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Curry Kirkpatrick
January 04, 1971
John Roche is the best of some New York transplants who are mean enough to take South Carolina to the NCAA title
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January 04, 1971

The Toughest Kid On Anybody's Block

John Roche is the best of some New York transplants who are mean enough to take South Carolina to the NCAA title

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On the court Roche is only a fraction tamer. The creativity and imagination of his game are things to behold. Still, they always seem accompanied by a certain contempt. His arrogance is overwhelming; Roche levels most opposing players not so much with a fist as with a sneer. He did take a swing at Auburn's John Mengelt in the opening game of the season, however, and in the Duke game, frustrated by a charging foul called on him, he kicked the fallen DeVenzio in the foot and drew a technical foul.

"He goes crazy sometimes," says Owens. "He's so intense, wants to win so badly. He has that look, like he's asking for trouble—an amazing hothead. Ask him."

"I think generally our team is a bunch of hotheads," says Roche, with vast understatement. "We have to get on Ribock to get him mad before the game. But Owens doesn't have to tell me anything. I'm immediately teed off the minute I hit the floor."

In quieter moments, Roche relaxes at Don's, a local pizza and beer paradise, studies his business courses—a B-plus student, he made several academic All-America teams—and goes out with Sally Helbig, his blonde girl friend from Scarsdale, N.Y. Sally says, "My mother thought I'd be Scarlett O'Hara and live on a plantation after I came to school here. So I wind up with a kid from the streets. They're the best kind anyway."

Last season many experts believed South Carolina's street kids were the only team with an even chance to defeat UCLA in the final playoffs, and the Gamecocks are one of few with that potential this year. Often Roche, Owens and the rest of McGuire's sons of the old sod by way of New York asphalt consider that thought, mull over their three-year record (52-10 to date) and admit that, although they may be the best ACC team ever, they have yet to win anything.

"It depends on your evaluation of yourself," says Roche. "Last year we felt we were good enough to win the NCAA. So it didn't make much difference losing when we did, or later. If we lost at all, the season was not a success. It's the same this time."

"We're tired of all the hatred," says Owens. "I came here to play basketball, not to grow to hate people. If we win the national championship, I just want to ride around the state of North Carolina with a megaphone, yelling at everybody, 'Drop dead.' Among other things."

Last summer Owens took a trip across the country, On a stopover in Los Angeles he walked into UCLA's Pauley Pavilion and talked with Henry Bibby, Sidney Wicks and Curtis Rowe. He told the Bruins he would see them at Houston, in the Astrodome, in the final game of the NCAA playoffs. If that meeting occurs, Owens will undoubtedly bring a little friend along with him.

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