The parallels that keep cropping up between the careers of Maravich and Neumann—the basketball family; the big Southern football school that found itself with a basketball phenomenon—defy all logic. However, their personalities, which are characterized by a gregarious, showy, outspoken way of doing things and a happy-go-lucky, barely tolerable attitude of cockiness, are more alike than their styles of play. Maravich, of course, was—and is now for the Atlanta Hawks—a guard who brought the ball up the floor, directed the flow of play and did most of his shooting from outside. Above all, he was the quintessential showman, a passer of unmatched splendor who would rather thread the ball through an opponent's uniform and get a laugh than get loose for a breakaway and score a basket. Neumann, on the other hand, is a forward who sets up on the wing in the Mississippi offense and uses his considerable feinting skills away from the ball for much of his success. Being an inch and a half taller than Maravich and somewhat stronger, he is able to muscle underneath for shots that Maravich was not able to get off. Conversely, Neumann is not as quick as Maravich, does not seem to jump as well nor to have as good a nose for rebounds. And Neumann is nowhere near The Pistol as a child of show business or as a crowd-arouser. Still, SEC coaches consider him a better shooter, better without the ball and, therefore, more dangerous to defend against.
"I give Neumann the edge over Maravich because of his superiority inside," says Tennessee's Ray Mears. "Give him the ball eight feet from the basket, and it's two points. He seems to think better for a sophomore than Pete did. In our game [in which Neumann got 26 points, his low for the season] Neumann didn't force shots against our overloaded defense the way Pete did in his first two seasons at LSU. Neumann passed off when he didn't have the shot."
Adolph Rupp says that "Neumann is as good now as Pete was as a senior," and Vanderbilt's Roy Skinner says he is the "best all-round player" he has seen in a long time. Nonetheless, these judgments are necessarily suspect; it is hardly a secret that at the conclusion of Maravich's college career little love was lost between The Pistol and opposing coaches and players, due to some of the things he had done to embarrass them. The resentment seems implicit in a statement from Vanderbilt Forward Thorpe Weber: "Neumann is a far better player than Pete Maravich ever was. He's unselfish and a gentleman on the court."
Neumann himself, though weary of the comparisons, credits them with making him well known. Naturally, too, gun-slingers stick together. "I'm complimented when they talk about me with Pete," Neumann says. "It's brought me my fame. People got down on him for shooting so much, but he worked his butt off to get those shots. When I met him last year he told me one thing I was neglecting. When I put the ball between my legs, I wasn't exploding on the move. He said to explode.
"Pete had the quickest first step I've ever seen. A tremendous move—one step and then up for the shot. My step is longer, which makes us even since I can hook a man with my arm off it. People say I get open better than he did, but Pete never had to get open. He always had the ball. Shoot, he was good enough to do all of it, anything, when he wanted to. Any good athlete can even play defense if he wants to."
Indeed, Neumann is probably more relaxed on defense than Maravich was as a sophomore, a feat previously believed humanly impossible. He plays what is known as the matador defense—waving as the man goes by—and is always quick to hang around at the top of the circle for the fast break.
"I figured I'd average about 35 points this year, but it's worked out better," says Neumann. "My teammates deserve the credit. They're feeding me. They go along with whatever I want. Shoot. I think they'd be content if I won the scoring title and we finished at .500. But I told them I'd rather win games."
To win this season, Neumann has with him sophomore Guards Danny Gunn and Dave Rhodes, who have helped Ole Miss scare a few big people, notably Kentucky (when the Rebels came from a 24-point second half deficit into the lead). Next season when 7' Fred Cox and Mississippi's first black player, Coolidge (Kool Aid) Ball, join the varsity the Rebels may find themselves in contention for the SEC championship.
"Pete's got his socks. I've got my tooth," Johnny Cool is saying, pointing to the left side of his mouth where one of his upper teeth sticks out, shining like silver. It is silver. In the sixth grade Neumann took an elbow shot to the mouth, and a cap, the full length of his tooth, resulted.
"My wife thinks it's cute, but it's coming out," says Neumann. "I can't chase skirts with this silver thing in here."