The Bonnies seldom leave their isolated part of the country. They play only nine "away" games this season, and five of those are so nearby as to barely count. But it is not only the home court advantage they enjoy. It's that abominable weather, which provides a perfect setting for ambushing visitors. "That wind," Gantt says. "You duck behind a building to escape it, and it comes all the way around and smacks you in the butt. One day they called off classes because it was snowing so hard you couldn't see the buildings to get to them." When South Florida snowshoes in on Jan. 31, its big worry will not be winning (it won't), but whether it will ever get out again.
The old sign seems particularly appropriate hanging there in the Jacksonville dressing room: "The improbable we can do immediately, the impossible might take us awhile." With only two starters back, the Dolphins may yet pull off the improbable. But the impossible concerns ignoring the loss of Artis Gilmore. He blocked 269 shots last season, which is considerably more shots than will be blocked by the entire Dolphin team in 1971-72.
The blocks the Dolphins can count on no doubt will come from 7-foot Dave Brent. So far he is no Gilmore but in time he may bat down his share. Brent is more of a scorer, however. He led the freshman team with 25.8 points a game, 20.5 rebounds and a .571 field goal percentage en route to being voted Freshman Player of the Year in the Southeast. Obviously, he will not give you the back of his hand, like Gilmore, but the front of his hand, even from 15 feet, is being counted on heavily. "He has the talent to be one of the best players ever in college basketball," Coach Tom Wasdin claims. In a varsity-freshman game last year Brent scored 45 points against Gilmore (7'2") and Pembrook Burrows (7'0").
Point Guard Harold Fox changes from being the most sought-after JC player in the country two years ago to one of the most wanted senior guards. He can shoot and he can play defense. Last season he averaged 19 points a game while sinking exactly half of his shots and he put in almost three-quarters of his free throws, all the while terrorizing would-be scorers
Joining Fox as co-captain is Forward Ernie Fleming, a 6'7" senior who has already been drafted by the Atlanta Hawks. Fleming and Gilmore were teammates in junior college and worked out together over the summer. Although Flem will not command the multimillion-dollar contract that Gilmore did, he knows that his value will appreciate with his effectiveness this year.
Should Wasdin utilize the two-guard front, the second will be sophomore Leon Benbow, a 6'5" leaper who shoots with amazing accuracy (in one practice session he connected on 19 of 20 field goals from 15 feet out). Because of disciplinary problems, Benbow played on an AAU team last year instead of the freshman squad and the exposure did nothing to hurt him. At the wing opposite Fleming will be either Abe Steward, a first-team junior college All-America, or Kevin O'Riordan, a starter at Miami before that school dropped basketball.
For all his talented players, Wasdin has to have some impossible luck to survive his improbable schedule, which includes such heavies as Furman, Marquette, Florida State, Providence and Houston.
There is no indignity that Adolph Rupp has not suffered at least once. Asked about the early departure of 7-foot Tom Payne, who abandoned Kentucky—after only one season—to play pro ball, Rupp dusted off memories of another escape of 37 years before. "The boy's name was Leroy Edwards," he began. "A good player and big for his day and the reason the three-second rule was created. He quit to join one of those pro teams around then. But we were able to get over it."