Two years ago when Jacksonville University's Tom Was-din was still the assistant coach in charge of recruiting, a hot junior-college prospect named Ernie Fleming told him, "Coach, I'm not gonna come to your school unless I can bring somebody with me." Coaches are always hearing that sort of thing, and generally the thing being brought along is a girl friend, cousin or pet ocelot. In Fleming's case, the request, was easier to heed—he had this buddy, Artis Gilmore, 7'2".
Gilmore, of course, is the player who made Jacksonville famous. At this time a year ago, when few people had heard of either the school or of Gilmore, one preseason poll picked JU 157th. But the Dolphins ended up in the NCAA finals, mostly because of Gilmore. He averaged 26.5 points a game, led the nation in rebounding and spiked away about 10 opponents' shots every time he played. His presence alone is enough to make Wasdin's slogan, "No. 1 in '71," a distinct possibility.
Maybe more than distinct, considering the players Jacksonville has to go with Gilmore. One of them is the 6'7" Fleming, who red-shirted last year but now is ready to take a starting spot away from Mike Blevens. Then there is a junior-college teammate of the Dolphins' other 7-footer, Pembrook Burrows III, who should give Coach Was-din another profitable friendship case. He is Harold Fox from Brevard (Fla.) Junior College, the most sought-after JC player in the country (SI, Feb. 23). Fox should be able to fill in neatly for Rex Morgan, the second-best man on the team last season whose departure could have hurt the team seriously. When Fox was playing at Washington, D.C.'s Northwestern High, he was the first player since Elgin Baylor to make the all-city team three straight years. He is three inches shorter than Morgan at 6'2", but his talents are perhaps better rounded.
Little Vaughn Wedeking, whose coolness in the NCAA tournament was startling, considering that most of his career had been spent bringing the ball up against the likes of University of the Virgin Islands, Mercer, Biscayne and East Tennessee State, can play the point almost as well as South Carolina's Roche. With Burrows in the lineup, Jacksonville looks very imposing, but the Dolphins may be more effective with strong, 6'6" Greg Nelson in the high post. Nelson, Blevens and Guard Chip Dublin give Wasdin an excellent bench.
Last spring when former Head Coach Joe Williams resigned to go to Furman, Wasdin was immediately offered the job. Concerned about the pressure of continuing Jacksonville's program at its present high level, Wasdin revealed his doubts to Jacksonville President Robert Spiro. "Don't worry, Tom," Spiro said. "You don't have to do anything like last year. If you just move up one place in the ratings I think it'll be fine." And he might—with a little friendly help.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I want to show you something," Al McGuire announces into the mike. The setting is a Marquette clinic at the high school gym in Janesville, Wis., and Dean Meminger is going to demonstrate the dunk shot. Very simple. Meminger—nice, neat, boy-next-door—steps on the floor, smiles wryly, floats in, jumps smoothly and proceeds to smash the backboard into a cascading shower of glass that comes close to maiming him for life. Dean the Dream has almost become a nightmare, and McGuire is speechless for the first time anyone can remember. Oh, the NCAA would have loved the moment, discomfiture for two of its most unfavorite things, Al McGuire and the dunk.
The NCAA will have to wait. McGuire is back and fully ready to take up where he left off last year when he refused to go to the NCAA tournament because his team was invited to play in the Midwest Regional rather than the Mideast, its own section. It was a matter of principle, said McGuire. It was chicken, said his critics. Nonetheless, McGuire packed his bags for the NIT, where Marquette outclassed the field. Meminger, returning home to New York, was the tournament MVP, and Forward Gary Brell, an astonishing rebounder, was the MUP (most unbelievable player).
Those two are the only returning starters, a situation that caused McGuire to predict in the spring that his team was in for "a .500 season." Now, he says, he has "reassessed." He really has only dropped the con. The Warriors will be no closer to .500 than they have been in the past four seasons when they won 21, 23, 24 and 26 games. For the first time since he has been at Marquette, McGuire will have a natural center, 6'10" Jim Chones, a giant of much potential who, some of the Milwaukee Bucks say, is the quickest big man in the game. They should know something. They have been practicing with Chones. A sophomore, Chones "opens up a whole new world of defenses" according to McGuire; at times this year he will play a one-man zone while the other Warriors are hustling around in the familiar press.