In the nine years that Ken Cochran has been coaching at Marymount College in Salina, Kans., his teams have put together a 240-37 record. The Spartans have been nationally ranked in the NAIA in eight of those seasons and, with six lettermen returning from a squad that had a 26-6 season, they are a good bet to reach the national tournament again. Last March they made it to the quarterfinals. Not bad for a school that 11 years ago had no male students.
Credit for such sustained success belongs to Cochran, a dynamic man possessed of a keen recruiting eye, boundless energy and a drive to be the best. Appropriately at a small college (enrollment 787) run by the Sisters of St. Joseph of Concordia, faculty members use the term B.C., Before Cochran, to designate a bygone era. "It was a nice enough place B.C.," they will tell visitors, "but not nearly as exciting as it is now."
Cochran grew up in Joplin, Mo. and has lived in Kansas most of his life, which makes him an eloquent promoter for the Midwest when he's recruiting Easterners. Though he no longer makes as many forays to New York, he still draws heavily from that area; witness the presence on the Spartan roster of Brooklyn's Larry Jones, the Spartans' 5'7" point guard, and Henry Murphy, another guard, and Jerry Haynes, out of the Bronx.
Cochran's selling job was made easier this year with the completion of Salina's Bicentennial Center, where Marymount will play 18 home games. The new arena is the showcase that Cochran has always wanted, but it seats 7,300 and he is worried about filling it. In addition to being basketball coach and teaching three physical education courses, Cochran is in charge of selling seats.
For an exhibition game against the Australian national team in early November, Cochran lined up a Middle Eastern dance troupe—"Please don't call them belly dancers," he said—a senior-citizens kitchen-gadget band and a post-game dance for the crowd of 5,500. His concern about attendance is exceeded only by his desire to win, which Marymount did, 88-64.
Defense is stenciled neatly on the backs of the Spartans' practice jerseys. "Pressure defense is our bread and butter," Cochran says. "In 1973 we went to our first national tournament and were beaten 74-73 by Slippery Rock. They just ran and pressed us to death. It was so effective I've been using it ever since." Marymount uses a full-court press throughout every game, which is frustrating for opponents and exhausting for the Spartans. No one plays the whole game. There is a substitution every two or three minutes. "It means we have to be two deep at every position," says Cochran. "When someone gets tired, he comes out."
Marymount's offense is so balanced that Jones, the little junior billed as the Marymount Magician, comes off the bench. Tommy Williams and Keith Robinson, each 6'3", are the starting guards. Forward Jerry Haynes had 21 points and 16 rebounds a game last season for Manhattan (N.Y.) Community College, and Cochran expects more of the same from him and David Williams, who led last year's Spartans with 13 points a game. The center is Chris Rorabaugh, one of three Kansans on the team.
Mention the name Ken Cochran to Clarence Gaines, the coach at Winston-Salem (N.C.) State University, and he will tell you that Cochran recruited some kids Gaines wanted. Mention the name Clarence Gaines to Cochran—or most any coach in the U.S.—and he will step back and say almost reverently, "Ah, Big House. He's quite a fellow."
In the 34 years Gaines has been at Winston-Salem, his teams have won 639 games, more victories than for any other active coach. So strongly are Winston-Salem and Big House identified with each other that when the new physical education building was completed two years ago, the board of trustees named it the C. E. Gaines Athletic Complex. Little wonder, then, that Big House often must remind people that he's only 56 years old.
One reason for the bond is that Winston-Salem, a black college with some 2,200 students, is the only place Gaines has ever coached. He arrived there in 1945, fresh from Morgan State in Baltimore, where he acquired both his bachelor's degree in chemistry and his nickname.
The nickname stayed with Gaines as his massive build—6'4" and 250 pounds—matured into coachly bearing. At 23, after one year as an assistant, Big House was named head coach of all sports at Winston-Salem. Within three years, every Ram team had a winning record.
His wife, Clara, a graceful woman of abiding patience, compares her husband's coaching style with his approach to another game he loves—poker. "He hates to lose at anything," she says. "I see him sizing up the other coaches and shuffling his players like cards in a poker hand."
Last season Gaines guided Winston-Salem's basketball team to the CIAA Southern division title, after which it lost to High Point in the NAIA District 26 semifinals. Three starters from that 19-9 team are back, along with enough reserves to help the Rams repeat as division champs. Reggie Gaines (no relation), who led the Rams in scoring with 24.5 points per game, is still around, as are Mark Clark, a guard who contributed 13.9 points a game, and Forward Mike Robinson, Winston-Salem's leading rebounder.
Gaines isn't concerned that his players average only 6'3". "I tell them, small animals have to learn tricks to protect themselves from the big animals. Our players just have to be more efficient," says Big House.
For the last 12 seasons Gaines' only assistant has been Bill English, who played for Big House during the glorious late 1960s, when Earl Monroe led the Rams to a national championship. Though Big House is cunning when it comes to game strategy, English insists that the essence of the Rams' style of play is ageless. "Everything is the same as when I played," he says. "Basically we run an open pattern with six or seven variations, but it's all fundamentals and drills." "It's hard for a kid to be All-City Philadelphia and find out he can't execute a stop," Gaines says sympathetically. "You scold or embarrass them, maybe you see teardrops in their eyes, then you know it's time to let up a bit." And his understanding of the joys of youth is evident on such occasions as the night of the homecoming queen coronation, when he stopped practice early. "There are two parts to it," he says. "They have rights, too."
Big House will tell you how integration has made recruiting for a small, black college a more difficult task, though for him it is less a problem than for most. These days many of his players come, sight unseen, on the recommendations of scattered alumni. The kids are eager to play for him, and most of them will graduate. That matters to Big House as much as winning basketball games.
"I like the fact that this is my program, and that it's good," he says with pride. "If a grown man can't outthink an 18-year-old, then he shouldn't be coaching him. I've satisfied myself here, as much as a sociologist as coach."
As Cochran says, Big House is quite a fellow.
Marymount and Winston-Salem are only two of a passel of genuine challengers for the NAIA's national title. Defending champion Drury College of Missouri graduated three starters from its 33-2 squad but nonetheless has hopes for another championship because of the presence of Forward Marcus Peel, a transfer from Tulsa who will be eligible on Dec. 27. Everybody is back at South Carolina's surprise newcomer, Winthrop College, which in its first year of basketball had a 25-10 record and almost won its district under the steady guidance of Coach Neild Gordon and the steady play of 6'10" twins Ronnie and Donnie Creamer. Cameron University of Oklahoma finished at 36-3 last season and was No. 1 in the poll: before succumbing in the tournament quarterfinals. Its terrific trio of Leroy Jackson, Andre King and Ray Franklin could take the Aggies all the way to the title this time.
North Alabama lost three starters but kept All-America Otis Boddie, a 19.3-points-a-game scorer, from the 22-9 team that beat Wisconsin-Green Bay to win the NCAA Division II championship. Bo Clark, the nation's leading college scorer at 31.6 points a game, returns to play for his dad, Torchy, at Central Florida. Philadelphia Textile, Bridgeport, Nicholls State and Puget Sound are other perennial powers that will again challenge for the championship.
North Park College of Illinois, led by the 22.5-point scoring of Center Michael Harper, is favored to win its third consecutive NCAA Division III title.
Cochran gives Marymount something to shout about.
Big House coaches quietly, but his teams make noise.