"See that wastebasket there?" he said. "You know how easy it is to flip paper in it? It's just as easy for Gilmore to score. I've never seen a player—and I've seen Lew Alcindor several times—dominate a game like Gilmore." Besides his wastebasket drop-ins, Gilmore has a variety of other shots, the most impressive being a left-handed jump-hook-dunk. The goaltending rule forbids blocking a shot once it starts descending toward the hoop, and in Gilmore's case this means the second it leaves his hand. He just leaps until his size-17 sneakers are even with everybody else's shoulders and flings the ball down through the net. The only time he ventures more than a few feet away from the basket is when he is fouled and has to go to the free-throw line.
At the other end of the court he has that same shot-blocking ability that served Alcindor so well for three years at UCLA. His timing is good, although he once misjudged a shot and blocked it with his elbow, and he has a good sense of where the hoop is so that he can avoid goaltending calls. When he is not batting balls away, his mere presence in the key forces the opposition to shoot from longer distances and with a much higher arc than normal.
Gilmore is not a skinny, gawky freak. He has a good athlete's physique—with muscular thighs and arms—and his coaches insist he could play for them if he were a mere 6'5" or so. He is, in fact, taking a physical education course with a 6'5" teammate whom he often outperforms on the trampoline.
If Gilmore is sturdier than Alcindor, he is like him in many other ways, although education is not one of them. While Alcindor came out of a good private high school in New York City, Gilmore came from a poor, all-black school in Chipley, Fla., 80 or so miles the other side of Tallahassee in the Florida panhandle and just this side of nowhere. He was in the same school from the first through the 11th grades, and for a long time, since it did not have a gymnasium, the kids played on an outdoor clay court.
"Sometimes there would be barrels of fuel burning around the court so you could stand next to them to warm up, then go play some more," Gilmore recalls. "When we were done at the end of a day we were so tired we could hardly walk home."
Gilmore did not play his senior year at Chipley because he was too old at 18, so he moved to nearby Dothan, Ala., where the rules were more relaxed, and averaged 39 points a game. He spent two years at Gardner-Webb Junior College in Boiling Springs, N.C. before accepting a grant-in-aid from Jacksonville. He chose J.U., he says, because Coach Joe L. Williams treated him as a person and not just as an athlete. Gilmore speaks very softly, like a man who has been yelled at too many times in his life and wants to help get the volume back % down to normal.
Williams, a skinny, almost gaunt man despite his affection for thick milk shakes at breakfast, speaks almost as softly as Gilmore and at 6'3" is almost as tall as some of his chandelier pushers. He is from Oklahoma, the son of a Methodist minister, and 10 years ago was teaching English at a Jacksonville high school. He started coaching at a junior high and won a county championship, moved from there to a high school and won a league title, then went to Florida State as freshman coach, to Furman University as a varsity assistant, and at the end of the 1963-64 season to J.U. right on the bank of that northbound river. He was a clean-cut, well-mannered young man who would not make the new school look bad.
And he hasn't. In truth, things are looking so nice that even the downtown chamber of commerce folks across the toll bridge like him. His players do, too. He keeps a loose rein on them, sets very few training rules—except that they give 100% effort on his court—and occasionally he allows them to make up their own plays. He also lets them work out for themselves their pregame warmup routines.
Williams is taking special care of Gilmore, supplying him with tutors for both classes and basketball. The special basketball coach works on Gilmore alone, concentrating on all the special basketball problems and challenges that confront a man who is 7'2", 235 pounds and agile.
Gilmore has proved to be a serious student on all counts. "I want a degree from college more than anything I can think of," he says. "My family has had it tough and I want to work with underprivileged kids in playgrounds and recreation centers. I had dreams of being a major college basketball player and it's a lot better than I expected. I knew we'd have a good team, but I didn't know we'd beat teams by 60 points."