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Neither Ohio State nor Minnesota is fully recovered from the infamous brawl of last January. The bloodied Buckeyes, who won the game but lost the rumble, never regained their nerve and missed out on a second straight conference championship. Minnesota won but is still concerned.
"Much has been made of our 6-4 collapse following that game," an OSU official said. "But Minnesota, having lost a starter and a sixth man and what with all that was said about them, could easily have been the ones who cracked under the pressure. They didn't, though, and we played like zombies the rest of the way." Which is one good reason why the Gophers arc expected to win the conference again, if at last they do not succumb to the pressure of all that bad publicity.
To recapitulate, after the imbroglio Ron Behagen and Corky Taylor were suspended and Coach Bill Musselman, who won his players', if not his country's, lasting respect by supporting them strongly, was left with only four starters, four substitute guards and a baseball player to finish out the season. Miraculously, they won. Now Behagen and Taylor arc back and there are three new faces around to reinforce the Iron Five that Musselman went with after the Ohio State game.
Heading the team is Olympian Jim Brewer, the Big Ten's Most Valuable Player. Taylor is behind him along with 7' freshman Tommy Barker. Clyde Turner, who scored 19 of the Gophers' 64 points per game, is a fixture at one forward. Bruiser Dave Winfield may go to the bench now that sleek Behagen and his 17 points per game are off suspension. Bob Nix and Keith Young man the guard positions, but sophomore Greg Olson could shoot his way into prominence and junior-college All-America Bob Larsen will back up Young. Going into practice Minnesota was impressive and nothing it has done since offers much in the way of aid and comfort to opponents.
But what of the trouble? Musselman is willing to make a personal apology to Ohio State's Fred Taylor, but Taylor says he can never bring himself to respond. "I'm just country enough," he said not long ago, "to think it all comes home to roost someday." The players, on the other hand, appear to have settled, if not forgotten, their differences. Brewer and OSU's Luke Witte, the stomped-on victim of the Minnesota-Ohio State nongame, played on the same Olympic Trials team, and Turner and Ohio's Dan Gerhard toured Australia as Big Ten all-stars. In both instances the players talked over their differences privately, then refused to answer any questions put to them by the press. They proceeded to play like teammates from the same school.
Yet the tension refuses to go away. Already scheduled for national television—surely because of anticipated public interest—is the first rematch on Feb. 10 at Ohio State. If the atmosphere becomes recharged, Minnesota may well feel fortunate that it led the nation in defense last year. Defense could come in handy.
Before they start writing songs about him, putting his face on the front of cereal boxes, spreading his exploits from campfire to campfire and negotiating professional contracts with more zeroes in them than the Japanese air force had during World War II, here are the simple facts about the 6'4" basketball phenomenon known as David (Doctor D.) Thompson. He is quiet, shy, cooperative and friendly, which is to say, in some respects a normal sophomore. That North Carolina State's fervor to recruit him two years ago put the school on probation this season is not his fault—and neither he nor his coach is worried all that much about the stigma anyway. What is a rule or two when you have a player aboard who has already been called by Purdue Coach Fred Schaus one of the 10 best, pro or college, in the country today?
Now to more basic information. Doctor D. Thompson is a player with a 42-inch vertical jump, which means he gets that high off the floor without benefit of a run. He is a player who is being called the best ever in the Atlantic Coast Conference even before opponents' first curses have sounded. A player, furthermore, who will hereafter be known around Reynolds Coliseum as The Franchise.
"David is the heart of our plans," says Coach Norman Sloan. "We're going to keep him around the basket and work awfully hard to get the ball to him. If he is stopped we'll be hurt, but it's a chance I'm willing to take. He is the best I have ever seen. There is something about the way he moves and acts that says great. Because of him it is justifiable to say we'll have one of the best teams in the country this year."