On the surface, at least, everything might look like business as usual at little St. Bonaventure University, way up there in the cold, snowy Allegheny foothills. The basketball team, the Bonnies, still warms up to the soulful sounds of Ramsey Lewis' Wade in the Water, and that giant Indian statue still glowers at everybody from the doorway of the campus beer hall, the Rathskeller. But then along comes Buffalo Bob Lanier in his king-sized sneakers, looking for a neat $1 million or so to play pro ball, and all of a sudden the Bonnies are landing hard on the toes of basketball teams all over the East. Not only were they unbeaten after their 10th game last weekend and ranked No. 4 nationally, their potential seemed almost limitless, mostly because of Lanier. Nobody in America, and that includes a lot of the pro teams, has a more talented or intimidating center than this fun-loving, friendly man-child whose most memorable dimension is neither his height (6'11") nor his weight (265 pounds) but his feet.
"They're really size 19," says Lanier, "but sometimes I tell people they're size 30, just to get them off my back. Some of them believe me."
The Bonnies took their act on the road to play Kent State University last Saturday night, and nobody could remember when so many people in Kent, Ohio had wanted to see a basketball game. Those who got in thought it was some great show, even though the home team lost to Bonaventure 94-65 after a game try. The final statistics showed Lanier with 15 of 26 shots from the floor, 42 points and 13 rebounds. Nobody kept track of his blocked shots, but they were sufficient to reduce the Kent offense to one hopelessly long jump shot after another. As a team the Bonnies shot 57.5%, and that was some club out there, right?
"Naw, we were terrible." groused Lanier afterward in the dressing room. "I mean, I don't care what they say, we just can't get up for a Kent State, especially with final exams coming up next week. We were lackadaisical. All we did was score enough to keep ahead."
Lanier was so bad that he even came in for a friendly tongue-lashing from Guard Billy Kalbaugh, his roommate and best friend for the last four years. Kalbaugh, at 5'10" and maybe 150 pounds right out of the shower, could probably fit nicely into one of Lanier's shoes.
"That's the worst game I've seen you play in three years," said Kalbaugh. "I've never seen anybody block your shot, much less that guy out there. I almost kicked you in the butt."
The Bonnies work around Lanier, of course, but this is not to say that their fidgety young coach, Larry Weise, has put together a one-man team. There is, for instance, Paul Hoffman, a sophomore who wears glasses and looks studious just to fool people. He would hit you with a blackjack, if necessary, to get a basket.
And there is another sophomore, 6'5" Matt Gantt, a good enough leaper that he sometimes jumps center in place of Lanier. He is surpassed in moves and quickness only by his buddy at the other forward, 6'3" junior Bubba Gary, a whippet with fast hands and a faster mouth.
Then, of course, there is Kalbaugh, who puts it together. He sets up the offense, runs the fast break, likes to fire an occasional one-hander from outside and will pass a few between his legs or behind his back if he isn't watched carefully. Mainly, though, his job is to get the ball to Lanier.
"I've never seen two kids whose talents complement each other like those two," says Weise. "Billy is a great passer and he looks for Bob all the time."