For the first time since George Washington invented the backdoor play and coached the Continental Army to an upset victory over the Redcoats, the NCAA tournament is returning to the vicinity of Valley Forge. This time there has been a rule change, however: no dunking allowed, either in the Delaware or the Spectrum.
Nineteen seventy-six is the Bicentennial year, and everyone with a game to sell is heading for Philadelphia to ring the Liberty Bell. College basketball will be among the first to arrive; in March it will honor all of those historic leaders who helped make the sport what it is today. For one thing, how could we ever keep score if Benjamin Franklin had not gone and flown his kite?
As far as coaches are concerned, the Bicentennial is not the only reason for celebration. This is the first season since the Battle of Yorktown that they will not have to contend with John Wooden. But under new Coach Gene Bartow, UCLA remains tough. Just how tough will be determined early. This weekend Indiana and the Bruins, the nation's two best clubs, open the season against each other in St. Louis. It is a dream game, and the dream may reoccur in a much more important setting at the national finals in Philly, though there are plenty of other talented teams who would consider that a nightmare and will try to prevent it.
In years to come, this season may be remembered as the beginning of an era. We have had Phog Allen, Adolph Rupp and Wooden. There is someone out there (the Hoosiers' Bob Knight?) with chalk dust on his hands and a new trap defense on his mind who could be the next dominant coach.
And while you keep an eye out for that new coach, don't forget to look for the arrival of a new balance of power. Both Indiana and UCLA are playing in weakened conferences, and the might has moved South. For example, Vanderbilt has lost only one player from last year's team that won 15 games. Still, the Commodores should finish somewhere in the middle of the Southeastern Conference where Tennessee, Alabama, Auburn, Georgia and Kentucky all will be strong. Vanderbilt can gain solace by winning its third straight NCAA title—in free-throw shooting.
Two seven-footers who definitely will not win the national championship are Robert Parish of Centenary and Tree Rollins of Clemson. Their schools are on probation. Parish is a lifer. Centenary has won 65 and lost 16 since his arrival four years ago, but he might just as well have been playing in the dark. The school is in the fourth year of a six-year sentence for violating a rule that since has been changed. See you in the pros, Robert.
Rollins at least has the help of a memorable name to ease his public visibility problems. The same goes for Carleton (High) Hurdle of Oral Roberts, Napoleon Gaither of Drake, Notie Pate of New Mexico State, Turono Anderson of Detroit, Soup Campbell of Providence and that old favorite, Lafayette Threatt of Oklahoma State. The best nickname belongs to Iowa State's Hercle Ivy. You know what it is. This year's rosters also offer a few tongue twisters. Brigham Young has Nedjeldko (Misho) Ostarcevic. If you can pronounce it, you are from Yugoslavia, as he is. And then there is Yasutaka Okayama of the University of Portland. He is a seven-footer from Japan who admittedly is in need of some solid-state tuning. "He's not ready to play," says Pilots Coach Jack Avina, "but he has potential."
Other people who could be future winners are the assistants from some of last year's successful teams who have moved up to head-coaching jobs. Dick DiBiaso, formerly of Notre Dame, is at Stanford. Frank Arnold, last seen at UCLA, is at BYU. And Dave Bliss has gone from Indiana to Oklahoma. After Bliss took the job, his former boss, Knight, told him, "You're 32 and look 27. Next year you'll be 33 and look 45." Unless he wins the Big Eight. DiBiaso already has had some bad luck. He suffered a broken nose in a pickup basketball game. For the rest of the year he will have to guard against a broken heart.
There are other ill-starred cases, including that of Anthony Roberts, a forward at Oral Roberts. During a tour of Italy last May, Roberts got off the train at the wrong town and had to walk two miles to catch a bus to the arena. The next night he shattered a backboard with a slam dunk. And there is Southern California Coach Bob Boyd, whose misfortune it has been not only to play in the same league as UCLA, but in the same town. Boyd spent much of last season doubled up in pain from a back ailment. This fall he showed up for the first day of practice on crutches. He had wrenched his ankle playing tennis.
Many people think this season's best freshmen are playing in the NBA (Philadelphia 76er Darryl Dawkins and Atlanta Hawk Poodle Willoughby), but they could be wrong. Some dandy big men decided to matriculate, including Bill Cartwright of the University of San Francisco, David Greenwood of UCLA and Paul Mokeski of Kansas.
They will surely be on their teams' 10-man traveling squads, but the NCAA's new roster-limiting rule will be nettlesome for other players and all coaches until it can be changed, as it probably will be, in January. As things stand now some schools that move games off campus to larger facilities in their home cities will have to put up with the designation of "visitor" and dress only 10 players because they are not playing in their "home" gym.
Another unusual ruling involves Oregon State's muscular 6'8" center, Lonnie Shelton. He is back with his team after signing a pro contract, changing his mind, returning the money and receiving an injunction from a U.S. District Court judge (before whom Shelton presumably pleaded temporary greed) who reversed an NCAA decision that had made Shelton ineligible.
Along with being the Bicentennial, '76 is also an Olympic year, so the NCAA should reserve space at courtside for the KGB scouts next March. After all, the Russians are defending champions. Whether the Soviets retain their title may well depend on how many of the big bell-ringers in Philadelphia decide to take a trip to Montreal before they make one to the bank.
IN THIS SPECIAL SECTION
The season preview continues with photos of the year's finest guards, a profile of the best backcourt man and scouting reports on the top 20 teams and the best of the rest by Barry McDermott, Larry Keith, Herman Weiskopf, Kent Han-non, Jim Kaplan and Don Delliquanti. In small college and women's basketball, two centers turn out to be pivotal.