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Original Issue

Scouting Reports

1 LOUISVILLE

Louisville is located barely below the Mason-Dixon Line, but its citizens drawl in the Deep South manner of Scarlett and Rhett. Their talk is soft around the edges, with none of the nasal sound from the surrounding hills that conjures images of cars jacked up on cement blocks in the front yard. The natives rhyme the name of their city: "Lull-vull." Most of the rest of the country says, "Louie-ville," and when Denny Crum arrived three years ago, he called it "Lewis-ville."

That immediately marked Crum as a foreigner of the most deplorable sort, not necessarily a good thing to be in proud and provincial Louisville. But it turned out to be a pardonable transgression because Lull-vullers quickly found out that Crum knew a lot about two beloved local traditions, basketball and winning.

In Crum's first two years at the University of Louisville, he coached the Cardinals to 49 victories. Last season they won 21, despite playing with a front line of Mickey Rooneys. No one was over 6'5". Now bigger and deeper, they are the front-runners for the NCAA championship next March.

And running is Crum's game. His players need steel-belted radial sneakers the way they ignore speed limits. Their best ploy could be called, "Everybody Go Deep," with sophomore Wesley Cox taking the ball out of bounds and throwing it the length of the court to a streaking teammate. If that doesn't work, Louisville runs its offense. "We have one set play," says Guard Terry Howard.

Crum is 37 years old, and this is his first head coaching job after a long stint as an assistant to UCLA's John Wooden. Obviously, he is off to a good start. During his brief tenure at Louisville he has concentrated on amassing talent and this year the Cardinals have all they need. Nine of the first 10 players of a year ago are returning. Two others, Guard Phillip Bond and 6'9" senior Center Bill Bunton, who missed last season because of illness and injured grades respectively, again are healthy. Louisville has added a 6'10" freshman center named Ricky Gallon who, Crum claims, is the best thing to come out of Florida since the orange. "I can play 10 different guys with the first unit," he says. "We have more flexibility than ever before."

Last year's Cardinals had a big problem at center—they did not have one. Crum used Cox, his most gifted player, but at 6'5" even he was giving away too much height. Louisville had to struggle to get any rebound that did not first bounce on the floor. Bunton's return to the middle will allow Cox to move outside. Wesley averaged 14 points per game and eight rebounds playing out of position and was considered by some, not all of them citizens of Lull-vull, the best freshman in the country. As a forward, he should be merely devastating.

As valuable as Bunton is apt to be this season, he may be challenged for his starting job before March rolls around. Gallon is only 17 years old and needs experience, but he is 6'10" and can jump higher than anyone on the team.

Even with Cox and the two centers, Allen Murphy and Junior Bridgeman remain the nucleus of the team. Three years ago, when the University of Kentucky was getting all of the publicity for its "great" freshman team, Crum scoffed and said he would not trade Murphy or Bridgeman for any of the UK players. Those frosh are all seniors now, and Kentucky has another great team, but it's in Louisville, not Lexington.

Bridgeman was named Player of the Year in the Missouri Valley Conference last season. His roommate, Murphy, led the Cardinals in scoring, hitting 61% of his shots in league games, and he is the team's best defensive player.

Bridgeman is a psychology major, which may explain the unobtrusive way he moves around the floor, keeping the opposition only subliminally aware of his presence. "He's a quiet player," says Indiana's Quinn Buckner, "but at the end of the game he has 20 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, a couple of steals."

These two players are the major factors in the Cardinals' extraordinary flexibility. Bridgeman, 6'5", plays guard on offense; 6'5" Murphy is there on defense. "We can take advantage of the other team's weakness," says Bridgeman of the confusion the interchangeability causes. "I might wind up with a little guard on me, and Allen can beat those big forwards all day."

The Cardinals' first challenge will be to survive the initial weeks of the season relatively unscathed. Crum's teams never have won an opening game, and this year's schedule does not make an early victory easy to come by. Louisville begins with contests against Houston, Dayton, Clemson, Florida State and Marquette. Four of them are on the road. From there on, things are more favorable. The Cardinals should take their third Missouri Valley title under Crum and arrive at San Diego for the NCAA championships as the team to beat.

