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FIVE TO WATCH
There was a time—well, to be honest, it was only last year—when it was possible to scan the rosters of teams and spot the oddities, the schools with a gifted player or two that were going to surprise everybody by suddenly nosing into the national rankings. But as the 1972-73 season begins, it seems almost everybody has a couple of giants who can pass like Lenny Wilkins, drive like Billy Cunningham and defend like Bill Russell. They need those just to stay in the game. The teams that are going to spring fresh into the public consciousness now have four and five such men, and the reasons why they haven't been better known before are 1) they only recently got their players and 2) they could do handily with a couple more of them to reach parity with the Top 20.
Take Canisius, and not many teams will. The small Jesuit college was always the respectable little brother to St. Bonaventure and Niagara in the Buffalo neighborhood but the Golden Griffins never seemed to get a Lanier or a Murphy—until now, when they have a Montgomery. Mel Montgomery is a sophomore who, according to Niagara's Frank Layden, will soon be a household name in his own right. He won't be playing alone of course, and, in fact, John Morrison, Canisius' new 27-year-old coach, intends to break him in slowly. Morrison can afford to. He has four two-year starters, including Forward Mike Macaluso, who averaged 16.9 points last year, another strong sophomore in Mike Roberts and freshman Charles Jordan, the third-leading rebounder in Indiana high school history. The Griffins will not be mythical for long.
The University of San Francisco, on the way back to a prominence it once knew, is a different story. Starting slowly last season, the Dons won 16 of their last 19 games to capture the West Coast Athletic Conference title. Four starters return who, says Coach Bob Gaillard, "are not afraid to win." Who would be with players like Byron (Snake) Jones, the league's top rebounder, and 6'10" Kevin Restani, co-sophomore of the year? Joining them on the front line will be sophomore Eric Fernsten ("A shot rejector," says Gaillard), Phil Smith, the team's leading scorer, and a former Los Angeles high school sensation, Richard Johnson. The Dons meet UCLA on Jan. 19—which brings up the record the Bruins want to break. Remember the Bill Russell teams' 60 straight in the 1950s? You can bet SF does.
There is no such tradition in the Southwest Conference, where basketball has been about as popular as log rolling in the Mojave Desert. But now, from of all places, the University of Texas, comes a team that doesn't punt, doesn't operate a Wishbone but doesn't mind hooking horns with anybody. The Longhorns—the basketball Longhorns—finished 19-9 last year and upset Houston in the first round of the NCAA regionals. Southwest Conference Player of the Year Larry Robinson (21.9 points, 10 rebounds) is one of four returning starters that include 6'9" B. G. Brosterhous and playmaking Guard Harry Larrabee. And there are more refugee football players coming up. Even with the improvement of the other Southwest teams, the schedule is the kind of which 20-win seasons are made.
Opponents of Morehead State have more to worry about this year than the faulty lighting, funny scorekeeping and freaky officiating that are legendary in the Ohio Valley Conference. So maybe Morehead's anagramatic president, Dr. Adron Doran, will be less inclined to charge out onto the floor to scold referees. The Eagles are loaded, with every member back from the 16-11 team that tied for the league championship last season. The best are Leonard Coulter, who averaged 25 points and 14 rebounds as a sophomore, and Guard Howard Wallen, who set a school assist record. The Eagles play a wide-ranging schedule, which suits Coach Bill Harrell fine. "Recognition is what we need," he says. And recognition is what they should get.
Notoriety would be a better word for Illinois State, all because of a skinny kid from Benton, Ill. who became something of a folk hero at the Olympic try-out camp in Colorado and at the Olympics themselves when he sank a pair of free throws that appeared to win the gold medal for the United States. Doug Collins, a 6'6" guard, finished third in the nation in scoring last year for the 16-10 Redbirds, and now Will Robinson, who coached Mel Daniels, Spencer Haywood and Ralph Simpson at Detroit's Pershing High, has brought in some young turks to work with Collins in his senior year. Among them are high school All-Americas Bubbles Hawkins, who played for Robinson at Pershing, and Roger Powell and another freshman, Mike Bonczyk, who as a high schooler teamed with Indiana's Quinn Buckner on consecutive Illinois state champions. Robinson also has 6'11" Center Ron de Vries and 6'9" Forward Stepney Bacon. It is a lot for a 115-year-old school only recently turned major.
The collection of basketball talent at Furman University may raise more questions than it answers. Will one basketball be enough to satisfy Joe Williams' point mongers? Will the defense again let the Paladins lose 11 times while the offense is averaging 92.6 points a game? Williams has the players who could equal the success he enjoyed at Jacksonville, but he may not have the team. Furman's early practices indicated as much. "Sometimes there were four big men under the basket wanting the ball," said 7'1" Center Fessor Leonard, who was one of them. "We've got to learn to play together."
Leonard and another sophomore, 6'9" Clyde Mayes, have caused a reshuffling of the team that won 17 games for the most Paladin victories in 20 years. The Southern Conference's two leading scorers, Player of the Year Russ Hunt and Roy Simpson, have been moved to unfamiliar positions outside. And Leonard should not be confused with Williams' Jacksonville giant, Artis Gilmore. "Fessor is not the same defensive player or rebounder," he says, "but he's quite a shooter." The backboard help so missing last season will come from Mayes. "I've never had more depth," Williams says.