"Slick knows," said Johnny, referring to Carolyn, who in turn sometimes calls her husband Johnny Cool.
Because of the Texas game, Neumann dropped behind in his race against the ghost of Maravich. He pulled even after 11 games but then dropped off again. He says, "I don't think I'll win the scoring championship. Austin Carr will beat me out. But he's a senior, and I've got two more years." However, Neumann is six points a game ahead of Carr and all other nonghosts this season. Following his first 16 games, he had scored 687 total points (36 behind Maravich at a similar stage), was averaging 42.9 a game and was shooting .469%, some .038 percentage points better than The Pistol. Last Saturday night, playing in Pete's old front yard at LSU, Neumann set a school scoring record with 63 points as Mississippi upset the Tigers 113-90.
Though Ole Miss won its first six games and Neumann had probably his best early performance (39 points) against Auburn, it was a two-game series in the Palmetto Invitational at Charleston, S.C. that was most indicative of the kind of zany yet invigorating season that is happening to Mississippi basketball and its new star. In the first game of the tournament against Baylor, Neumann scored 60 points, his team scored 113—and Mississippi lost by 19. In a consolation match against The Citadel, Neumann made 28, the team 90—and the Rebels again lost by 19. "I believe he run down in that one," says Neumann's coach, Robert (Cob) Jarvis, whose speech is sometimes indistinguishable from that of a man losing a pie-eating contest. "The ole boy was tired. Gosh. Sometimes I just set and wonder."
The Neumanns' efficiency apartment in Patio Gardens is part of a recently converted motel that comes not only with patio and gardens but with color TV and gravel driveway. Just off Highway 6 leading into Oxford, hard by a trailer court and a few footsteps away from the Rebel Drive-In movie, their place is highlighted by a back area that is combination kitchen, bedroom, study and, when the occasion arises, theater seat. Recently, for instance, if the Neumanns felt the urge to look out their back window or their front door, they could have watched The Exotic Ones for free.
Decorating the living-room wall, framed and mounted on the same piece of burlap, are a few of the Neumanns' favorite things: a figure of the Ole Miss Rebel, the words "University of Mississippi" and a magazine cutout color replica of a Firebird Trans-Am 70 automobile. Johnny went, as he says, "hot on cars" during the last year, and when Slick's father bought them a Firebird (he is still paying off the notes on it), they both were so overjoyed they hung a picture of it up there fast. Their own model is white with metallic-blue interior and blue racing stripes up the hood and down the trunk. It is also in the shop after being all but destroyed when Johnny's younger brother Bill "put it through a telephone pole." That was an occasion to match the somberness of the time last summer when the Neumanns' dog Oscar lunched on a bottle of Slick's pills and wobbled away from home, never to return.
"It would have died anyway, after we pumped the stomach," says Slick, who now has a new toy collie, Swish, to keep her company while Johnny is on the road. "I wanted to call it Net," he says, "but she decided on Swish. Get it? Swish—the ball goes swish when I shoot."
"How about that for an ego trip?" says Slick.
"Shut up," says Johnny. "Damn, Carolyn, Swish is gonna do something right in front of an interviewer. Dog, git out!"
It has come as no surprise, really, that young Johnny Neumann has picked up the pistols of the departed Maravich. A close follower of the former LSU star while in high school, Neumann came to Oxford with rings on his ankles and bells on his toes, or, more appropriately, with white hands on his wrists and a fine appreciation of the showboating opportunities available in the game. The son of a traveling salesman who relentlessly pushed him and his older brother, Bob, to a pursuit of excellence in the sport, Neumann remembers growing up in Ohio a block away from the Cincinnati Gardens and getting tickets to all the Royals' games "down front—so we could yell at them." Bob Neumann, eight years older, taught Johnny most of what he does now on the court; after he went away to school at Memphis State, Bob gave Johnny his scrapbooks with pictures of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West, Neumann's idols, and instructions on what to watch for in the book.
Under a picture of Robertson hooking, for example, Bob wrote, "Watch his left hand, how it wards off defenders, protects his body and the ball."