Basketball, born in Springfield, Mass. and nurtured in such towns as Provo, Utah and Morgantown, W. Va., is challenging soccer as the No. 1 team sport in the capitals of the world. Europe, Asia and South America have regular international competition. Italy has professional leagues. The Baltimore Bullets now have a farm team in Spain. And everywhere abroad there is a desire for American instruction. The college team we pick in this issue as the best in the country, St. Joseph's of Philadelphia, took a 32-day, 20,000-mile tour of South America last summer and performed before enthusiastic crowds. The tourists played 17 games (losing one) and conducted almost twice that many clinics. St. Joe's benefited, too. "We played in warm gyms, cold gyms and outdoors when the players on the bench wore overcoats over their warmup uniforms," Coach Jack Ramsay says. "I feel now that we can play anybody anywhere and not be bothered by the crowd reaction."
The international game still goes as well in small towns as it does in large cities, and this suits Frank Deford, our gallivanting basketball writer, just fine. Though he comes from Baltimore, the seventh largest city in the country, De-ford is a hillbilly-music fan as well as a basketball nut, and he claims there is no place better than a small town for guitars and basketballs. He has been struggling vainly to cover Vanderbilt so he can see the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. "I have evolved an equation," Deford says, "which states that where the interest in country music is highest, so is the interest in basketball. I got into Albuquerque last year, and I figured it was too far out to be hillbilly territory. I could not have been more wrong. The place was a veritable treasure trove of good country music, and basketball interest was at a fantastic peak."
By hardly missing a nook or cranny in the nation, Deford manages to see almost every good team. Last year he covered 13 of the 15 major-college conference champions ( Vanderbilt, sadly, was one of the two he missed) and the two top small-college teams as well. His odyssey also took him past the front doors of Charles Finley of the Athletics in La Porte, Ind. and Walter Alston of the Dodgers in Darrtown, Ohio, a parlay that he doubts any baseball writer has attempted.
Deford feels that basketball fans are more curious than most travelers. "Baseball fans are lobby-sitters and moviegoers, and football fans are group-oriented, more party-conscious," he says. "Basketball people check out strange surroundings." De-ford's hero is Ralph Friberg, a University of San Francisco follower who likes to ride the buses in every city he visits with his beloved Dons. "Ralph will get to know a town's whole bus system—every route—within a day after he hits town," Frank says.
Gathering material for this issue, Deford stopped off at Lawrence, Kans. and Peoria, Ill. He says the country rhythms come in louder and clearer in those areas than in Philadelphia. Good for KU and Bradley, but music isn't everything. We still like St. Joe's.