Having completed a chili-hot 28-1 season by beating Kentucky for the NCAA title last spring, the Texas Western Miners flew home to El Paso for an airport reception and a parade along streets lined by an estimated 120,000 ecstatic people. Coach Don Haskins was a little surprised that his players just soaked up the acclaim quietly. "You'd have expected the boys to be jubilant," Haskins said. "But they took it in stride." He should not have been surprised at all; his athletes would not get ruffled if someone put red ants in their sneakers. "The boys thought they were going to win the championship game," he admitted afterward. "They thought they were going to win all year long. Their confidence disturbed me, but they kept coming through." Five of his seven best players are back to disturb Haskins this season. TW has the shooters passers, rebounders and relentless defenders to be an NCAA favorite in any non-Alcindor year. Bobby Joe Hill, who may be the quickest player on campus, is around to steal the ball, fly downcourt with it and flip in one of his wild layups. Guard Willie Worsley is several inches under 6 feet, but he can stuff. "He might one day be the greatest player I ever had," says Haskins. Back, too, are 6-5 Willie Cager, who shifts smoothly from guard to forward, and 6-8 Forward-Center Nevil Shed. Behind them is 6-10 sophomore Phil Harris from upstate New York, who plays well despite the loss of his right pinky and left ring finger in a childhood accident. There are even some Texans on the team, notably the glowering 6-7, 240-pound David Lattin, who shoots his awkward-looking but accurate jump shot on the way down from the top of his leap. The Miners have a stronger schedule this year, including Brigham Young, Kansas, New Mexico, Seattle, Tulsa and Wichita State, and their best shooter (Orsten Artis) and most consistent rebounder (Harry Flournoy) are gone. But their most reliable weapon remains: Haskins' octopus defense, in which his men relentlessly turn all plays into the middle until the flustered opponent becomes convinced that even the public-address announcer is in there trying to claw the ball away.
In a neighborhood where a man takes a bullet through the belly and lives to fight another day, the Houston basketball team is right up there in the muscle-and-guts department. Consider Ken Spain, a 6-9, 235-pound sophomore for whom Darrell Royal would have given a couple of steers. Spain chose to go to Houston and play basketball. Big as he is, he takes a pounding from the other monsters Coach Guy Lewis has assembled—Don (T-Bear) Kruse, 6-8, 235; Leary (The Tree) Lentz, 6-6, 220; Elvin (The Big E) Hayes, 6-8, 235; Melvin (The Savage) Bell, 6-7, 240. Lewis just stands there in tiny Jeppesen Gym, permitting his specimens to thunder up and down the court, thrashing and intimidating each other, until the inevitable happens: somebody pulls back his arm to deliver a right hook to the jaw. Lewis blows his whistle, smiles, waits a minute and starts everything up again, meanwhile contemplating what this huge team might do to opponents. What they will do is beat them. The Cougars won 23 games last season, scoring more than 100 points 14 times and displaying, in Hayes, one of the best centers around. As a sophomore, Big E averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds and shot 56% while often playing the fiercest defense since Bill Russell was at San Francisco. Now he has The Savage, who broke most of Big E's freshman records last year, to help him. The prospects are frightening. Houston has a play this year in which The Savage takes a pass, fires to and cuts around The Tree, who can either pass back to The Savage on one side or to Big E cutting to the other side. No one gets around The Tree, no one gets near The Savage—and Big E hasn't even got the ball yet. The backcourt is weak, though bolstered by quick Don Chaney. Still, Houston will again press all over the court, in order to force a fast break; it is the best offensive weapon available, because there are no good outside shooters. With a string of cream puffs on the schedule, it is possible that the Cougars will not lose a regular-season game. It is also conceivable that one night, after watching Houston warm up, some opponents will refuse to take off their sweat suits.
There was a time in Buffalo when Bob Cousy sat on the bench and watched another humiliation of his Boston College team, this time the bad Eagles being run off the court by a bad Canisius team. Two observers way up in the gray section nodded at each other, acknowledging their own sagacity. "Look at that," said one. "They're miserable now. But give that guy three years—he'll have the whole country playing for him, and then look out." It is now 1966, Boston College has given Cousy three years, and look out. He does not have the whole country, but he has collected a fair share of the eastern good ones—this is his first personally recruited group—and with a schedule that is not going to tax anybody too often, BC should be high in the polls all season. Cousy lost high-scoring Guard John Austin, but this may not hurt as much as it will help. Too many times last year the offensive movement was at the discretion of Austin, and he was not the type to master the situation. This season the man to do it has arrived. After a few games of watching and learning, 5-11 left-handed sophomore Bill Evans, a Cousy type if ever there was one, will move in and direct the tandem offense. This strategy places two men on either side of the lane under the basket and is designed to take advantage of the considerable shooting skills of Steve Adelman, 6-5, who came on remarkably fast as a sophomore last year and averaged more than 30 points a game in the last third of the season. Veterans Willie Wolters and Jim Kissane, both 6-8, and another fine sophomore, Terry Driscoll, 6-7, complete a strong forecourt. Jack Kvancz and Steve Kelleher are backcourt veterans, while Doug Hice, 6-2, is a valuable swing man. Cousy is understandably worried about defense and spends an exceptional amount of practice time on it. A bigger question is: After more than a decade in the pros, has he really adapted fully to the differences of the college game? "It has been tough," he says. "But I am learning more and more. At first I was inflexible, maybe unaware of the limitations of college players. But now I think I am adapting to situations much better. Everything is coming easier."
