Last March 21 time appeared to run out on Drake University's surprising basketball team. It had played brilliantly but lost 85-82 to UCLA in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament, and four of its starters were seniors. With no adequate replacements coming up from the freshmen, it seemed likely that quite a few Marches would come and go before the Bulldogs neared another national championship.
But with February running its course, Drake is back, and the 1969-70 version of the team is almost as sharp—and as unknown—as its predecessor. Tied with Louisville for the Missouri Valley lead, the Bulldogs are in good position to play a rematch with UCLA. They have already made certain that their coach, Maury John, will keep his position as the country's No. 1 recruiter of junior-college talent. Three of the top six players on last season's team came from the two-year schools; six of the nine best on this season's 17-5 club are former JC stars.
John's success with JCs is having its emulators. About 100 miles east of the Drake campus, Ralph Miller of Iowa has built a Big Ten leader out of the same players who finished 12-12 a year ago plus Fred Brown, a playmaking guard from Burlington (Iowa) Junior College. In New York City, NYU's Lou Rossini startled the Eastern basketball Establishment—traditionally anti-junior college—by taking in JC players for the first time. And UCLA is wheeling toward its fourth consecutive NCAA title with transfers John Vallely and Sidney Wicks leading the scoring.
"The junior colleges are the fastest-growing education system in the country," says Miller. "They provide a good place for boys who did not buckle down to academics early enough or whose talents had not been developed enough during high school for them to learn to study and to play basketball at a major college. The improvement of JC players in recent years has been phenomenal."
California, with the nation's most extensive junior-college system, usually has provided the best basketball players. This year, though, the top prospects come from anywhere but California. Here are the best of them. Known only locally now, they should become tomorrow's college stars.
Prized above all the rest is Harold Fox, a 6'1" guard who plays for unbeaten (22-0) Brevard Junior College in Cocoa, Fla. UCLA, Jacksonville, Florida State and North Carolina State, all among this year's top 10 teams, lead the list of 300 big schools pursuing Fox, who was the first schoolboy since Elgin Baylor to make All-Metropolitan Washington, D.C. three years in a row.
Fox leads his team's five double-figure scorers with a 26.3 average and is second in assists but, says Brevard Coach Jim Oler, "The greatest thing about Harold this year is that his defense matches his offense." That is only partially true. The best thing Fox has done is pull up his grades to meet the transfer requirements of major colleges. "He's adjusted well to classes," says Oler. "He's an intelligent kid who never applied himself or was made to apply himself before."
Right behind Fox are two tall players in Texas who are also being heavily recruited. One, hard-eating 6'8" Steve Davidson of Christian College of the Southwest in Dallas, has not been helpful—off court—to his college, which plans to give up basketball next year because of the expense. "A snack to Steve is three cheeseburgers, a couple of grilled cheese sandwiches and a waffle," winces Coach Bill Blakeley. "At dinner he usually puts away two dozen rolls." On court, New York-raised Davidson burns up all those calories scoring 23 points a game and grabbing 20 rebounds.
For 6'7" Forward Bob Nash, San Jacinto College of Pasadena, Texas is merely a stopover between his home in Hartford, Conn. and the University of Kansas. It is a good stopover. He scores 22.8 points a game, averages 18 rebounds and is the fastest man on the team.
Charlie Brakes, a 6'7" forward at Burlington, comes from the strongest JC basketball program in the country ( Iowa's Brown is one of six Burlington graduates of the past two years to play for major college teams and the school has three alumni who have made it to the pros). Bothered by injuries, Brakes has only recently begun to hit close to his expected 25-point pace. He has narrowed his choices for next season to Jacksonville, Iowa, Minnesota and UTEP and should be a starter for any of them.