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Of Course," said Olin Luke, "not everybody likes the fast break."
I nodded but did not reply immediately because I had a mouthful of apple crumb pie. I scraped the plate for the last of the crumbs and then took a swig of coffee.
"Mr. Luke," I said, "that was as fine a piece of apple crumb as I've ever tasted. My compliments to the pastry cook."
"I don't believe you'll get a better piece of pie in Egypt," said Mr. Luke, a slight, soft-spoken man of middle age, the proprietor of Luke's Caf� ("Always on the Square") which is on the square in Pinckneyville, Ill., a Perry County town 65 miles southeast of St. Louis. When Mr. Luke said Egypt he was, of course, referring to southern Illinois, which is called that because one of its principal towns is Cairo, 85 miles due south of Pinckneyville. Cairo (pronounced care-oh in the area) was so named because the Mississippi's habit of overflowing its banks at that point every springtime put the first settlers in mind of the River Nile.
"Mr. Luke," I said, "what is your feeling about the fast break?"
Mr. Luke took a sip of coffee and lit a fresh cigarette. "I go along with the times," he said.
Now this answer had considerable significance. What Mr. Luke says carries weight. He is the No. 1 basketball fan in P'ville (a town nickname deriving from the fact that Pinckneyville is too long a word to spell out in newspaper headlines and on basketball jerseys). His restaurant is buzzing with basketball talk from the time the doors open at 5:30 a.m. until they close at 1 o'clock the following morning. Mr. Luke has missed only five games of the P'ville High School Panthers in 18 years. If it hadn't been for a heart attack, he wouldn't have missed the five. He is very philosophical about the heart condition and, over the protests of his doctor, he drinks all the coffee he wants, smokes cigarettes, goes bowling and, of course, sees every basketball game. He has made one concession to his doctor: he lets Mrs. Luke do most of the work of running the caf�.
I swung around on the seat at the counter and looked out the window and saw people hurrying by, flapping their arms or holding gloved hands to their ears in the zero cold. It was warm and cheerful in Luke's and I was glad I had taken the advice of Mrs. Rackley, the taxicab driver. Mrs. Rackley had told me, as we drove from the Illinois Central depot to the Friendly Haven Motel, where I was stopping, that I'd learn all about the local basketball situation and get to know just about everybody in town if I did nothing more than just sit in Luke's place.
I sat staring out the window, pondering the import of what Mr. Luke had said about the fast break in basketball in light of what I had learned since I came to town. The facts were that P'ville had once been a powerhouse in Illinois high school basketball competition. This was when Merrill (Duster) Thomas was coach. He turned out consistently strong teams, sent eight of them to the state championship tournament at Champaign, won the state championship once and had a record of 17 and 7 in state tournament play when he decided to retire as coach two years ago and accept the newly created post of athletic director. Of course, Duster continues to teach his five classes in mathematics and chemistry.
As a monument to Duster Thomas' great record, a handsome new gymnasium had been built. It was financed by a special bond issue and, when it was completed, it was named Thomas Gymnasium. It was the last word in construction; there wasn't a pillar or a post to obstruct the view from any seat and it was big enough (allowing for a few lap-sitters and standees) to accommodate Pinckneyville's entire population of about 3,200 persons.