Even if they did not have one of the best shooters, one of the best sophomores, one of the best junior-college transfers and seven, eight or maybe 78 other guys who arc among the best something or others, the Titans of Oral Roberts University would have a lot of the good things in life going for them. After all, the school's modernistic Prayer Tower sends out heavenly signals 24 hours a day. At Oral Roberts, whether the appeals are going skyward or toward the referees, winning is an around-the-clock proposition.
The Titans lost but two of 26 games last season, their first as a major college, when they set an NCAA record for scoring and led the nation in rebounding. A 100-point game at ORU, in fact, is just about as ho-hum as someone throwing away his crutches after a session with the school's founder, President Oral Roberts, the dynamic minister who believes that a winning basketball team can help spread the faith.
Located on 500 gently rolling acres at the southeastern fringe of Tulsa, Okla., ORU began sprouting its widely spaced blue, gold and white buildings of futuristic steel and glass in 1962. Now the young Davids are ready to venture forth to play the Goliaths of college basketball. Only this time their leader is a 7' sophomore, David Vaughn. He was the object of a vigorous recruiting tug-of-war between Memphis State and Oral Roberts. The Tennessee school thought it had tugged for most of the rope when Vaughn met and fell in love with star Memphis State Guard Larry Finch's sister (whom Vaughn later married), but David's father is a minister and the president showed up in person one day and...well, mortal love lasts only for a lifetime.
Vaughn will give the Titans something they lacked last winter, size inside to go with some divine outside shooting by Guard Richard Fuqua. Fuqua's long-range jump shots averaged 35.9 points per game last year, just half a point away from leading the nation, and a chart of his shots showed that those taken farther from the basket fell in more often than those closer. Fuqua, who has an odd, loose-jointed way about him in the court, was held under 25 points three times. On those nights the Titans won two games by a point and lost the other. Vaughn's addition allows high-jumping Eddie Woods to move to forward, where he will be joined by junior-college recruit Greg McDougald. The other guard spot will he tilled by Larry Baker, a 6'4" senior who played on the same high school team as Fuqua. By no means does the ability end there. On the bench there are plenty of reserves to spell the regulars when the pace becomes too fast.
The Titans play a more arduous schedule than before, but with their new and old talent, plus a little help from the Prayer Tower, winning the close ones should be no problem. "You know," mused Coach Ken Trickey one day, lifting his eyes skyward, "it just seems that when it comes down to that last-second shot, the one you must make, the ball always goes in for us."
As a basketball school Marquette represents a purgatorial stage for high schoolers wanting to turn pro. It is a place where a player's bad habits get corrected quickly—by the competition or the sympathetic coaching or, more likely, both. He learns to perform in a style popular with pro scouts, knowing that the NBA and ABA keep their eyes on Marquette and its iconoclastic coach, Al McGuire, who looks like a young priest, sounds like an Eastern dock worker but thinks and talks like a sociologist. There are no rabid strictures and very little rah-rah in McGuire's coaching liturgy. He is a free spirit who encourages his team to be every bit as adventurous.
On the first afternoon of practice, 15 hours after some coaches have already begun with a midnight scrimmage and others have sent their men huffing through a mile run or into an initiation pileup to retrieve a loose ball, McGuire is talking about the last time he saw Charlie Scott play and his choice (which he prefers to keep to himself) of the best referee in the NBA. "The playoffs are the only thing," he says, talking about the NBA but perhaps thinking about the NCAA tournament. "All the rest is garbage." So, to hear McGuire, is all that mystery surrounding coaching.
"Look," he says, "the kids I get should already be blue-chip thoroughbreds. All I have to do is teach them a little discipline and the rest is a jelling of the minds. I try to start my seniors; I feel I owe them that. And we try to showcase our black players for the pros, because making it is very important within their culture.