On the Pacific Coast, where seven of the last 14 NCAA champions have been produced, a number of schools are gearing up for the joyous day next June when Lew Alcindor finally leaves UCLA. Their good sophomores and juniors are poised to strike in 1969-70, but their impact will be felt this season, too. Cal and Santa Clara are already good enough for the top 20—and University of the Pacific in Stockton, Calif. is not far behind.
Pacific is nearly two deep at every position and could upset Santa Clara for the West Coast Athletic Conference title. Tom Jones, a 6'9" junior center, was team MVP as a sophomore, and he is smarter and less spindly now. He hooks well with either hand. Coach Dick Edwards also has the nation's third-best free thrower, Guard Fred Carpenter, just a junior; 6'5�" Forward Pat Foley, a rugged defender and rebounder; and lots more. Edwards is greedy, though. He wishes he could use his Stockton-bred freshman, 6'9�" John Gianelli, on the varsity. Another possible upsetter in the WCAC is San Jose State, led by 6'10" Coby Dietrick.
In the Pacific-8, Coach Bob Boyd is building a solid program at USC, a constant winner in practically every other sport but for years second fiddle to crosstown-rival UCLA in basketball. The Trojans have a very strong freshman team, loaded with high school players-of-the-year, and the varsity is not bad, either. Boyd has no one to replace Forward Bill Hewitt, drafted first by the L.A. Lakers, but he does have an improved, Alcindor-sized center in Ron Taylor, 7'1", and a 6'9" sub, Ivan Browning, plus four good guards, led by Steve Jennings and Mack Calvin.
Hopes at Oregon State were punctured when hot-shooting Guard Vince Fritz hurt his back while working out last summer. Doctors have prescribed complete rest, which means he very likely will sit out all of this season and return post-Alcindor, when 7' Vic Bartolome and 6'9" Gary Freeman also will be seniors.
A few years ago nobody considered Texas at El Paso for the preseason top 20, and the Miners proceeded to sweep out of the desert like the Mohammedan hordes and win the NCAA title. They will be tough this time out, too, but not of championship caliber—mainly because of lack of height. Coach Don Haskins' best player is 6' Guard Nate Archibald, another in a long line of UTEP imports from New York City, who led the team in scoring last season as a sophomore (15.8 points per game). Where are the David Lattins and Bad News Barneses to sweep the boards? Unfortunately, not in El Paso for UTEP's first season as a full-fledged Western Athletic Conference club. "I can't really fault this bunch," says Haskins, one of the best defensive coaches in the country (he learned his basketball under Hank Iba at Oklahoma State). "They try hard. They want to have a good team. However, we are so small that we'll have to have 6'4" and 6'5" guys covering some who will be 6'8", 6'9" or, in many cases, 6'10"." UTEP's best newcomer is Pies Vann, a 6'4" Tulsa product who went to junior college in Idaho. He is a solid defensive player and fairly good scorer. There are three good red-shirts, too, but not one of them is over 6'5".
Wyoming has the same problem, plenty of good players but all of them built too close to the court. Still, the WAC coaches, after jinxing New Mexico with the favorite's role, picked the Cowboys to finish second. The best reason is 6'2" Guard Harry Hall, who comes from a little town in Illinois not too far from the home town of ex-Wyoming star Flynn Robinson. Hall averaged 20.4 points last season in Coach Bill Strannigan's shuffle offense.
Also returning is 6'7" Center Carl Ashley, who was first-team All-WAC with Hall and just behind him in scoring, and 6'6" junior Forward Steve Popovich, who has gained 20 badly needed pounds with a weight-lifting program. Strannigan thinks his other cornerman, 6'5" junior Stan Dodds, is the best prospect to come out of Wyoming since Kenny Sailors in the '40s. Dodds missed playing in the NIT last season because of a broken ankle. He is from Green River, Wyo., which is not far from Mountain View and Rock Springs but is a long way from anyplace else, including Louisville and New York, this year's tournament sites.
Arizona State has lots of experience and the excellent guard, Seabern Hill, and Brigham Young has a much-sought-after big man, Paul Ruffner from Cerritos JC in California, but the Western school with the really big names is Weber State in Ogden, Utah, the defending champion of the Big Sky Conference. The Wildcats have Justus Thigpen, Willard Sojourner and Sessions Harlan.
Thigpen was a substitute early last season and came off the bench to win the MVP trophy in the Golden Spike Tournament. He finally won a starting job and averaged 16.4 points. Sojourner, a 6'8" center who somehow sojourned his way to Utah from Philadelphia, has only been playing the game for 2� years; before that his sport was swimming. Harlan is a quick guard from Detroit. Coach Dick Motta left to work for the Chicago Bulls and turned over the reins and the wild names to his assistant, Phil Johnson.
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