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Now that Coach Pete Peletta's ulcers are acting up again, the doctors and his pretty wife Ginny have laid down a few laws. For one, Peletta must cut out his usual pregame diet of coffee and cigarettes. In their place, food, of all things, has been prescribed. Unfortunately, this may cause a problem for Peletta's new center, 6-foot-8, 225-pound Erwin Mueller. Mueller, who is moving over from forward, also used to move over at pre-game meals and polish off Peletta's plate after he was through with his own. Obviously, now, what is sauce for the coach cannot be sauce for the center.
Mueller's dietary exploits have long been more consistent than his play, which has varied from very good to, well, the sort of things that cause coaches to get ulcers. He has, however, always been amazingly accurate within a few feet of a Pepsi. A group of entrepreneurs on campus were shrewd enough to reconnoiter his room after school closed one year, and recovered 240 empty quarts. However bottomless, Mueller is nevertheless inclined toward thinness, and when he went down to 205 near the end of last season he was put on a food supplement, a thick, milk shakelike substance. Mueller had no problems in switching. On a dare, he chug-a-lugged a double-sized glass in five seconds, which teammates promote as the world record. This past summer the Foremost Dairy plant—presumably on a dare also—hired Mueller, and his weight went up 15 pounds. Then school started, and Foremost Dairy stockholders breathed easily again. The unlimited milk supply and a daily quart of ice cream apparently arrested Mueller's weight loss, but, as teammate Joe Ellis reveals, Erwin will burp every so often, "and then we know he's been hitting the Pepsi again."
Mueller moves to center in place of the graduated All-America, Ollie Johnson, and how he manages there will greatly determine how USF does this year. In each of the last two seasons UCLA's toughest games on the way to the title were against the Dons, and Johnson is about all USF has lost. Ellis, a slender 6 feet 6, who can play forward or guard, will again handle the opponents' best man. Ellis played on the U.S. team this summer in Europe with the likes of Bill Bradley, Fred Hetzel and Lou Hudson. He learned, Peletta says, how good he really is. The Dons have a weak spot up front, but two good guards in Russ Gumina and Larry Blum. And the team plays defense in the best USF tradition. If coach and center eat well enough, San Francisco should win another WCAC title and again be a big worry for UCLA.
Ron Sepic is 6 feet 4 and 215 pounds, which is a good start for a man called on to be a backcourt bullyboy. With his wavy black hair and deep-set, dark eyes, however, Sepic looks more like the leading man than the bad guy. He was a high school All-America football end, but he gave up head-cracking for the slightly more delicate pursuit of basketball—a decision that sent OSU Football Coach Woody Hayes into a personal display of three yards and a cloud of dust. Now Sepic plans to pass up pro basketball for medical school or microbiology. When he was younger, Sepic gave up playing the saxophone. "I got so embarrassed," he says, "because I was so big and everybody else playing instruments was small"—a notion that, considering the likes of Fats Domino and Al Hirt, is quite original. Last year, as a sophomore, Sepic was at peace as a forward, looking up at bigger opponents, and then cutting by them and jumping over them to average 15 points and lead the team in rebounds. But Coach Fred Taylor was ruminating. He had two others from his strong front line—Andy Ahijevych and Bob Dove—coming back, and moving up from the freshmen was the eagerly awaited Bill Hosket. Frequently and favorably compared to Jerry Lucas and to his own late father, a former OSU center, the 6-foot-7 Hosket averaged 32 points and 17 rebounds with the freshmen. But back-court prospects lacked size, so Taylor decided to make the bold switch and send Sepic to guard. There Taylor envisions Sepic providing firm leadership and, when he can pull his small back-court opponents inside, working off a little of the saxophone complex on them.
Sepic had never really played guard until the final week of last season, when Taylor previewed him in the job. This summer, back home in Uniontown, Pa., Sepic worked out at guard with the former West Virginia All-America, Rod Thorn. "I still can't dribble," he admits, "and I guess I'm having even more trouble adjusting to defense, staying with the quick little guys. I know I've got to learn to shoot more on the move, too, and not fade away. But I think it will come."
The move supplies even more spice to an anticipated five-way battle in the Big Ten among Michigan, Iowa, Michigan State, Minnesota and the Buckeyes. "I'll tell you this," Taylor says. "We've got to beat Michigan in that first one [the league opener for both teams, January 8 in Columbus] to prove to the rest of the Big Ten they can be beaten, or it's curtains." And that, incidentally, is when Sepic will match up against an even bigger guard, a 6-foot-5 230-pounder named Cazzie Russell.
Westley Unseld of Louisville, Ky. and the University of Louisville is probably the best big man among the sophomores. "Unseld is better by far than Lew Alcindor," one pro scout says, referring to UCLA's touted freshman. Westley shudders at such talk. He is a modest, sensitive youngster who seems surprised by his new position in his own community. Ticket sales have already set a record at Louisville. Peck Hickman, the pudgy athletic director, was rumored to be thinking of retiring himself as basketball coach, but such talk fades a little more each time Unseld gets the ball. As he rambles across the tree-lined city campus, Unseld is already a 6-foot-8 ambulatory landmark; people point him out and wave, and he always responds. Johnny Unitas snuck in and out of Louisville pretty quietly, but Louisville is not going to let that happen to Unseld. Fortunately, he seems able to handle all the hoopla that will surround him for the next three years. On the court he is an unselfish team man. Last year's Louisville freshmen averaged 112 points per game against the likes of Sue Bennett JC and the Louisville All-Stars, and Unseld was plain embarrassed by a lot of what went on. His average was 35 points and 23 rebounds, but he always turned to passing as soon as things were settled. Off the court, he suffered no delusions of grandeur either. The equipment department, for instance, once issued him a pair of shorts that were too tight. Rather than complain, he simply took them home and had his mother let them out to fit.