay at home in Omaha where they belong. Nobody is supposed to like traveling the way they do, but with a 19-4 record and a coach who does not mind playing the big ones on the road, Creighton has displayed a raucous sense of adventure while escaping college basketball's middle class.

Take the game against Marquette two weeks ago. Trailing 14-2, the Travelin' Bluejays regrouped around their tour-guide coach, Eddie Sutton, who reminded them how much fun it is to play the Warriors at Milwaukee Arena in the dead of winter, and everything went line after that. Creighton won 75-69, and Marquette should have realized the hex was on when a Bluejay balloon got away from an excited newspaperman and floated out onto the court late in the game. The loss was Marquette's second at home in 101 games; the victory practically clinched an NCAA bid for Creighton.

The small Jesuit school (2,550) has not been invited since 1964 when Paul Silas powered it to 22 wins. However, since 1959, when former Coach John (Red) McManus coined the phrase "border to border and coast to coast," Creighton has "gone all over hell to play"—the current publicist's words, which should please CU priests no end. When this year's seniors were sophomores they were watched by 18,686 people in Brigham Young's second game at Marriott Center in Provo, Utah; as juniors they played the final game in The Pit at North Texas State; last summer they toured 10 cities in South America and, as Sutton says, "Once you've played in Brazil or before any of those crowds south of the border, going into Milwaukee Arena doesn't seem nearly so bad.

"Oh, I know a lot of coaches must think I'm insane with this traveling thing. But we're an independent with 14 kids on our roster from 11 different states and with 65 alumni groups across the country who want to see us play. So we go everyplace, and we've gotten a reputation for it. Any time we travel I think of it as an education for our players, not just as a sightseeing tour. Creighton is a tough school academically, and if there's something interesting in the area where we're playing basketball, we will investigate it."

The beneficiaries of this Come Fly with Me philosophy—players like blond Forward Gene Harmon, who beat Houston 78-77 with a long jumper on television last season, or Doug Brookins, who muscled in 25 points against Marquette—have in truth seen a large part of the world. During the last three years Creighton has played in 20 states, logged more than 65,000 miles in the air, made that South American jaunt (entertaining the Chilean national team at home in exchange) and is now in Hawaii on its last road trip of the regular season.

The Jays are a patient, passing team. Their style might be different had they recruited with more success among the superb athletes who come from the Omaha ghetto at the edge of the Creighton campus. As it is, when Forward Charles Butler was injured this season, Sutton even started five white players. Harmon, a Schuyler, Neb. product who has a chance of making the pros, feels that playing far and wide has given him the kind of exposure he would never have had in a conference like the Big Eight. His arguments are all summed up in the Travelin' Bluejays' brochure which, for lack of funds, has to double as a recruiting bulletin. The cover photos were taken mainly by Sutton and the players, who caught themselves with Instamatics at a native fruit market in Brazil, before the Christ of the Andes statue on the border between Argentina and Chile and from a vantage point overlooking S√£o Paulo. Next year's cover probably will include shots of Disneyland and Diamond Head. But the real pitch begins on page one inside:

"Traveling is so much a part of the Bluejay basketball program," it reads, "that a basketball prospect should reflect on what traveling means to him before he signs with the Jays...Creighton University is in Omaha, a fine city...but one located a considerable distance from other major basketball powers.... So future Creighton Bluejays must be more than tall, talented and dedicated to hard work. They have to know how to pack a suitcase."