For some time now the refrigerator in Jim Chones' 17th-floor apartment on the edge of the Marquette University campus in downtown Milwaukee has been a subject of considerable interest as well as an object containing questionable nourishment. A few months ago Marquette Coach Al McGuire looked into Chones' icebox, as he called it, and made the numbing assertion that "If I were him I'd take the money and run."
What McGuire saw in there was something along the lines of Chones' everyday stock: citrus punch, tomato catsup, orange juice, milk, mayonnaise, a can of ham, Manischewitz Cream White Concord, picked-over ground beef, fresh cucumber dill pickles and a dish of dried noodles.
At the time, Spencer Haywood, the noted scofflaw, had just concluded his full-court press against the NBA on behalf of undergraduate access to professional basketball. Along with several other college sophomores and juniors, Chones, Marquette's 6'11" center, was being deluged with offers from both professional leagues to leave school and sign a contract worth close to a million dollars. And McGuire, as is his wont, was flying full in the face of the prevailing opinion of most college coaches by advising his player to go ahead and take it.
McGuire's motives were simply understood and (in character) harshly realistic: "I recruited Jimmy to pave Marquette's way to the big time," he said. "He's got every right to leave now and do the same for himself." In the end, Chones did not leave. He stayed in school and now his sturdy presence is one of the few established facts of a college basketball season that appears to be one of the most perplexing in years.
Haywood's successful defiance has encouraged other underclassmen to travel the new quick route. By hook or by crook, through hail and hardship, the American Basketball Association took Julius Erving from Massachusetts, Johnny Neumann from Mississippi, George McGinnis from Indiana and Mickey Davis from Duquesne, while the NBA made off with Tom Payne of Kentucky, Nate Williams of Utah State and Phil Chenier of California. All were undergraduates with, one presumes, neglected iceboxes.
Such wholesale raids added more empty space to a season which will feel the effects of losing the most talented group of seniors in a decade. The largest void has been created by the departures of the Big Men: Jacksonville's Artis Gilmore and Western Kentucky's Jim McDaniels, who are expected to turn the ABA all the way around; Elmore Smith of Kentucky State and Sidney Wicks of UCLA, who led their teams to national titles and then became sudden saviors of still-infant NBA franchises.
The star system somehow always manages to replenish itself, however, and an inordinate number of new giants will arrive in the front court next month. Such sophomores as Maryland's Tom McMillen, Houston's Dwight Jones, UCLA's Bill Walton, New Mexico State's Roland (Tree) Grant, Northern Illinois' Jim Bradley, Jacksonville's Dave Brent—some of whom are pictured on the succeeding pages and only one of whom is as short as 6'8"—lead what undoubtedly is the largest and possibly most talented class of big men ever to enter college basketball. Still, good as they are, they are green and unweaned. A gap remains.
Which still leaves—in the middle of all of these comings and goings and providing a certain continuity between old and new—Jim Chones, a thoughtful, intelligent, jazz-loving 22-year-old junior. After such a massive exodus he is the nearest thing to an established superstar one can expect to see in 1971-72; by personality as well as through circumstance, a very special young man.
In the past five years the Warriors of Marquette have won 21, 23, 24, 26 and 28 games while reaching the NCAA Mideast Regional three times and the NIT finals twice. It is a record surpassed during that time only by UCLA and North Carolina and one that must surely stand alone in the annals of Jesuit five-year plans. Yet because of McGuire's playing style and offensive philosophy, the emergence of Chones has been as near a sneaking-up process as a man of his size can get away with.
Throughout his years at Marquette the abrasive, colorful McGuire depended on short, quick men who could outrun, outsky and, when the occasion demanded, out-punch the opposition. He had never started a center over 6'6"—not one who could shoot anything more than a layup, make rebounding look easy and effectively tend the basket on defense. When the tall, graceful Chones arrived on campus from down the freeway in Racine, McGuire discovered a man endowed with strength, agility and the ability to do all these things. He wasn't sure what to do with him.