In the years since, Kraft, a chunky, gray crew-cut man with the looks but not the disposition of a Marine DI, has never failed to dumbfound the opposition with his harassing "ball" defense and the ability to tailor an offense to his players. Not one of his teams has ever missed receiving a postseason bid to either the NCAA or NIT tournaments, and this year's Wildcats are just as good, perhaps better, than any of the others.
Kraft will continue to use his rigorous defense, but the offense, which has been slow-paced the past three years, will be as geared up as it was when Kraft first came to Villanova and Wally Jones engineered the attack. Key to the Wildcats' running game will be 6'8" junior Howard Porter, who led his nationally ranked team in both scoring (22.4 points a game) and rebounding in 1968-69. "Howard had the best sophomore year of any big man I've ever had," says Kraft, "and if preseason drills are any indication, he is better now. Particularly in driving to the basket." That is a frightening prospect for opponents who saw him rip off rebounds and zero in 25-foot jumpers a year ago.
While speedy, springy 6'6" Sam Sims or bulky sophomore Hank Siemiontkowski play center and help Porter with rebounding, senior Guard Fran O'Hanlon will quarterback the offense and defense from the point. O'Hanlon, an adept ball handler who looks about half of his 21 years, wears a moppet haircut and is the darling of the Main Line Catholic high school girls, is fast, but no more so than 6'5" sophomore Guard Chris Ford, or 6'5" Forward Clarence Smith. With that trio burning down the court, Kraft will have all the speed he needs to work his revved-up offense, especially since O'Hanlon and Ford are also excellent passers. Still, the coach is not entirely satisfied. "I'd like Howard to fill one of the lanes on the fast break to take advantage of his shot and to get the rebound in case we miss," he says. Since Villanova's only weakness is height, Porter may be too busy rebounding to run, but nobody will be stunned if he finds a way to do that, too.
Vic Bubas, coach at Duke the last 10 seasons and developer of such fine players as Art Heyman, Jeff Mullins and Jack Marin, has left the job to do public relations work for the university. His old office down at the end of Championship Hall is now occupied by Raymond (Bucky) Waters and these days Duke Indoor Stadium is ringing with Buckyisms. To a timid dribbler: "That's a route Mary Poppins might take!" To an elbow-shy forward: "That's for conscientious objectors out there, not rebounders!"
Breezy Bucky, who was Bubas' assistant before moving to West Virginia as head coach four years ago, thinks basketball is "a man's game; there's got to be some slamming in there." To him there are no backcourt or frontcourt men. They are just the "little people" and the "studs."
One of the little people, 5'10" junior Guard Dick DeVenzio, is amused by his coach's way with words and is recording the most graphic of them in a diary he is keeping of the season. It should make good reading in March after Duke has warred with Dayton, West Virginia and Davidson in addition to all the tough teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Waters probably will use a double-post offense with DeVenzio at the point. The Blue Devils need the little lefty's quickness and playmaking, so they work hard in practice at protecting him on defense, avoiding switches that would force him into guarding a big opponent.
Duke does not have too many good little people behind DeVenzio, but the studs are plentiful. Junior Randy Denton, who has, says Bucky, "the finest physical potential of any center I've had the pleasure of working with," is 6'10", 240 and "can run with the guards, but he needs a tougher mental attitude. He won't walk on the floor as a destroyer." Denton averaged 17.4 points a game last season but was inconsistent, as was the whole sophomore-dominated team (8-6 in league, 15-13 overall). His chief rebounding help should come from 6'6" sophomore Don Blackman, out of Brooklyn, who is not much of a shooter but the kind of man who would snatch a honeycomb from a grizzly bear.
Best shooter on the team is 6'7" Rick Katherman, a junior from Massachusetts. He will play one wing, opposite 6'3" junior Brad Evans, a strong, skilled driver who was a high-school All-America quarterback. Chief backup stud—actually a stringbean—is 6'9" Larry Saunders, a transfer from Northwestern who can rebound.
Duke is obviously good, yet good gets only third or fourth place in the ACC. Waters will have to talk up a storm if he wants to make DeVenzio's diary a drama with a happy ending.