Two years ago, at the Dapper Dan tournament in Pittsburgh, where Pennsylvania takes on the world in high school basketball, Isiah King, up from New Orleans, Bernie Williams, up from Washington, and Larry Cannon, over from Philadelphia, met and became fast friends. The three held off the college bird dogs and decided they would go to school together. They played, in effect, blindman's buff: "First man decides, we all go there," they agreed. Isiah was first. He decided on La Salle in Philadelphia, which was square with Bernie because he has friends and relatives there and square with Larry because he lives there. Of such friendships and pacts are basketball championship dreams made. Every thing was square, in fact, as the three led the La Salle frosh to almost as marvelous a season as that other freshman team out on the Coast. But—trouble in paradise—in the classroom Isiah was last. He did not make his grades and had to leave. A good thing Bernie and Larry did not extend the pact that far. They are back, and they are something. In practice 6-3 Bernie goes one-on-one up and down the court against La Salle's prolific shooter, 6-foot Hubie Marshall. Bernie sways and feints with a waist-high dribble that he protects beautifully with his body, and he is going to be a superstar. Marshall, who averaged 27 points last year, is simply a star. Cannon, a strong 6-5, jumps out of buildings. He works against 6-4 George Paull, a returning senior who would be La Salle's top forward were it not for Cannon. Stan Wlodarczyk, 6-6, is the third new starter, and 6-5 Joe Markmann, 6-8 Fran Scott and 5-6 Curt Marshall (Hubie's brother) are all sophomores who have made the squad. "I don't really like to get too optimistic, because I could get hung," says Coach Joe Heyer, a sophomore at his job, too, "but I don't feel there is much coaching to do." Heyer is obviously the most important of the second-year men. He is 28, looks like the kid in the Vitalis commercial—the one who uses greasy kid stuff—and is a member of Philadelphia's swinging, bachelor-but-looking-hard set. His debut last season was remarkable. He took over the day before the season started when Bob Walters was stricken with ulcers and, along with teaching high school, finishing up a master's degree and coaching both the freshmen and the varsity, put together a disciplined group that upset Brigham Young, Temple and Louisville. There will be no element of surprise this year, however. "We'll start pressing from the whistle, full-court," he says. "We're going to take it to 'em this year."
About 20 yards off the Union Turnpike, which carries the madding—and maddening—crowds home from Manhattan to Long Island every evening, is the Alumni Hall gym of St. John's University. St. John's is one of very few schools which recruit basketball players solely in their own areas, and it is justly proud of the percentage of good ones it gets. "But I am a bit tired of explaining about the one we didn't get," says Coach Lou Carnesecca. Everybody keeps asking Lou about this because the one he didn't get is Lew Alcindor, who used to play around in Alumni Hall. "We never had a shot," is the explanation of officials. "It's a shame for us and for all of eastern basketball," is the invariable following statement. Carnesecca does have two of Alcindor's former teammates and he would, presumably, make the trade. But do not cry for him. The Redmen have the material to rough up quite a few teams. The name Sonny Dove sounds like some kind of hand lotion, but Sonny is 6-8, 195 pounds, and was one of the better big men in the country last year when he averaged 21 points. Returning also are 6-7, 215-pound Rudy Bogad and 6-4 Jack Brunner up front and Guards Brian Hill and Albie Swartz. However, St. John's will have to counter the loss of Bob McIntyre and Bob Duerr as scorers with two sophomores and wait patiently for a third to develop. On one of his rare outside forays for talent, Carnesecca stole Carmine Calzonetti out from under the Philadelphia scouts in south Jersey. Carmine is 6-1, quick, a fine ball handler, shooter and defender and will be worked in slowly. But John Warren, 6-3, who led the frosh with a 20-point average, will probably be thrown in to sink or swim right away. His leaping ability alone should enable him to swim. A third soph, 6-9, 220-pound Danny Cornelius, has unlimited potential, but he is only 18 years old and lacks finesse. If Danny develops more quickly than expected, the St. John's forecourt of Sonny, Rudy and Danny will be able to play the Green Bay Packers even up. And those commuters will forget about the one that got away.
As often happens, the two teams that met for the NCAA championship last year were surprises to many. But, somehow, Texas Western and Kentucky got there. An odd call, a flu bug, one poor grade—all these change preseason form as much as the unexpected flowering of young talent. And there will be surprises this year, undoubtedly. In the East, Providence has the best one-on-one guard and the area's most exciting player, 6-3 Jim Walker, but it will be a minor miracle if Walker carries the team to a national title. Miami of Florida has four starters returning, including quick Guards Junior Gee and Rick Jones, and adds Villanova transfer Billy Soens. Dayton and Loyola, perennially strong, may be among the elite in the Midwest. Both teams have lost centers—6-11 Henry Finkel and 6-5 Billy Smith—but the Flyers have brawny Donnie May, who outrebounded Finkel, and everyone else back. Peripatetic Creighton is a sleeper. In the West, Weber State is the class of the Big Sky Conference, and two independents will sneak up on a lot of people. Seattle, tall, swift and deep, handed Texas Western its only loss last season, and is the same team except for Elzie Johnson, lost through bad grades. And at Logan, Utah, the Aggies of Utah State have three junior college transfers, 7-foot Larry Bunce, 6-6 Shaler Halimon and 6-4 Fred (Luckie) Smith, to bring them back to national prominence.