Pistol Pete Maravich is that good. He is only a sophomore, and he makes the mistakes of the young—forcing shots, committing useless fouls and hotdogging it all over the place. Moreover, his basic shot, released by hands that cradle the sides of the ball, is a strange and unattractive specimen that spins sideways rather than up and over, as basketball teaching dictates. But Maravich is the most exciting basketball player in college today, and many long, lost and unexplainable 50-point nights hence, when he finally gets to the pros and is able to play with men who can complement him and against men who can't afford to collapse on him, he will be so good he will indeed scare people.
In the early part of the season Maravich and Calvin Murphy of Niagara were engaged in a long-distance duel that promised to produce, in the same season, the two best scorers major-college basketball has ever known. Maravich scored 48 points against Tampa in his varsity debut, had the national scoring lead taken away from him by Murphy twice in the next four games, but then regained the lead for good with a 46-point night against Mississippi. He has never been behind Frank Selvy's record average of 41.7, set 14 years ago at Furman, and after LSU split with Tulane and Mississippi last week, in which he scored 55 and 40 points, he was averaging 44.9, had a total of 1,079 points and was 219 points up on Murphy, whose average has fallen to 39.1. Barring any mishaps in his final two games, Maravich will become, in his sophomore year, the most prolific college scorer (per game) of all time.
If such accomplishment was predestined by background, it never could have been foretold by appearance. Pistol Pete was born 20 years ago in a Sewickley, Pa., hospital on a day that fell, luckily, between road trips of the Pittsburgh Iron-men professional team. At the time, Press and Helen Maravich were living in Aliquippa, Pa., while Press played pro ball, but shortly thereafter Press started moving around to coaching jobs, enabling Pete to grow up sitting beside his father, watching him chew his towel and sporadically blow up, on the benches of a hundred college field houses. The story of how Press first got little Pete interested in the game has become shopworn, but it is worth retelling. One day Press was shooting at a basket in the yard of his home in Clemson, S.C., when Pete came out and took a shot. He missed. Press says he knew then he had the boy hooked, and Pete says he hasn't stopped shooting since.
Throughout his high school years in Clemson and, later, in Raleigh, N.C., Pete developed trick skills with a ball that his father never believed possible. "I was a good guard," says Press. "I could shoot, drive, move well. And I gave him the fundamentals. But this between-the-legs, behind-the-back, blind stuff Pete does, I never even thought of that. I couldn't carry his shoes the way he is today."
All of Pete's tricks and his vast repertoire of shots have been made into a movie, Homework Basketball, which never fails to amaze its viewers, including Carl Stewart, the coach of all-black McKinley High in Baton Rouge, who, after one showing, exclaimed, "My god, he's one of us!" Pete's exceptional talents became so conspicuous two years ago that Press, who had long held to the theory that his son would be better off playing for someone other than his father, decided he would like Pete for himself. The decision came after Pete had averaged 33 points a game for Edwards Military Academy in Salemburg, N.C., and while Press was choosing whether to stay on in the head-coaching job at North Carolina State or take a similar post with either LSU or the Baltimore Bullets of the NBA.
"I told Dad he had always said his life was with kids, and that there weren't many kids in the pros," says Pete. "We discussed the problems of being together, but we both liked the idea of reviving basketball someplace. And LSU looked awfully good to me."
Father and son both deny any realization of the inevitability of their joining forces, and Press insists the decision was always Pete's. But one senses it was the only way either of them could have gone. "I think now that they both knew it all along," says Helen Maravich. "I am sure Pete would have regretted it if he hadn't come with Press."
At LSU the Maraviches are the sole support of a very weak Southeastern Conference team that started off well but has since come down to earth with a 14-10 record. The team is obliged to play in a decaying old agricultural center whose seating capacity of 8,800 is adequate, though its timetable of events leaves something to be desired. A walking-horse show annually keeps the Tigers from preseason practices in the building, and a rodeo has always made it necessary for LSU to finish its season on the road. However bizarre the surroundings, they nevertheless seem to go nicely with that of the resident celebrity, who scarcely resembles the savior his acclaim might suggest.
The socks Pistol Pete wears in games, for instance, are the subject of close observation and continual comment in Baton Rouge. In contrast with the bright white socks worn by his fellow players, Maravich's are old and gray. Heisted property of the North Carolina State athletic department, they droop around his ankles throughout a game and then are washed and dried in Pete's dorm room afterward.
His body quite necessarily also droops. He is 6'5" but weighs only 170 pounds, and it is obvious that he is a late bloomer. Probably he will not fill out all the way until after his college years.