All of which should put to rest any skepticism that still lingers in Louisville about the outlander from the West Coast who has come to coach there. When Crum arrived, people suspected that he was just stopping off on his way to taking over at UCLA when Wooden retired. Last year Louisville tore up his contract and gave him a new five-year deal. Crum then bought a 232-acre farm where he can fish, hunt and ride his motorcycle. He likes Lull-vull, and it likes him, because they speak the same language. They both love winning basketball.

2 NO. CAROLINA STATE

Tobacco Road has not been the same these eight months since North Carolina State slew the bear and liberated the national championship from UCLA. First, there was all that hardware to admire. By the reckoning of the Associated Press, the team of the year also had the player of the year in David Thompson and the coach of the year in Norman Sloan. That meant trophies all around, followed by an orgy of clinics, camps, speeches, public appearances, dinners and charity drives. For a while the Wolfpack players and coaches hardly knew where their next autograph hound was coming from.

"All of a sudden," says Sloan, fat and happy as he begins his 23rd year of coaching, "I was very smart. I knew a lot of basketball. I was in great demand. I had to get an unlisted telephone."

The Wolfpack's 30-1 championship season provoked such enthusiasm in Raleigh that the players returned home to a prime-time televised pep rally. The sports information office answered publicity requests from as far away as Switzerland, and when the team toured the Far East in August, it was accorded Marco Polo treatment. Only around the Atlantic Coast Conference, where never is heard an encouraging word, was the response cold. "We still have to recruit against them," said one bitter victim of State's record 32-game winning streak in the ACC. "Besides, they went on probation two years ago to do it."

All the attention, good and bad, has had its effect, good and bad, on Sloan. "I know you have to pay your dues, but it got to be ridiculous," he says. "A shopping center would want to have a day for the team. It always turned out to be a day for the shopping center. A family might invite a couple of players to dinner, and when they got there they'd find 50 people waiting to meet them."

No one was in greater demand than the wondrous 6'4" forward, Thompson, twice a consensus All-America and heir apparent to the ACC's career scoring record. By Sloan's estimate, a less principled young man could have gleaned $50,000 from the glad-handers who sought to win his friendship by greasing his palm, not to mention the $2 million he could have picked up by signing with the Philadelphia 76ers. He rejected that offer just as he had a $1.5-million bid the year before.

"David will be all-pro the first season," says Sloan. "He's worth more money than any player ever. Not just because of his basketball ability, but also because he's the kind of young man he is. You become a better person just by being around him."

David Thompson is special, whether on the court or off. Since coming to North Carolina State he has played in 108 games, of which his team has won 105. He remains, refreshingly, as considerate as ever, giving freely of his time to those who call upon it, from prisoners to reporters. He rarely says no. "The demands have been great, but overall it's been nice," he says. "I'm in no hurry to leave."

This is not the same reticent youngster who arrived on the North Carolina State campus three years ago. He accepts the acclaim and attention more naturally now. Without being a show-off, he has the showman's ability to please the paying customers.

Thompson claims no special stature for himself, but he recognizes talent in others. "Great players can just play their normal games and be very good," he says. "Those are the ones who have the ability to make basketball an art. It comes natural for them. But not for me—I have to work at it."

His close friend, tiny playmaker Monte Towe, says, "David is always one of the first to want to play a pickup game. He's worked hard to refine his skills. He doesn't try to be showy. He just goes out to win."

Thompson has gone out to win 58 times as a varsity player and he has failed only once. His graceful presence all but guarantees similar success this year, despite the loss of Center Tom Burleson from last season's lineup.

For a while Burleson seemed suitably replaced by Tommy Barker, another 7-footer and the nation's outstanding junior-college player last year. But Barker changed his mind about coming to State and ended up in Hawaii instead.

