All right, assume that you have heard about the Greyhounds, assume that you even know that they come from Worcester, Mass., and assume that every last basketball-wise sophomore in the land has made a gag about their sudden rise in the listings—the name is Assumption, get it?—10 gets you one you are not prepared for what comes next. The coach of Assumption, Joe O'Brien, says straight out, not a tinge of blush to him, "Our bag is we teach basketball."
A platitudinous thing to say—except that it is true. Assumption teaches basketball. At the open practices, for instance, that often are attended by students and coaches of the upcoming opposition. Were it not for the coed judo class at the other end of the gym—O'Brien says that if you are distracted in practice you are vulnerable in games—the sessions seem like the real article, which hardly benefits all those prying coaches. In game-day warmups the Greyhounds run through their entire offense anyway, hiding nothing, which almost never has anything to do with the outcome. Generally—in 77% of their games in the last 20 years and all but three of their 28 games last season—they win. That 1973 finish may be harder to duplicate now with Roanoke, Maryland-Eastern Shore, Cameron College of Oklahoma and Alcorn A&M pushing their ways upward, but do not count on it.
"Execution and adjustment are the names of the game," O'Brien says, still unembarrassed by the language he uses. And scholarships. This year he has three. In the 22 years before there were only 49, more than half of them partials. Assumption should be plenty tough again.
O'Brien, incidentally, was the school's first athlete to receive a full-time scholarship. That was in 1953, which could be called the rebuilding year, literally; parts of the college had been flattened by the tornado that ravaged Worcester in June and the president decided that better basketball might help raise extra funds. In the two decades since, the program has stressed the educational side of basketball. As Dr. Pasquale Di Pasquale Jr., the college's first lay president and a Notre Dame graduate says, "The students are most impressed with our size (1,038 enrollment) and the personal attention they get. Basketball is part of our education. It's our identity." Ninety-four percent of the scholarship players have graduated in the normal four-year period, 14 of them are now coaches and three are athletic directors although Assumption does not offer a physical education degree.
The college has had just one pro basketball player (he lasted three months), but it has a fine prospect this year in 6'7" junior John Grochowalski, a 22.2 scorer and 16.9 rebounder. He and 6'3" Jeff Scott, who attended the North Yarmouth Academy prep school in Maine together, are co-captains. "The program here allows for creativity, so you can do your own thing," says Scott. "But my biggest thrills come from stopping the other team's big gun." Groch, who holds the school's single-season rebounding record, claims he's happiest when he is rebounding. "That makes the coach happy," he says.
The coach is happiest when his team is attacking defensively. "The one thing that has not changed in my years here is our switching defenses," he says. But a well-executed fast break has been known to warm O'Brien's heart, too. It is not unusual to see the Greyhounds break and run full court without the ball ever touching the floor. "We don't run and gun. We agree on what's a good shot for each player," says O'Brien.
One player with a fistful of shots is freshman Jim Boylan. A high school All-America out of Jersey City who was recruited by Florida State, North Carolina and several other large powers, Boylan says, "I flirted with the idea of going big time. But a lot of the schools bring in junior-college transfers, and then it is your junior year and you're sitting on the bench. I made up my mind early in high school that I was coming here. Basketball is basketball." And Assumption is Assumption. Boylan's brother Mike was a little All-America there last year.
Four of the top eight players from last season, including Mike, have graduated, yet O'Brien is not worrying. "Our philosophy doesn't allow for a losing season," he says. "We rebuild as we win, which means we win 15 or 16 games. When we're not rebuilding, 20 to 27."
The Greyhounds have made the round of eight at the NCAA small-college finals in Evansville in each of the last three years and are just beginning to be recognized outside of New England. "We would like to he a small-college power," says O'Brien, "with a shot at the bigs." For Assumption, Providence has been a bit too big of an annual shoot, but the Greyhounds are coming. They will be in the ECAC Holiday Festival at the Providence Civic Center in 1975 where the field will include South Carolina, St. John's, Holy Cross and Providence among others. Assuming you get the gag, that is scarcely a dog show.