If that seems to hint at a philosophical approach toward losing, it is misleading. Twenty-four years ago Iba came to Washington, D.C. for a game with George Washington University with what was then his best team, led by Bob Kurland, the first of the good seven-footers. The next year this team won the NCAA title, but that night GW upset it by four points and the crowd literally went berserk. Fans swarmed out of the stands and onto the court, laughing, crying, singing, hugging players while the band pumped out Happy Days Are Here Again—18 straight times.
Later that night on the train back to Chicago, Iba was slumped in a seat, his hat pulled over his eyes. Suddenly he sat up and said, "Those people sure were happy [pause]. I don't believe I've ever seen a happier group of people [pause]. Hell, we can't go around the country making people happy."
Iba has never been known as a bundle of laughs in the enemy camp. And it is one of his traits to be at his most unsettling against teams he has no business beating. Kansas, for instance, came into Stillwater 10 years ago with Wilt Chamberlain on its team and a national championship on its mind. "We can gang up on Wilt," Iba told his players, "and slough off the others. Or, we can give Wilt his 30 and hound the other four right into the floor." Iba decided on the latter. With three minutes left in the game, Wilt had his 32 points. And the rest of the Kansas players had gotten the Iba treatment and a total of 22. Kansas had been averaging 73 points a game, but its 54 was the same as OSU's. At that point the Jayhawks still had Chamberlain but OSU had the ball, and this situation never has done much for a rival's national ranking. Kansas knew what was coming—mostly nothing, until an OSU player would have a shot he almost never missed. With two seconds left, OSU had worked Mel Wright free at the top of the circle. Zap, he had the ball. Zap, he let go his jumper, a shot he made nine out of 10 times in practice. And Kansas was beaten.
The past two seasons have not been winning ones at OSU, and the murmuring has begun that Iba has lost his touch, that ball control is old-fashioned. While everyone is following UCLA's lead with varieties of pressing defenses all over the court, Henry is still back there defending on his half of the floor only. The sport, say his critics, has passed old Henry by. (The U.S. Olympic Committee, incidentally, doesn't quite agree. It made Iba head coach in 1964.) Finally, even Iba's friends ask, "Where are all the good players that used to show up regularly at the OSU campus?"
Iba's answer to the last point is: "In the old days, the name of the game was coaching. Now? now, it's recruiting. And I've been lazy. I used to be able to see a boy in June, ask him to come to OSU and, by golly, there he'd be come fall. Now, after I see a boy, I've got to hound him and flatter him, flatter his parents, flood him with letters. God help us—don't let him forget old OSU! Truthfully, I haven't done the job until recently. But I'm not ready to retire. No, sir. If recruiting is the game, then I'll recruit."
There really is no point in asking Henry Iba if he is also going to switch to run-and-shoot basketball, just because it is now fashionable—if he is going to let his players go hell-for-leather down the floor ready to get off any kind of shot as quickly as possible. "Cut that out," he will say. Several years ago, after a losing game at Missouri in which OSU had given up 82 points—about what rivals used to get in a whole season against him—Iba decided what had to be done. Before the next game, also on the road at Kansas, he hustled his players into the gym and said, "Gents, this is a basketball. For the next three hours you are going to dribble it. You are going to pass it. And you will be allowed to shoot it exactly 30 times. So make them good shots. Make them very good shots."
The following night OSU took 19 very good shots in the first half and 18 very good shots in the second half. The score was OSU 54-Kansas 49. That's what Henry Iba still thinks about ball control.
As for the new pressing defenses, Iba has a surprise for his opponents this year. "I think the new defenses are terrific," he told a stunned audience the other day. Could this be the same man who, only months ago, had castigated the press and insisted that if referees called fouls correctly, pressing defenders would foul out of games within minutes? Would he actually use the press himself?
"Why not?" said Iba. "What I didn't like was all the fouling that went with it. It was a new thing and players were grabbing and banging, and because it also was new to the referees they were not calling the fouls. The refs are used to it now, and so are the players. Actually, I would have come out with it before, except we didn't have the guards to handle it."
Two years ago only one player returned from the OSU squad that had won the Big Eight Conference in 1965. "We tried the press in practice," said Iba, "and my guards were left looking at each other at the wrong end of the floor. Last year we also lost our starting guards [Ken O'Neal had grade trouble, and Jack Herron came down with mononucleosis] and we not only couldn't press, we couldn't even play defense the conventional way. This year Herron is back, and we are generally faster and deeper. Oh, yes, we'll come out and get'em this year." The conference is on notice.