WAC seems more appropriate as an acronym than ever. About the only predictable things in the Western Athletic Conference are the entrance requirements. New Mexico has a 6'8" center, Willie Long, to lead a team that includes 5'7" Petie Gibson, grandson of the famed black baseball star, Josh Gibson. Brigham Young has not given up on Finns but will try a 6'10" Yugoslav Olympian at center. If the Cougars can survive further anticipated anti-Mormon demonstrations, they could do well. Texas at E1 Paso has no individual standout, which might make it easier for Don Haskins to install his feared team defense. Arizona must overcome disciplinary and racial problems, which plagued it last year. The Wildcats lost good guard Mickey Foster but they have size, depth and experience. Wyoming Coach Bill Strannigan is so used to handling midgets he does not know quite what to do with transfers Jerry Brucks (6'10") and Sam Ballard (6'7") and sophomore Rod Penner (6'10"). He will think of something.
Weber State is the Big Sky favorite, mainly because Willard Sojourner is back for his senior year. Sojourner, a big Pennsylvanian, is admired by the pros. Idaho State has Willie Humes, who averaged 30.5 points a game last season and is admired, too.
In the Southwest Conference, defending champion Rice will be hard put to beat off the challenges of Texas Tech, Texas and Texas A & M. The league seems to be no factor in postseason play, but at least it has balance. SMU has the best player in sharp-shooting Gene Phillips, who should break all SWC scoring records by the time his varsity career ends in the spring.
The misnamed player of the year could be Oregon's Stan Love. A 6'9" blond, he led the Pacific Eight in scoring last season (20.8), was known to spit at opponents and helped the Ducks beat UCLA at Eugene, 78-65. Coach Steve Belko says he loves Love again after putting the agile center on probation for some off-court, off-season scrapes. Oregon has three other starters back, plus good sophomores and three players who were red-shirted last season. At Oregon State it will be a long year while Ralph Miller, fresh from an undefeated Big Ten season at Iowa, instills his go-go "pressure" ideas in the onetime slowdown Beavers. Fans in Corvallis will think they are watching a new sport.
California plays only nine home games, which is a good thing for the four big Bears who might as well get used to life on the road. They are future pros: 6'9" Ansley Truitt, Arkansas-import Jackie Ridgle (a fine offensive player who is finally learning there is another half of the court), Phil Chenier and quick Charlie Johnson. So why aren't the Bears favored to win everything? Because they are small overall and have no bench. Graduation hurt Washington more than the other Pacific Eight contenders, but 6'10" Center Steve Hawes returns. As a sophomore he led the team in scoring and rebounding despite missing seven games because of a broken bone in his leg. The question is, how can Coach Tex Winter play Hawes and 6'10½" sophomore Mike Fink at the same time?
Santa Clara lost Dennis Awtrey and Ralph Ogden and Coach Dick Garibaldi, who went into shoe sales, but the Broncos could surprise in the WCAC. Their sophomore center, Mike Stewart, was a red shirt last year and worked every day in practice against Awtrey, which would toughen up anybody. Pepperdine's Waves will make their nickname more apropos in 1972 when they move from seedy South Los Angeles to glamorous Malibu. For now, the students at the little liberal arts school will have to make do with the present campus and hope to make waves with their basketball team. Coach Gary Colson has recruited players from as far away as Kentucky, Indiana and Georgia and should be in the fight for second place. And the University of San Francisco has a good new pivotman named Mike Quick. He has heard all the jokes.