And now, the Walton Gang. Already they have established themselves in the same mold as their predecessors at UCLA, strong-willed and free-thinking. A week before practice opened, sophomore Bill Walton, the 6'11" redhead upon whom a continuation of the Bruin dynasty depends, was asked to cut his hair for publicity photographs. Since he previously had been given a later deadline for the shearing, Walton demurred. So did sophomore Guard Greg Lee. Having established that point—whatever it may be—they must now prove that they can play basketball. The chances are they can. Some people, in fact, think UCLA's redshirts from last season could leave school, hire Flip Wilson as coach and finish third in the Pacific Eight. The Bruins, as always, are that loaded.
With John Wooden as coach, they should finish first in their conference again. The attack this time will be fast-paced and directed more like a ballet than a bulldozer. Last season's maulers, Sidney Wicks, Curtis Rowe and Steve Patterson, have taken to the pros a weight advantage of 30 pounds a man over their replacements, but Wooden has always preferred a running style and he will have loads of fun with this crew. Walton, a truly awesome defensive player and shot blocker, gets the ball off the board and out on the break quicker than any man alive (yes, including Wes Unseld). With the charismatic Lee in back-court, along with Henry Bibby, who has improved his shooting, the UCLA fast break should go whoooosh.
Because of questionable knees, Walton must spend an extra hour a day at practice, applying heat packs before and ice packs afterward. His hands, though, are always hot; he shot 69% as a freshman. The third rookie in the starting lineup is Keith Wilkes, a player of grace and finesse whose bony frame (6'6", 175 pounds) did not keep Wooden from telling a rival coach that if Wilkes had been available last year he would have started then, too. Junior Cornerman Larry Farmer (6'5") lacks bulk also, but his experience and work on the offensive board puts him ahead of still another sophomore, Gary Franklin, who can swing to backcourt. There, the Bruins are very deep, with Andy Hill and bowlegged Tommy Curtis, a redshirt who might beat out Lee for a starting position. Wooden also can call on 6'11" Swen Nater, a terrific shooter from the high post, as well as superb one-on-one players Larry Hollyfield and Marv Vitatoe.
UCLA has now won five straight national championships and seven of the last eight while keeping on the bench athletes like John Ecker, who is now doing such things in Europe as scoring 29 points against the German All-Stars. What is Wooden trying to do, win a world championship?
The basketball season at the University of Maryland began officially at 12:03 a.m. on Oct. 15. That's when the team assembled on the running track in Byrd Stadium for a mile-and-a-half run. Lighting was provided by automobile headlights; Lefty Driesell and his assistants were there timing the boys, and so were about 200 students, which tells something of the way they feel about basketball this season at College Park.
"We wanted to be the first team in the country to practice," explained a Terrapin, "and we want to be No. 1 at the end of the season, too." According to Len Elmore, the 6'9" sophomore from New York, it was just a publicity gag. "But we expect to go as far as we can," he says, "and that should be all the way."
Coming off a so-so 14-12 season, Maryland will start three—and possibly four—sophomores. Ordinarily that is not the stuff of a national championship, but these are not ordinary sophomores. As freshmen last season they humiliated 16 straight opponents by an average of 30 points, even with Elmore sitting out most games with a broken kneecap. The main reason, of course, was the presence of Washington's newest monument, 6'11" Tom Mc-Millen, the youngster from Mansfield, Pa. who is the college sport's No. 1 name even before his first varsity game.
The focus of one of the most intense, bitter recruiting hassles in history, McMillen led the freshmen with averages of 29.3 points and 15.4 rebounds. He is extraordinarily quick and such a fine shooter that Driesell will play him at a low post—where his soft hooks are virtually unstoppable—or, occasionally, on a wing. Although he still looks thin, McMillen's weight is up to 215 pounds, about 10 more than last season. "And he's jumping better, too," says Elmore. "I can tell that when I go against him in practice and he stuffs me."
Even without McMillen, the Terrapins would be a national contender. For size they not only have a healed Elmore, but 7-foot sophomore Mark Cartwright, who averaged 27 points in the last four freshman games. Elmore will start and Cartwright probably will play behind 6'8" Jim O'Brien, a strong leaper who led last year's varsity with a 16.3 average. Returning in backcourt is 6'2" Howard White, whose only problem is inconsistency. As a sophomore, White's scoring ranged from 38 points to zero. He probably will start at one guard, unless Driesell decides to use sophomores Rich Porac and Jap Trimble, a fine one-on-one player.