It was a routine practice session last year until Clyde Lee said a naughty word. Everyone froze. While the hush rang off the sides of the empty Vanderbilt field house, Lee began to turn rose-pink, starting at the tip of his scalp and spreading nonstop over his 6 feet 9 inches. Eventually the silence was broken by a giggle that led to genuine guffaws and, with Lee still blushing violently, practice continued. Clyde Lee, as all Nashville will tell you, is the finest player Vanderbilt has ever had, and he is also shy, devout, almost never loses his temper and never, never says naughty words. Until last year, when an opponent stuck an elbow in his ear, Lee usually apologized for getting in the way. A lot of this has to do with the long, skinny legs that inevitably assemble under gangly ninth-graders. Lee, at age 15, was almost 6 feet 4 and hated it. "I didn't play basketball then," he recalls, "because I wouldn't be caught dead in those short pants." Eventually his high school coach convinced Lee that no one was going to laugh at him because he was tall for his age and as a concession allowed him to practice in sweat pants. But even when his long skinny legs became long sturdy ones Lee remained half a foot taller than his opponents and determined not to take advantage of such an asset.
Last year Lee turned up for fall practice dead tired after playing 49 games in 40 days on a summer tour of the Far East. Still, Vanderbilt won the SEC, because Roy Skinner is a coach who can blend all kinds of talent and because Lee can do more while hardly trying than most players can going full tilt. But, thought Skinner, if he could only get Lee to snap, crackle and pop! Just before the game with Miami of Ohio, Skinner showed Lee an opposing team's scouting report. Lee read that he was a poor defender and an indifferent rebounder and that he was easy to push around. He was wide-eyed and shocked. Then came 1) the naughty word, 2) a school rebound record against Miami (26) which he broke again several nights later, and 3) enough points and blocked shots the rest of the season to make him an All-America.
Along with Lee, Skinner has Keith Thomas, who shoots so accurately that the coach called a press conference this fall when the 6-foot-3 guard missed one in practice. Bo Wyenandt and Bob Warren are sophomores but they are also 6 feet 5 and quick, and the only problem is whether to use them as forwards or guards. To get the ball in to Lee in the pivot, Jerry Southwood, an excellent floorman, is back after missing a semester. All Skinner needs is another provocative scouting report.
Kenny Washington, fresh from Beaufort, S.C., sat in Hollis Johnson's soda fountain in Westwood Village in Los Angeles, having lunch with a white boy from Kentucky. It was the fall of 1962, and they were freshmen at UCLA. "I'd never spoken much to white people in Beaufort," Washington says, remembering his nervousness. "Why, I'd never even been in a restaurant before. When they asked me what kind of salad dressing I wanted, I didn't say a thing. I didn't know about salad dressing." This year Washington and the Kentucky boy, Doug McIntosh, have the chance to accomplish what no one else ever has—to play on the maximum possible number (three) of national championship basketball teams.
Ironically, this distinction may fall upon two players who have yet to become recognized stars. McIntosh did start last year, but his talents are the unobtrusive sort, and he has never been a big scorer. Washington, a fast, springy 6 feet 2, has seldom started a game, but he has already become the most famous sixth man in college basketball history. He came off the bench in the title game against Duke in 1964 to score 26 points and snare 12 rebounds; last season, in the finals, he went in earlier than usual and scored 17 to lead the surge over Michigan.
Washington arrived in L.A. by a devious route whose last stage was a three-day Greyhound ride from Beaufort. Turned down at many schools because he was too small, Kenny went to live for a summer with a married sister in Philadelphia so that he could meet and play with UCLA star Walt Hazzard. Hazzard was impressed enough to call UCLA and tell Coach John Wooden that Washington was 6 feet 5 and 210 pounds. Wooden said to send him along, and Assistant Coach Jerry Norman went to meet the Beaufort bus. "I kept looking for this giant Hazzard said could jump over the basket," Norman says, "but all I saw was this rather scrawny kid, scared to death. When no one else got off, I knew it was Kenny." Kenny was scared, and not just of coaches who thought he was going to be 6 feet 5. "I had no background for UCLA," he recalls. "I didn't know how to study. I was lost in that huge library. But this was paradise, and I wanted to stay. I was going to stay." His father, a career Marine sergeant, traveled to Kansas City to see Kenny star against Duke. Last December his mother and a sister came out from Beaufort. They flew, and the trip was on Kenny. He had saved up so they could travel all that way to see him come off the bench.
This year Kenny will start, along with All-America Ed Lacey, Mike Lynn, Fred Goss and either Mike Warren or McIntosh. But the spark of Gail Goodrich and the superb safety-man play of Keith Erickson are gone. Though best in the West, UCLA will have trouble earning more than regional top ranking.