The most underrated basketball team in the country is Miami University. The Redskins are 13-1, and since last January they are 21-2 which is, after UCLA's, the best record for that period. But Miami remains unranked, mostly unnoticed and—worst of all—unable even to venture into combat with the simple name that the university borrowed from the Miami River in 1809.
For, despite the fact that Miami is the birthplace of college fraternities, the cradle of coaches and the home of McGuffey's Readers (the primer that educated the whole West), a Johnny-comelately Miami—which the Ohio school's humor magazine identifies as "the one on water skis"—has forever relegated the first Miami to this listing: Miami ( Ohio).
The Ohio players bear up under it, however. They call themselves " Miami-brackets-Ohio," and when they travel and people smile and ask them how the weather is back at college, they always answer that it is 85� and the sun is shining. It is just too much trouble to explain that the old, original, certified Miami is in Ohio. The Ohio Miami is located in Oxford, which is 35 miles northwest of Cincinnati. Oxford is also five miles northwest of Darrtown (pop. 200), the home of Walter Alston, manager of the Dodgers, which has become somewhat synonymous with nowhere. Every fall when the baseball season ends, folks in big wild Los Angeles smirk about how dull it must be for Alston back there in Darrtown. Well, this is how dull it is in Oxford: in Oxford they have to go to Darrtown to get a drink.
Miami is further isolated by a rule prohibiting students from having cars, and basketball itself is a private sort of thing, since Winthrow Court can hold only 3,000. But luckily for Coach Dick Shrider, Miami considers itself fraught with tradition, and it has a campus sprinkled with enough elm trees and red-brick Georgian architecture to make it one of the most beautiful in the nation. The Miami campus, in fact, looks exactly like the model for that movie campus where everybody hangs out at Pop's Malt Shoppe and talks about the big game coming up against State U. "All I ask," Coach Shrider says, "is just to get a boy up here in spring. Just get him here—when the grass is green and the coeds are walking around in those sweaters."
There is plenty of documentation for this thesis. Exhibit A this year is high scorer Jeff Gehring, who visited Miami one warm day four years ago, mostly just out of courtesy to his twin brother, John, who had already decided to enroll there. (Other twin news: John now holds the school high-jump record. Jeff goes with a cute Miami blonde named Mary Ann Fleck. He used to go with Mary Ann's twin sister.) "Well." Jeff says, "when I came down I really was set on going somewhere else. O.K., it was Bowling Green. But I just took one look at this place, and I remember I said, 'Hey, this is where I want to go to college." It was just like that."
Gehring's graduating class at Ottawa Hills in suburban Toledo had only 72 students, and it is from just such small schools that Shrider recruits most of his talent. More publicized Ohio schools like Ohio State and Cincinnati get the bigger names, and this year the Redskins are missing not just the names but the big star and even the big man. The center is Charley Dinkins, a converted high school forward who stands only 6 feet 5� and never played basketball before he was a junior in high school. Shrider gambled Dinkins would improve, and—even though he accidentally chopped off parts of two fingers in his freshman year at Miami—Dinkins has developed sufficiently to become the team's only real pro prospect.
But an even more interesting development has taken place, in miniature, in the person of Guard Johnny Swann, a glib young man—his teammates call him Words—who carries a portable record player on trips to make sure that the team will always be treated to his favorite rhythm and blues records. Swann is from White Sulphur Springs, W. Va., where his parents work at the swank Greenbriar Hotel. He is, stretching him to the full, 5 feet 10, but when he first arrived at Oxford he was 5 feet 5, 125 pounds, and people thought Shrider had lost his mind.
Swann has great spring and huge hands, and despite his size he can both palm and dunk a ball, pregame feats that rock old Winthrow Court for all it can take. Swann is also used to looking up. "When I was a sophomore in high school," he says, "I was 4 feet 11 and playing on the varsity. Of course I didn't do much shooting then. They just put me on the press. As a matter of fact, that's when they started using the press. What else could they do with me?"
Rounding out the starting team are Charley Coles and Jerry Peirson. Coles was class A (small school) player of the year in Ohio as a high school senior, but he walks as if his feet hurt and, at 6 feet, he did not appeal to the big colleges. Peirson, who is a ringer for Roger Maris and the only junior on the starting five, came to Miami because his high school coach was the brother of the then Miami assistant trainer. In such ways are fine teams meticulously recruited. The touchstone to this team is unity. Four of the starters have been playing together for 3� years, and Shrider has brought them along carefully. This is the first season that the Redskins are fast-breaking and free-lancing to any significant degree. But the players are so familiar with each other's actions that what is really a freelance play often looks as smooth as a pattern. Gehring and Coles are the high scorers, Swann drives the team, Peirson is the best on defense and Dinkins, the jumping little pivot man, has superb all-round skills.
Don Knobel, the assistant coach of Vanderbilt (the only team that has beaten Miami this year), says: "The thing about Miami is that it is such a team. There isn't a weakness. Oh, each of the players is weak in a couple of things, but overall, together, there is none. And they all can shoot." Indeed, the Redskins are hitting at .481 and, although four of them average in double figures, only eight times this year has a Miami player hit 20. As a team, Miami averages 86.2, 18th best in the nation. Defensively, using a tight, gambling man-to-man with zone tendencies, they have held opponents to 65.1 per game, a figure just out of the top 20. No team in the country, however, is as good at both ends of the court.