As unlikely as this will sound to cosmopolites, Brigham Young University, hidden off there in Utah, has more pretty girls on its campus than any other place in the whole world. This includes such competition as Hollywood and Vine, where the girls are too painted, and Radio City Music Hall, where the routine is too perfect. And nowhere is the BYU charm more evident than at Cougar basketball games, where some of the prettiest coeds on campus dance (imperfectly) and lead the cheers at half time, a program guaranteed to make the evening worthwhile, win or lose the game. The swirl of brief blue skirts and flags and flashing teeth is so stunning that it frequently delays the half-time run on hamburger stands until after the teams resume play. This situation has never done much for professional basketball scouts, but it would drive a Minsky's scout wild. "You know what this is?" shouted one sportswriter who came to watch them play and stayed to see them dance. "All this is a big, wild, wonderful, gigantic peep show!" By last week it was becoming clear that BYU may be off to its best year ever. That is, the team has won a little and lost a little, and the girls have won them all.
This adoration of the campus cream-puffs is not to imply that Brigham Young loves its basketball team less. Absolutely not. Never was any team so loved and never were 12 gangly men treated with such tender care. They are celebrities. Students seek them out. Their training-table menu starts with steak, is laced through with uncarbonated green punch (Mormons do not drink anything stronger than uncarbonated punch) and ends with orange sherbet. The team physician is a basketball nut who hovers just a groan away. Respect fills the air. But all this basketball excellence is strange and new. With potentially the best team the school has ever had, Brigham Young wants a national championship badly. Failing that, it will settle for a national something.
"So much for the choreography," said one professor, rubbing his hands together after last week's 112-71 slaughter of Ohio State. "So we've always had beautiful girls. In fact, we could two-platoon the whole world with beautiful girls. All right. Now let's take this basketball team to the top."
In winning five and losing two the BYU team has looked terribly good and terrifically bad, but it is clearly starting to play well as a unit. The Cougars run so fast they become a sort of blurred blue-and-white background for those jumping-up-and-down dancing girls, and this season the customers hardly know which to watch. The 12-man lineup is really two teams—one of them the intact freshman crew from last year that beat all comers in the mountain country while averaging 109 points a game. The first string is faster and better. Play in the six-team Western Athletic Conference has not started yet, but already Jack Gardner, coach of archrival Utah, says BYU will win the title. He does not mean it, but at least he says it. So much for first place. Who will come in second? "Well," says Gardner, "I'll pick BYU's second team."
Brigham Young began to believe in itself when the team opened the season with two victories over Oregon. It lost twice to Wichita—who wouldn't in Wichita?—and then came back with two wins over Santa Clara. And last week the Cougars chewed up Ohio State while tying the school's single-game scoring record. Now the confidence and enthusiasm of the whole campus has spread through the team, too. They come out on the floor all loose-armed and relaxed, with the contemplative look of men who have just been at prayer, which they have. Six-foot-eight Center John Fairchild wears a faraway air as though he were listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir on an invisible transistor radio—and the effect is purest deception. He wears the same bemused look when he is flipping his surprisingly high, twisting jumper into the basket from 25 feet out, or plain-facedly murdering everybody within elbow distance on rebounds. But then, almost everything about Fairchild is different from what it seems. Around the campus he wears two pairs of sweat socks, boxer shorts over his jockey shorts, an undershirt and a battered sweat shirt under a tab-collar dress shirt—and still manages to look skinny.
All the other Cougars are as sneaky. BYU opponents so far this year have not been able to scout Playmaker-Guard Jeff Congdon because his early-Cousy style of play still has them confused. Congdon stands 6 feet 1, weighs 195 pounds, sets the patterns, directs the break and passes off the ball with roughly the velocity of a carbine shot. Against Santa Clara and Ohio State he hit most of his targets (plus a few of the spectators) on a dead run, threw a couple of passes into the rafters and on one key play doubled up the referee with a hard shot to the stomach. The BYU bench includes Center Craig Raymond, who may be the only 6-foot-11 player left in America who is not quite good enough to make a first team. Head Coach Stan Watts, an outwardly calm man full of inner demons, admits that his boys are still ragged. "But they have the spark," he says. "The spark of greatness. If they ever really catch fire they will burn the ground bare for miles around."
In the Cougar dressing room Fairchild daubs green skin lubricant on his blistered ankles, pastes patches of bandages over the ointment, tapes thick felt pads to the bottoms of his feet and then plasters a big padded bandage across his kidneys. "We play rough," he explains. "But we're not worried about this season. Not worried. After every game I just quietly go to bed, and I shake until 2 o'clock and then I go to sleep."
There is reason to believe that Coach Watts shakes until at least 4 o'clock. This growing fighting mood is something new to Brigham Young University. The school has sat tightly and quietly for years because it has wanted it that way. It is an all-Mormon school, and the Mormons had enough trouble with the rest of the country back in the days of cowboys and Indians, lynchings and religious persecution. The school was founded in a mood of seclusion and peace, and that's the way it has been.
Brigham Young lies hidden in foothills, with Utah's Wasatch Mountains on one side and several thousand acres of peaceful valley on the other side, and somewhere down there is a village called Pleasant Grove. It figures. The 17,800 BYU students never stir up trouble, and they would not dream of staging a demonstration for civil rights. Aside from basketball, last month was about as wild as it gets: one undergraduate stayed in a dormitory shower for 47 hours and claimed a new record for this sort of thing. Of course, it may be a little early in the season to claim a national championship for that, too.
In the athletic office, Publicist Dave Schulthess leans back and looks out his window at the changing classes. There are no signs, but the students are all walking on the sidewalks and not on the grass. It is a conditioned BYU reflex. "Sometimes it gets so peaceful here," says Dave gravely, "that weaker professors have been known to crack under the lack of pressure. They come running into the dean's office and scream something like, 'Where's the action?' and threaten to resign." When this happens the standard procedure is to send the prof outside just at dusk to watch the sun setting behind Mount Timpanogos, which lies huge and still beyond the new dormitories and football stadium. Looking at the mountain never fails to bring on a feeling of great inner calm, and over the years it has saved the school millions of dollars in salaries.