Jacksonville, Fla., outglittered by Miami to the south and outbustled by Atlanta to the north, feels a need to be noticed. It wants tourists and investors to know that it has a river that flows north (the St. Johns is pretty but polluted), that it is "the most spacious city in America" (when the city limits are expanded to include the entire county) and that Singer Connie Haines comes from there (and has rarely gone back). Jacksonville, says a brochure, is "the commercial, financial, cultural, medical and urban heart of northeast Florida and southeast Georgia," including the Okefinokee Swamp.
It is also the home of Jacksonville University, a little-known fact of virtually no moment until last Saturday night when J.U., as its 3,000 students call the transformed junior college, stamped itself as something more than the world's tallest storyteller—or even the country's tallest major college team, which is how the school's publicists boasted about it all fall. With 7'2" Artis Gilmore at center, 7' Pembrook Burrows III at the high post and 6'10" Rod McIntyre at forward the Dolphins (their nickname is appropriate; the average dolphin is seven feet long) went north to Evansville, Ind. and did what they have been doing since the season began. They toyed with the opposition like so many porpoises tossing a ball around Marineland. They stomped Arizona 104-72 in the first night of the Evansville Invitational and then humiliated the home team 100-70 to win the championship. The Dolphins went into the weekend rated 13th in the AP poll and 19th according to UPI and emerged deserving a spot high up in the top 10 of both.
The Evansville game was the first of the season on a hostile court for J.U. and therefore something of a test. The Dolphins' first six games were played in the modern Jacksonville Coliseum or in aptly named Swisher Gym on the campus, and victory No. 7, against Arizona, was on what coaches these days like to call a neutral court. But Evansville, for years an outstanding small-college team that regularly counted major colleges among its victims, provided a chance to prove a point to the pollsters, especially since the Purple Aces had upset Purdue at Evansville not long before.
There was, too, a case of hurt feelings involved. If Evansvillians were miffed because some of their best high school players were recruited regularly by Purdue, they had triple cause against Jacksonville. Vaughn Wedeking, 5'10" and the state 440 champion while at Harrison High in Evansville, was at guard for the Dolphins. Greg Nelson, a 6'6" teammate at Harrison, was also playing for Jacksonville and, worst of all, so was Rex Morgan, who had transferred from Evansville after leading the freshmen to an undefeated season. He is the Dolphins' captain.
What made the Morgan situation sticky was that Evansville Coach Arad McCutchan refused to give him a release after his freshman season, so Morgan, whose home is in Charleston, Ill., had to play a year of JC ball before turning down offers from several Missouri Valley Conference teams and heading south. Morgan, in turn, complained that Evansville fed its players on brown-bag lunches, and he and some pals were caught wrapping Coach McCutchan's house in toilet paper.
Before the Jacksonville game McCutchan said, "We've got a chance, not a good chance, but a chance." He had, all right. His prize sophomore, Don Buse, held Morgan scoreless in the first half (Morgan had made 24 points the night before), and fans with long memories were loudly reminding Morgan that he was supposed to be an All-America candidate and perhaps he did not deserve anything better than a brown-bag meal. This pressure, plus Gilmore's foul trouble (he had three in the first half), sent the Dolphins into the locker room at halftime leading by only four points.
But a half was all Evansville could play with no starter taller than 6'5". Jacksonville soon went to a zone defense to avoid further fouls, outscored the Purple Aces nine to one and rolled on from there. Gilmore blocked six shots, scored 37 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. Little Wedeking, who must feel like the male lead in Land of the Giants, scored 17 points for the second straight night, which hurt Evansville a little more since it had never even tried to recruit him. Gilmore was voted the tournament's most valuable player, and Morgan, who never did shake off Buse, at least got the satisfaction of doing his captain's duty and accepting the championship trophy while his old buddies from the Evansville freshman team looked on.
By any measurement, Jacksonville must now be considered a very good team. It leads the nation in average points a game (almost 107), average margin of victory (39.8) and doorways ducked through. En route to its 8-0 record it has beaten Harvard by 39 points, Mercer by 40, Morehead State by 54 and Biscayne by 65. The top scorer, rebounder (he leads the nation) and shot blocker (16 against Harvard) is, of course, Gil-more, who wears a Bill Russell beard and plays like Lew Alcindor. Put him in the middle with Pembrook III and you have, say the people at J.U., bragging again, a combined wingspread of 18 feet.
"If there's a better team in America I don't want to play them," said Coach Bill Harrell of Morehead. "Why, I don't think our neighbor [Kentucky] could come down here and beat this outfit."
About Gilmore, the beaten coach was rapturous.