Without the services of a "receiver," as Sloan calls the Maypoles in the middle, the Wolfpack is a different team, though not necessarily a lesser one. State was able to test a speedy, pressing lineup of two guards and three forwards in the Far East and again in September against the Russians. After coaching 13 victories in 14 games Sloan felt quite pleased with the adjustment.

The 5'7" Towe will once again beat presses, bomb from outside and defy all reason in the process. And underrated Moe Rivers now has a chance to gain some identity. "I can understand being in the shadow of David and Monte, but don't forget I've got some natural talent," he says earnestly.

The three forwards are Thompson, left free by Sloan to do what he wants when he wants, 6'7" senior Tim Stoddard and either 6'8" junior Phil Spence or 6'7" freshman whiz Kenny Carr.

"We're going to have a fine team," says Sloan, with the assurance of a man who knows one when he sees one. "These are good players. I've never been more relaxed, and the team is the same way. It isn't like last year when we had the anxiety of wanting to do something for the first time. I can take time to smell the roses."

This year State could catch the bouquet again.

3 INDIANA

You can almost hear the cadence, "Hup, two, three," as Indiana University marches onto the floor. Precision, discipline and self-sacrifice are the team's best players, and if the Hoosiers have the kind of year they are capable of, the military might regain its good name.

Indiana has everything it needs to win its battles: size, speed, experience and a defense that could hardly be more effective if the players used bayonets. And the Hoosiers have a commander who is no Sergeant Bilko. Bobby Knight earned his general's stars while coaching at West Point and his blood-and-guts approach to basketball shows it.

Knight has 12 of 14 lettermen back from a team that was 23-5, tied for the Big Ten title and then lost the playoff game to Michigan. Indiana went on to win the CCA's runner-up tournament in St. Louis. Now the Hoosiers are concentrating on making sure they do not miss this year's war games in San Diego.

Their key man is Kent Benson, a 6'10", 230-pounder who is commonly described as being "no Bill Walton." The only real resemblance between the two early last season was their red hair, but Benson's detractors forget that Walton did not start at UCLA in his first year because freshmen were not eligible then. Benson did play as a regular, improved game by game and wound up being the Most Valuable Player in the St. Louis tournament. As a soph he is quicker and decidedly more self-confident.

Another player who profited from last year's combat is Forward Scott May. The 6'7" junior gunned in 12 straight baskets during an intrasquad game a few weeks ago and he fits in perfectly with Knight's pass-and-cut offense that leads defenders through a Maginot Line of screens and picks.

At the other corner is Steve Green, slow afoot, but deadly of eye. He made 55% of his field-goal tries as a junior, the best percentage among Indiana's platoon of sharpshooters. Five of the team's first seven players hit near or better than 50% from the floor.

One of the two who did not was all-international Guard Quinn Buckner. For two years Knight threatened and cajoled Buckner about his insistence on wearing football pads while the rest of the basketball team conducted fall drills. This season Buckner did not play football and Knight feels he has a head start on Operation Field Goal.

Playing alongside Buckner could be John Laskowski, the Hoosiers' assist leader who was used as a sixth man most of last year but moved into the starting lineup at the end of the season. Now it is likely he will surrender permanently his reserve's title to Bob Wilkerson, a 6'6" junior who can be used at guard, forward or center.

Indiana has shown improvement in each of three seasons under Knight, winning 17, 22 and 23 games and capturing at least a share of the Big Ten title the last two times. Even though winning the league is hardly a certainty, the Hoosiers already are talking about an assault on the NCAA championship. They have the guns to do it.

4 UCLA

A reporter called John Wooden the other day and asked, "Can UCLA come back?" Feigning puzzlement but surely having understood, Wooden answered, "Where have we been?"

For the first spring, summer and fall in eight years, where UCLA has been is off the throne and in the thick of also-random. How does it feel coming into a season as just another challenger? "No different," Wooden insisted. "We don't live in the past. We never made reference to the national championship when we won. We don't make reference to it now that we've lost."

Be that as it may, the Bruins are burning for the chance to come back, to show what they can do without Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes and the rest of the gang that won 88 straight and set college basketball on its ear.