Even so, the Brethren must be startled by the modern buildings that have sprung up across the campus and the cast-iron eagles that stand in front of each one. The birds, which campus mythology says fly in each time a new structure is completed, have been swiped from Case tractor dealerships throughout the Midwest and then painted purple with gold heads. Ashland girls are predictably miniskirted and the boys wear sideburns. Not only do they dance together, but they slosh down sizable quantities of 3.2 beer at dingy hangouts like the Dugout and Act III. "This place is getting liberal," said the editor of the student newspaper.
Even with smoking and drinking privileges, basketball remains the favorite entertainment at Ashland. During the week of the Wittenberg game coeds were more concerned about lining up dates for the game than for the Diana Ross and The Supremes concert two nights later. "Why not," said Jay Hoover, the 10th man on the team, who earned his spot by learning to spin a basketball on the end of his forefinger. "This isn't a team, it's a circus."
Musselman's team spends 15 minutes of every practice session polishing its warmup drills. While a record player blares deafening versions of Keep the Hall Rollin', Sweet Georgia Brown and Higher and Higher, his players, all budding Pete Maraviches (SI, Dec. 1 ), juggle basketballs, spin them on their fingertips, roll them around their waists and necks and Hick them with then elbows, knees and insteps. They also learn to dribble between their legs while doing a duckwalk, to perform tricky passing drills and, for those who are tall enough, to shoot reverse dunk shots.
"This isn't just for fun," explains Musselman. "It promotes interest in the team by our students and by kids I'd like to recruit. It helps my players warm up and learn ball control, too. Mostly, though," he says with a grin, "it psychs out the other team."
On the night of the Wittenberg game, as at all home games, the fans were hardly less prepared than the team. Well ahead of starting time, the gym was draped so heavily with banners that a boy who was hanging his latest creation turned to an older stranger standing nearby and nervously asked, "Are you the spy from Myer's Laundry Service?"
Ashland signs underline the essentially negative bent of the Eagles' rooters. Rarely do they read BEAT THIS SCHOOL or SMASH THAT BADGER. Instead they have the ring of recent foreign policy: CONTAIN 'EM, one might say, or SHUT THE TIGERS OUT. Although Ashland has never held a team to fewer than 14 points, Musselman hungers for a shutout as the crowning testament to his coaching philosophy. Wilson sincerely believes that with a little luck his team might pull one off this year.
Half an hour before game time, the 4,000-seat gym was packed, mostly with students in all-gold costumes. The gold team bench, with NATION'S NO. 1 DEFENSE painted in purple across the back, and the gold rug that lies in front of it were in place, and the cheering, which had built steadily through the second half of the preliminary JV game, reached full pitch. The team broke onto the floor accompanied by Keep the Ball Rollin', Musselman in a bright gold blazer and Assistant Coach Lou Markle in hideous, gold spray-painted crepe-soled shoes. While the crowd stood, clapped rhythmically and howled, as it would do continuously for the next 25 minutes, the Eagles began their routine, juggling, dribbling, passing and shooting in unison. The roaring grew loudest as the act built toward the individual highlights Ashland crowds have come to anticipate. Wilson and Hoover spun balls on their fingertips. Then Wilson twirled two, a stunt that Hallie Bryant of the Globetrotters told Hoover none of his Trotter teammates could ever master. Substitute Forward Gary Youmans juggled three balls and teammates snapped them away in midair, then drove in for dunks. After 10 minutes Center Jim Williams closed the display with the last of his clashing dunkers and Ashland settled into the routine of shooting layups.
Wittenberg Coach Eldon Miller was a college teammate of Musselman and Miller's wife roomed with Kristine Musselman in school, so the Tigers knew about Ashland's antics. They ignored the opening minutes of the Eagles' drills, but the temptation to look was too much. One by one they turned toward the far end of the gym. Before the show was over, five Wittenberg players had forgotten their own warmups and were standing in a line at half-court, staring. Even before the game had begun, the Eagles had taken the lead.
Ashland returned to its dressing room, but just as the crowd seemed ready to settle down, a student dressed in a purple velvet eagle suit with gold spats and claws Happed onto the floor. Musselman who knows the value of sustained enthusiasm, traded a used rebounding machine and $50 for the suit. It is a hit every time.
After completing his loops around the court, the eagle joined 12 pompon girls and six cheerleaders lined up in front of a huge plywood basketball with a curtain-covered hole in the middle. Down went the houselights and on went a spotlight that flashed furiously around the gym. It created an effect somewhere between a Hollywood premiere and the opening of a used-car lot.