The rumor in the Southwest Conference is that Texas Coach Leon Black has convinced Longhorn alumni that the school should have a basketball team to match its football and baseball teams. Texas finished in a tie for sixth last season yet is favored this time, maybe because of 6'7" JC transfer Lynn Howden, who had a brief stay at LSU. Black has a man from Indiana and a man from Oregon on his squad, too, indicating that he has indeed been recruiting hard. Independent Houston, with jumping-jack New Yorker Ollie Taylor, 6'5" sophomore Jeff Hickman, and one of the country's finest JC transfers in James (Poo) Welch, will play in the new Hofheinz Pavilion. Backboards were installed recently and Coach Guy Lewis made the first basket. "After waiting for this place for 40 years," he said, "you don't think I'd choke now!" No, and neither should his team through an easy schedule.
Coaches along the Eastern seaboard have a problem. Too many other people around the country love their playgrounds. The best and the biggest playgrounders of them all these days go to college almost any place but in the East—to South Carolina and New Mexico, to name two of the most voracious plunderers. As a result the East, outside of its three top candidates, is weak this year. But prospects are looking up. There are a flock of good freshmen in Eastern schools. The day when almost everybody flew the coop could be at an end and the era of homebodies at hand. The coaches hope so.
In the meantime, there is St. John's, an enigma in any season. Seldom highly rated, the Redmen almost always finish with a flourish. This year Lou Carnesecca, who will coach the pro Nets beginning next fall, is ending a five-year career during which his team never failed to appear in a postseason tournament. He would love to go out a winner, and he just could despite the loss of Carmine Calzonetti and John Warren, who is now with the Knicks. Joe DePre, a flamboyant player, should increase his 16.1 scoring average and get shooting help from improved 6'10" Center Bill Paultz and wingman Jim Smyth, the self-proclaimed "Best Shooter in the World" who is not that far off in assessing his gift. Sophomore Rich Lyons, short on experience, has the ability to replace Calzonetti. Bowing out, Carnesecca should make it five-for-five.
Fordham and Manhattan, whose basketball fortunes are on the upswing, will challenge St. John's for top rating among New York City independents. Rams' Coach Ed Conlin has two good 6'4" sophomores, George Zambetti and Tommy Sullivan, to go with four starters from last year's solid 17-9 team. The Jaspers lost only two lettermen and have 6'8" Center John Marren along with eight sophomores, led by superb swing-man Henry Seawright, from a 21-2 freshman team. And for the wearin' o' the green, their team colors, they have Dennis Routledge from Cork City, Ireland.
In the Ivy League, Princeton and Columbia will battle Penn. The Tigers, who won the league last year with the first undefeated record since 1951, were stunned during preseason drills when league scoring champ Jeff Petrie (20.8 points a game) ruptured his spine playing pool and was put in traction. If he recovers, Petrie will join 6'9" John Hummer, who switches to pivot, and sophomore Guard Reggie Bird to make the Tigers a strong challenger. Columbia's seniors, bullish 6'5" Jim McMillian and quick Guard Haywood Dotson, led their team to a 20-4 record last season, including a win over Purdue. The Lions were hurt in the Ivy race by their weak rebounding and are looking to unproven Bob Gailus, a transfer from Pitt, to strengthen it.
Even old ladies in pillbox hats know who will score for Niagara. In two seasons 5'10" Calvin Murphy fired in 1,694 points, yet the Purple Eagles were unable to win half their games. Now that might all change with the newly arrived Marshall Wingate, 6'4", to take the defensive pressure away from Murphy. The Eagles have four other starters returning and should break .500.
Among the three strong New England independents Boston College and Providence have new coaches, but Holy Cross most likely has the team. The Crusaders lost their top rebounder and scorer, Ed Siudut. However, 6'8" Forward Bob Kissane, runner-up in both categories, returns along with two other regulars, at least one of whom may have a time keeping his job away from one of the new sophomores: Buddy Venne, who averaged 27.9 as a freshman, 6'4" rebounder Stan Grayson, who scored 21, and slick Joe Baron.
Charles Daly, replacing Bob Cousy at BC, has only Bob Dukiet to ease the loss of Terry Driscoll, who led the Eagles to 19 consecutive victories last season. Dave Gavitt is better off at Providence. Joe Mullaney left him three of last year's starters, including Jim Larranaga and Vic Collucci, and from the freshman team comes Gary Wilkens, who averaged 31.7 points a game.
La Salle misses four starters from its 23-1 team of a year ago, but Coach Tom Gola still has two top players in 6'7" Ken Durrett and Fran Dunphy. The Explorers' biggest problem could be Gola himself. Running, in effect, as "Nobody's Boy," he was elected controller of Philadelphia, the city's fourth-highest office. He may not be La Salle's boy very much longer.