In such a wide-open year and with so many good players around, established teams—including some of the Top 20—are capable of slipping entirely out of sight. Pushing them into oblivion will be schools many people have never heard of—or have forgotten all about.
Jacksonville, by its own admission America's tallest team, is an example of the former. It also has America's tallest schedule: trips to Miami, New Orleans and—get this, honeymoon fans—Hawaii and the Virgin Islands. "I don't like to play in small towns," says Coach Joe Williams, a young Jimmy Dean-looking fellow who has two new 7-footers and everybody back from last year's team that led the country in free-throw shooting. The Dolphins will beat a lot of out-of-state people this year if Williams can avoid collisions between 7'3" Artis Gilmore and 7' Pembroke Burrows III. The two JC transfers both came late to basketball and are unpolished but as Assistant Coach Tom Wasdin says, can be a "helluva conversation piece."
Another like Jacksonville is California State at Long Beach, down in the southern part of Los Angeles County where the Queen Mary is anchored and the smog banks thin out. State did not open its doors until 1949 but it already has 28,000 students, eight or 10 of whom happen to be good basketball players. Long Beach hired Jerry Tarkanian, the most successful junior-college coach in the state, and where Tarkanian wanders, blue-chip athletes are sure to follow. The 49ers were 23-3 in Tarkanian's first season, and they have all five starters back plus 6'8�" George Trapp, California's JC player of the year. The big scorer, however, will be 6'7" Sam Robinson, who averaged 19.7 points a game despite hobbling around on blistered feet. Long Beach plays a weak schedule—"It's tough to get a real good major schedule," says Tarkanian, who does have Houston, Tulsa and San Jose State for starters—but with his depth it is not surprising that he is sidestepped.
Illinois—remember it?—suffered a slush-fund scandal, NCAA probation and basketball decay. Then two years ago Harv Schmidt, long, lean and gregarious, returned to his alma mater and overcame the recent past with rapidity, cajoling his Illini to a tie for second in the Big Ten last season. Presuming Center Greg Jackson is unhindered by an array of problems, Illinois could do better this time, Purdue notwithstanding. Schmidt has hardworking swingman Mike Price, playmaker Rick Howat and tough Randy Crews to go along with Jackson, a 6'8", 260-pounder who is hard to stop, especially at dinner time. In July, Jackson ballooned to 292 pounds. He also suffers from curvature of the spine, which benches him occasionally, and a tendency to foul early and often, which benches him more. Since football has become so disadvantaged at Champaign, the only ones rivaling the basketball varsity for attention are the basketball freshmen; they may be the best in the land. So this year or next, the Illini are back.
Over in the Western Athletic Conference, where teams win by 30 points at home and lose by that many away, Arizona, with practically an all-sophomore squad, compiled a 5-5 WAC record last season, losing four games by a total of 11 points. The Wildcats' decrepit Bear Down Gym—so named after a dying student's last words—is, by Coach Bruce Larson's own admission, "the worst in the West," but his team is considerably better than that. Mickey Foster, who is all-league, and Bill Warner are excellent one-on-one shooters at the wings while Eddie Myers, 6'10", and Tom Lee, 6'8", who worked together on the low and high posts as rookies last winter, are both quick and can jump. The Wildcats were beaten up early last year but recovered to win 11 straight. This season they open at UCLA and they will have to bear down.
John Wideman, who gained more renown as a Rhodes Scholar from the University of Pennsylvania than as an all-league basketball player, is a budding novelist and associate professor of English at his old school these days, but he is not taking literary license when he talks about the Now team in the Ivy League. "We had some decent teams when I was here," he says, "but they were never, never like this." Penn Coach Dick Harter, after two successful recruiting seasons, has a talented, deep varsity that will make Quaker fans forget not only Wideman but a more famous alumnus, Ernie Beck (vintage 1954). Three of Harter's boys—Guards Steve Bilsky and Dave Wohl and 6'8" Center Jim Wolf-helped Penn to a close third in the Ivy last winter and they will be joined by six rookies, among them 6'7�" Corky Calhoun, who were 21-0 as freshmen. For years Penn has loaned its Palestra to other Philly teams for use as a home court. Now the warning is out: the landlords are as tough as the tenants.
Purdue has installed many of his defensive concepts, UCLA invited him out to lecture on the same subject, and still people sell his team short. Drake Coach Maurice John has lost four starters from a club that surprised everybody by holding the Bruins to a three-point win in last year's NCAA semifinals. But John, an incurable optimist, maintains his Bulldogs will be "damn good" if some talented junior college transfers can blend quickly into his harassing man-to-man defense. "Sure we lost some people but we had three outstanding players behind them as a nucleus and we got five dandies from the junior colleges," says John, adding that this team will also have more offensive potential than any he has had. Semiregular Center Rick Wanamaker, 6'9", must battle newcomer Tom Bush, a 6'7" All-America at College of South Idaho, while Bobby Jones, the outstanding player last year at the National JC Tournament for Paducah, Ky., Jeff Halliburton and Carl Salyers look to assume three other spots.
Drake is not the only Missouri Valley school with some potent new faces. Cincinnati has a flaky 6'5" sophomore named John Fraley, a Middletown, Ohio product who claims he will make everybody forget who Middletown's Jerry Lucas was. He averaged 25.1 for the Bearcat freshmen and joins three returning starters, including 6'8" all-conference Center Jim Ard and driver and passer Don Ogletree.