Jerry Tarkanian is not sleeping so well these days for worrying about his Long Beach 49ers. Not that Tarkanian is concerned that someone is going to pick on them—just the opposite. What he dreads are the kind of lines about his rugged team that go: "Yeah, they can play, but can they spell?" Tarkanian, who has been accused of recruiting some fairly intimidating types, is tired of that sort of talk. "We've had some tough guys," he says. "Especially last year. I'll be the first to admit it. But only two of our kids now are poor students, and we'll graduate more black kids than either UCLA or USC. My men cannot be called outlaws."
Be that as it may, his men certainly do shoot people up a lot. In Tarkanian's two years on the sprawling Long Beach campus (enrollment: 28,000, the largest state college in California), the 49ers have won 47 and lost eight, with only one of the defeats coming in their league. They are now in the Pacific Coast Athletic Association. His efforts have forced the rest of the league members to shape up their programs, but vast improvement is needed before any of them catch Tarkanian.
The speed-loving 49ers had to contend with stalling tactics in nine games last season and won them all thanks to George Trapp. The 6'9" brother of the San Diego Rockets' sometime Satanic-looking John Trapp, George controlled the game despite playing out of position in the pivot. This year he is the only returning starter (Forward Billy Jankans passed up his final year to sign with the Pittsburgh Condors of the ABA and then, unfortunately, was dropped), but Trapp will not have to do it all. He will go to the corner now to make room for Bob Lynn, the starting center two years ago who sat out last season with a liver ailment. Lynn will add board strength, which despite his offensive weakness is all that matters. Tarkanian's mother lode of incoming talent includes two 6½-footers due to achieve quick fame. One is Chuck Terry, a handsome, solid shooter and defender who was the California junior college player of the year. The other is fluid Ed Ratleff, who became something of a legend before ever putting on a varsity uniform. Out of East High School in Columbus, Ohio, Ratleff signed a letter of intent at Florida State before detouring to Long Beach, where he averaged 40 points and 25 rebounds a game as a freshman. He also pitched the varsity baseball team to the NCAA playoffs. Tarkanian will start Ratleff in the backcourt alongside speedy Dwight Taylor, but Ratleff will end up roaming anywhere the game takes him—short of Florida State. Bernard (Bird) Williams will play backcourt, too, while high-jumping Dave McLucas can fill in at forward or center. The 49ers have such big-timers as Marquette, Colorado and Kansas on their schedule now, but if Tarkanian thinks he is sneaking up on anybody with Ratleff and his buddies, he is mistaken. Everybody is ready for Long Beach.
9 UTAH STATE
Well beyond the bleary glare of enormous population centers there is a lot of beautiful blackness, so pure and unmegalopolitan that the light patterns of the little towns of Utah's Cache Valley are framed in it like constellations on a clear winter night.
On the big college team of the area there is blackness, too, all beautiful. The Utah State players come from such distant nebulas as Oakland and Brooklyn. Forward Marvin Roberts and Center Walter Bees, for instance, are from Bedford-Stuyvesant, light-years away from Logan. Forward Nate Williams is from Oakland's McClymonds High School, center of its own kind of galaxy (Bill Russell, Frank Robinson, Curt Flood, et al.).
Roberts and Williams are a superb forward combination. Roberts, at 6'8", is a telepathic passer from the pivot and has the ball-handling ability to play guard. When Utah State scared UCLA in the West Regional final last year, he scored 33 points, took down 16 rebounds and drew three fouls from Sidney Wicks in the first 10 minutes. "Roberts has always been a superhuman being out there," Assistant Coach Dale Brown says matter of factly. Williams, a 6'5" junior, can jump 32 vertical inches and is kind of superhuman himself. After scoring 45,40, 35 and 40 points in sophomore-year games, he settled down to a 21.7-point average—with ball handling. Against Santa Clara, he made three consecutive steals and turned all of them into baskets. It was no fault of Williams or Roberts that the Aggies did not run right through their 1969-70 schedule. They tried hard enough.
Lafayette Love, all of 6'10", is double-quick for his size, rebounds well and has a good hook. Conscientious and likable even beyond the norm for this team, the sophomore center may tend to be overanxious but, Coach La-Dell Andersen hopes, not overmatched. Even if he isn't, two homegrown Utahans at forward could push Roberts out of the pivot. They are Ron Hatch and Bob Lauriski, who hit unearthly percentages from the field. "It's just like turning on a faucet," says Andersen, normally a conservative sort. "Hatch hits with monotonous consistency from 12 to 15 feet out. In a scrimmage this fall he went 17 for 20. But Lauriski did almost as well, and he hit 45% as a freshman."
Andersen seriously is considering playing four forwards. If Hatch or Lauriski plays at the top of the key, Jeff Tebbs will be the point man, a job for which he is well suited. He rarely commits a turnover, is as good as anybody one-on-one and can shoot, too.
Andersen should take this latest of his fast-breaking, flip-shooting teams to State's sixth postseason tournament in 10 years. And on the way State will frighten a lot of people; its new 11,000-seat Assembly Center, which will open in December and is a splendid rival of the new Utah facility, lies close by a graveyard.