The Gamecocks, who have lost at home only four times in four years, play 13 games on their court this season, making up for 1971-72 when they finished 24-5 while playing out of a suitcase. They still make a few dangerous road trips but most of the time McGuire should have matters right where he likes to keep them, in his hip pocket.
There is a brand new game in Tuscaloosa, Ala., a place where before now no one has thought much about anything 'cept The Game and The Bear during a football season that runs about 11 or 12 months a year. The University of Alabama has discovered how to play basketball, and it probably has discovered it well enough to win the Southeastern Conference title. After all, Alabama almost won the Southeastern Conference title last season and three of its five conference losses were by a total of seven points. Those seven points look mighty insignificant standing next to Charles Cleveland and Leon Douglas.
For a while Cleveland, a sophomore, and Douglas, a freshman, had something of a monopoly on the Most Valuable Player award in the Alabama state high school tournament. Cleveland won it in 1970 and Douglas in 1971 and 1972. And both are products of Coach C. M. Newton's law: the longer it takes a rebounder to come down, the more you try to recruit him. Alabama is loaded with players who have helium, as well as mercury, in their bloodstreams and the youngsters join three starters back from a team that was 18-8.
When Newton took over at Alabama four years ago, his first harvest yielded four victories. A desultory high school program that occasionally even found an assistant football coach moonlighting on the basketball court was about as much help as the boll weevil is to cotton farmers. Then high school basketball began catching on in the state and the good players—particularly the blacks, who appreciated Newton's color-blind viewpoint—took to staying home. The Tide's starting lineup could have four Alabama-born blacks on it. "I'll play the best players," says Newton, encouraged by fans who at one time stayed away in droves from the magnificent Memorial Coliseum, which was completed in 1968 and seats over 15,000. This year season-ticket sales have at least doubled.
The crowds will be coming out to see a winner, especially if Douglas can provide the immediate help many people think he should. Newton tends to play down Douglas' chances of contributing, trying to take some of the pressure off the 6'10" center. "He's only 18 and it is a lot to ask a guy his age to go against the kind of big men we'll be facing this year," says Newton, perhaps forgetting he is talking about a conference noted for the absence of many good, big men. Cleveland broke the school freshman scoring and rebounding records last season and will move into the backcourt with Ray (Big O) Odums, another of those state tournament MVPs (1969). Odums, who makes the fast break work with his burning speed, led the SEC in assists last year.
Senior Wendell Hudson, the first black to play basketball for Alabama, was the team's best player the last two seasons and assuredly will benefit on the boards by Douglas' arrival. That could be woeful for the opposition. Alabama scored over 100 points five times last year. The total should be easily eclipsed, along with the rest of the SEC, including Kentucky and Tennessee.
At St. Joe's of Philadelphia, basketball is more than a student's passing fancy. As athletes and academicians alike insist, it is a source of identity for the school and even an answer of sorts for the problems of a small, private. Catholic liberal arts college in today's society. St. Joe's does have its problems: attracting students in a secular age without displeasing alumni, funding in the face of a small endowment, relating its campus to a changing neighborhood. Half of the school is in Philadelphia, half in suburban Merion and it has an enrollment of day students, night students and boarders, many of them first-generation collegiates. The school's very name is confusing, shared as it is by dozens of others. Its programs in the hard sciences, physics and engineering are highly regarded and it has one of the few food-marketing majors in the country, but outside of academe, who pays any attention to things of that sort? As St. Joseph's long ago discovered, it remains for its varsity basketball team to supply the missing image.
This year that will be easy. St. Joe's should receive the kind of recognition it has not enjoyed since two of Jack Ramsay's squads combined for a 50-8 mark in the mid-1960s. And the school better enjoy it. Unless present Coach Jack McKinney comes up with another Mike (Stick) Bantom, the chance probably won't come again for a while. Bantom, at 6'9" the biggest and possibly best player in St. Joe's history, is a senior. McKinney has had so much trouble recruiting other men as large as Bantom that, he says only half in jest, he had to "get out a book and learn how to coach him." The results were mixed. Last year the Hawks operated a 2-3 offense that allowed two or three opponents to converge on Bantom, who, good as he was, could not play the game all by himself. "We found that they could defense us," admits McKinney.