Small-college basketball is an often-neglected, much-maligned activity that is as scattered in location as it is varied in purpose. There are factories and academies, big schools and small, outlaws and angels. There are more small colleges, in fact, than anyone dares to count.
The quality of the game played by these myriad institutions has been held in little esteem outside of their home provinces until recently, when the rosters of professional teams began filling up with names from the hinterlands, names like: Earl Monroe ( Baltimore) of Winston-Salem, Jerry Sloan ( Chicago) of Evansville, Zelmo Beaty ( Atlanta) of Prairie View and Phil Jackson ( New York) of North Dakota.
There are, as the song says, many more where these came from, and the evidence suggests that this is the season small-college basketball may finally receive the recognition it deserves. The following are just a few of the schools to watch this winter:
Kentucky Wesleyan ( Owensboro, Ky.), which has won the NCAA College Division title two of the last three years and has four starters returning this season.
Cheyney State (Cheyney, Pa.), where Coach Hal Blitman's teams have won 100 games over the past four years and the Eastern Regionals of the NCAA College Division the past two. Hal Booker, 6'11", is a pro prospect.
Trinity ( San Antonio), whose Larry Jeffries averaged 29.6 points last year as the Tigers finished third in the land. He and nine other lettermen are back.
Central State (Wilberforce, Ohio), where Coach Bill Lucas is so deep in good rookies that he could win again with the players who took last year's NAIA championship sitting on the bench.
Ashland ( Ashland, Ohio), which walks to victory while others run. The Eagles, who consistently lead the country in defense, gave up only 38.8 points a game last season.
And Long Beach State ( Long Beach, Calif.), which is the new home of Jerry Tarkinian, formerly of the junior-college ranks. Three JC stars, including the legendary Sam Robinson, came along with the coach, and their talents foretell an awesome future.
While many of these and other colleges have neither the look nor the design of a minor basketball program ( Long Beach State has 22,000 students), it is still true that most of the College Division schools cherish their position and desire no other. Such a school is Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio.