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Three starters return from an 18-11 team that lost seven games by six or fewer points. Two of them, Guard Bernie Fryer, with a 19.2 scoring average, and Kresimir Cosic, who brought down 12.6 rebounds a game, are among the school's best ever. This Brigham Young team may, in fact, rank with the NIT titlists of 1951 and 1966. "We'll be good," the genial Watts says. "We have the things we missed last year, such as experience, guard depth, better rebounding at forward and better outside shooting."
Strangely, what Brigham Young may not have is its customary home court advantage. Over the last seven seasons the Cougars have won 88% of their games at Smith Field House. Now they move into the new Marriott Activities Center. Its 22,500 seats make it one of the largest school facilities in the country. Construction workers have pushed to get it ready for the opening tournament that features a team from each of the four time zones. "Our opponents will know that place as well as we will," says Watts. "Playing there will take getting used to."
At least as exciting as the new gym is Cosic (pronounced Cho-sich), the Yugoslav who averaged 15 points per game and was truly outstanding by the end of the season. "His only problem is his independence," says Watts. "He certainly knows the game, but he tries to do things a big kid shouldn't do, like lead the fast break. Of course he does a lot of things very well, like shoot from the outside. I don't think there is a big man around who can stay with him because of his quickness and agility."
Cosic, whose exploits were reported back to Yugoslavia last year by a writer named Boris Pasternak (no relation), admits that "All the time I like to handle the ball." Fryer says it is a case of a 6'11" center believing he is a guard. In reality, Fryer's guardmate will be one of three sophomores up from a freshman team that averaged over 100 points a game. The best bet is Doug Richards. The team's forwards are its Canadian import, Phil Tollestrup, who averaged 11.5 points, and 6'8" Jay Bunker, a reserve who scored 27 points and had 17 rebounds in an impressive win over Villanova.
But that was last year. For 1971-72 the Bonnies have added some bit of height to the act, 6'9" Glenn Price, which should help. The sophomore center has quickness, a good outside shot and excellent moves underneath. He will play high post but is not ready for low, where Bob Lanier used to operate. Gantt, completely healed, goes back to forward, where his kangaroo shots are deadly. ("Jump shots" is an understatement; Gantt sometimes jumped center even when the 6'11" Lanier was around.) Coach Larry Weise will be able to zone more convincingly and his 3-2 continuity offense, stressing more options off the high post, will look very believable.
Paul Hoffman was believable all along. Here is a 6'1" guard who averages 51% of his shots from the floor, sets up plays with exceptional coolness, revs up the rah-rah quotient and gets 144 rebounds, too. At the other forward, Carl Jackson averaged 48% and 14.1 points and got 209 rebounds last season. And there is the good ball handler, Guard Vic Thomas, who averaged a very respectable 44% from the field. St. Bonaventure may lack depth, but sophomore Guard Rick Murray, for one, combines good scoring potential with sound defense.