In 1963 U.S. manufacturers of that remarkable Yankee invention, the basketball, produced three million new ones, or roughly enough to provide every man, woman and child in Omaha with 10 apiece. Since only a few Omahans actually own 10 basketballs, this leaves a large number unaccounted for, and since early December Associate Editor John Underwood has been trying to track the rest of them down. It is a job that will last until Easter.
What Underwood is really looking for is not so much basketballs as the teams, at the college level, that are making the best use of their quota. In his search he has inspected—and written stories about—most of the very best: UCLA, Michigan, Villanova, Loyola of Chicago and Kentucky, to mention a few. This week, in a preview of the forthcoming NCAA Championship, he tells how he thinks it will all come out.
To produce the preview Underwood called not only on his own observations but also on the knowledge of 18 special SI correspondents across the U.S., who last week sent him close to 40,000 words of scouting reports on teams they have been watching all year. The correspondents were asked to assess in detail the various styles of offense and defense, strong and weak points, individual standouts and current form as it applies to tournament pairings right now. What Underwood makes of this fund of inside information will be found on page 20.
The son of a charter boat captain from the Bahamas, Underwood came to SPORTS ILLUSTRATED two years ago from the Miami Herald, where the smooth, easy-reading style and light Underwood touch was first developed over a variety of sports and general news assignments stretching from the Orange Bowl to murder trials, Cuban road races and Cape Kennedy space shots. He once played golf with Evangelist Billy Graham ("He beat me, putting cross-handed," Underwood says), rode in a limousine with Governor Rockefeller ("We had a flat tire") and in 1959 roamed Fort Lauderdale beach in Bermuda shorts until 5 a.m. posing as a rioting college student. Although he covered the complete Floyd Patterson-Ingemar Johansson trilogy, Underwood considers the best punch he ever saw a right cross delivered at the Miss Universe contest of 1961 when Miss Mississippi clobbered Miss United States "for telling lies about my origin." Since joining SI, Underwood has concentrated more on the recognized intercollegiate sports
"Players now do more things and do them better than ever—except play defense," he says of the current basketball trends. "Watching the college teams you have to believe that high school coaches have quit teaching defense." The other development that bothers our 5-foot 11-inch basketball writer is the march toward 7 feet. "The University of Michigan, for example, has eight or nine players who can dunk a basketball. Fans cheer this but I see it as a nonfeat without esthetic quality. Sooner or later something will have to be done to make even the 7-footer learn what the game was originally supposed to be like."