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The Dealers roll to a title
Joe Jares
March 09, 1970
Led by 'J.J.' Johnson, Iowa's slick combo came on late with the acid to edge Purdue and take the Big Ten championship
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March 09, 1970

The Dealers Roll To A Title

Led by 'J.J.' Johnson, Iowa's slick combo came on late with the acid to edge Purdue and take the Big Ten championship

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In all of Iowa there is not a pigpen or a corncrib that is out of earshot of University of Iowa basketball broadcasts. Instead of a single "Voice of the Hawkeyes," there is a whole chorus of voices emanating from Iowa City, Cedar Rapids, Davenport and Des Moines, all with announcers and sponsors of their own. One clear-channel station is so powerful that a transplanted Iowan, over the Rockies in California, has been driving to a spot near his home to listen in.

The listening has been pleasant. Going into last Saturday's game at Purdue, Iowa was leading the Big Ten with an 11-0 record. It had won 13 games in a row and had beaten Illinois on the road for the first time in eight years. The team was being led by a relatively unknown 6'7" senior from Milwaukee, John Johnson, who can dribble behind his back and between his legs, score almost 28 points a game and can also pass quite nicely. In fact, most of the Hawkeyes are good passers, so they have given themselves the acid rock-group nickname of J.J. and the Dealers.

Saturday afternoon in Purdue's $6 million arena they dealt the ball around deftly in one of the fastest-moving games of the year and almost give their announcers collective laryngitis in the process. Iowa won 108-107 to take the Big Ten championship. It was Purdue's first defeat at home in 31 games and it came despite Rick Mount's 61 points.

Home-state interest in Iowa basketball is frantic, even though there happens to be only one Iowan in the starting lineup. He is Dick Jensen, and the threat of his taking a shot remains just that—a threat. He doesn't. At center, he does more than his share on defense, but the sparkle comes from the other four, especially Johnson, who Coach Ralph Miller compares to a previous All-America of his at Wichita State, Dave Stallworth.

Johnson was recruited out of a junior college in Powell, Wyo., and was only Miller's third JC transfer in six years. The fourth and last transfer, Fred Brown, also came from Milwaukee. A good ball handling guard, he was the lone added ingredient to this year's regulars. According to Miller, Brown made the adjustment to major-college basketball faster than any of the other JC transfers who have played for him.

Brown's arrival allowed 6'1" Chad Calabria to move up and play as a kind of third forward, using his western Pennsylvania alley-basketball background to good advantage inside. The fifth starter, Glenn (the Stick) Vidnovic, who grew up near Calabria, looks like an Iowa farmer's scarecrow who has just shaken the hay out of his sleeves. He is listed as 6'5" and 190, but the student manager must have been standing on the scales with him.

This hodgepodge team, 12-12 last season without Brown, woke up with a start after losing four of its first six games. Before Saturday, it was two up on Purdue, the closest Big Ten team, but if the Hawkeyes lost, they would have to win their last two games to avoid the possibility of a tie. This brought back memories of 1968. Iowa had only to beat Michigan at home to clinch the title. It lost, the Big Ten race ended in a tie and Ohio State won the playoff.

Miller decided that in this game he would continue his policy of using no gimmick defense on Mount—no parallelogram-and-one, no hexes, no triple-teaming. The Hawkeyes played Mount conventionally in Iowa City earlier in the season and, while he scored 53 points (Iowa Fieldhouse record), Iowa won the game. Miller felt it could again. Central to his thinking was the belief, shared with other league coaches, that Mount is protected like a little brother by the referees and gets six to 10 free throws a game he does not deserve. But Mount gets a lot of criticism, too.

"Anytime you have a boy who gets as much publicity as Rick you're going to have this problem," said Purdue Coach George King. "It's an envy factor. Many times it's done with the idea of intimidating a fellow, but Rick does a great job of handling himself."

Even with Mount on his side, King still had his worries. His team had won seven straight with a run-run offense and a man-to-man defense, yet the word on Iowa was that a zone defense was much more effective against the quick, slick-passing Hawkeyes.

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