This is the interim for UCLA—between Alcindor's years and the current freshmen, who are said to be something special. So what does a Bruin do during an interim? He wins, as the Uclans did last year and probably will again. Of course, someone could always get hot and break the string of NCAA championships at four. Any of a dozen teams—particularly the best half dozen—have the shooting, depth, height and balance to win the title. To assess their chances, the country's best teams were scouted—and ranked from I through 20—by Joe Jares, Pete Carry, Curry Kirkpatrick, Hal Peterson, Billy Reed, George Curry, Don Delliquanti, Larry Keith and Sandy Treadwell.
Missing from John Wooden's philosophical commandments is "Thou shalt not bite the hand that feeds you," which is unfortunate, considering what one of his former players did to him. His defending championship team really had only one problem—replacing Guard John Vallely, who graduated—and Wooden was all set to snap up Mike Reid, an impressive prospect who had led Compton Junior College to an undefeated season. Then two problems arose. One was Reid's grades. The other was Freddie Goss, a Bruin guard of the middle '60s who had landed a coaching job at Riverside with Wooden's help. Goss signed Reid and threw the backcourt situation at UCLA into controlled chaos. There turned out to be seven candidates for the job, including one Rick Barry, one Borsalino, two freshmen and a transfer student who had taken his basic training at Fort Steilacoom Community College in Ta-coma. Actually, Rich Betchley only thinks he is Rick Barry, whom he imitates down to the wristbands, razor cuts and Porsche, and Andy Hill only has a Borsalino hat, but the freshmen are just what they seem: 6' Tommy Curtis is quick-handed as well as bowlegged, and 6'3" Marv Vitatoe is the kind of jumper who can make a coach's heart leap. Both Betchley and Marvelous Marv are dazzling one-on-one players, but, as Wooden says, "We don't play man-for-man basketball at UCLA." Bob Webb, who gained a reputation for shooting at Fort Steilacoom, was expected to fill the void, but it has taken him a while to learn the UCLA system, which probably means Wooden will start the season using one of two seasoned players, Terry Schofield or Kenny Booker, both 6'3". Henry Bibby, of course, will take care of the ball handling and outside shooting. He averaged 16 points a game as a sophomore.
Up front Wooden has only one concern, keeping the professional bird dogs away from the door. Many pro teams would trade their front lines even up for Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe and Steve Patterson—an impressive trio. Nobody east of Palm Springs really knew how quick, strong and dominating Wicks could be until he demonstrated his driving stuff shot—whompf!—over 7'2" Artis Gilmore of Jacksonville in the NCAA tournament last year. Though Wooden chastised his player for the illegal move, it shook up Gilmore, turned the game around and won the title for UCLA. If anything, Wicks is quicker now, taller (he says he has grown an inch to 6'9"), more disciplined and a better shot. His explosiveness overshadows the 6'6" Rowe, an extraordinary athlete who does not make mistakes ("the most consistent player I've ever coached," says Wooden), and Patterson, who has always been underrated. The three, along with John Ecker, who plays just enough to save a game here and there, combined to shoot 52% a year ago. But pity poor Wooden. He still has that gnawing problem of the fifth starter. Somebody probably will turn up.
2 SOUTH CAROLINA
Assistant Coach Don Walsh, normally just as cheerful as all the other New York City Irish Catholics who have migrated to South Carolina to coach and play basketball at the university, frowned when he spotted a statuette standing on one of the top shelves of his bookcase. "I forgot I had it," he said. "As soon as I can get up there and take it down I'm gonna throw it away. That's what almost all the kids did with theirs."
The memento in question was the second-place trophy from last year's Atlantic Coast Conference tournament and "the kids" were all those fine basketball players at South Carolina who were victimized by the ACC's annual postseason absurdity. The Gamecocks finished the regular season with a 23-2 record (14-0 in their league) and hopes of a national championship. But a double-overtime loss in the conference tournament finals to North Carolina State's slowdown left them with nothing more than a refuse heap of trinkets.
South Carolina's disappointment has only strengthened the team's appetite for this season. "We had spent all year working to go to the final four in the national tournament," said John Roche, the exquisite guard who should win his third consecutive ACC Player of the Year award. "If we had lost in the regionals of the NCAAs instead of in the ACC tournament we would have been just as disappointed. We're going for a national championship, and we'll be dissatisfied with anything less."
Roche is one of the six-New York area Catholic school graduates who form the heart of Coach Frank McGuire's team and the main reason why the Gamecocks should finish at least as high as the final four. Roche, who averaged 22.3 points a game last year even though 14 teams tried to unsettle Carolina by slowing down its offense, runs the fast break and McGuire's 1-3-1 patterns almost flawlessly. He will have added help in the backcourt from Kevin Joyce, the top player on the New York All-Catholic team two years ago. Joyce, 6'3" and a jumper, will give the Gamecocks explosive scoring and added rebounding where it was lacking last year. McGuire's towering front line returns intact. Slender Tom Owens, who was Roche's high school teammate, and 225-pound junior Tom Riker are both 6'10". They averaged 29 points and 23 rebounds between them last season. The only non-New York starter will be 6'8", 235-pound John Ribock, who rarely scores but is rarely scored upon.
All three of South Carolina's losses came in games in which fewer than 130 points were scored. Although 13 teams lost while trying to stall against Carolina, slowdowns will remain a favorite device of opponents. In preseason drills the Gamecocks worked on pressuring leisurely offenses more aggressively than they did last year. It is unlikely that they can be stalled out of a shot at a satisfactory trophy this year.