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The nucleus of the team is Thompson, the man with the jet-assisted takeoff. David is flying higher than ever this year, thanks to an off-season knee operation, and he is a guided missile. It is no secret that he disdained a pro contract for a crack at being No. 1.
About as important are Burleson, at 7'4" almost two feet taller than that 5'5½" rascal Towe. Monte could have posed for a Johnson & Johnson ad at times last season, wrapped as he was so often in swaddling bandages. Thompson may get the praise and Burleson may get the stares but the feisty Towe is the strut that keeps the Wolfpack's plane together and flying right.
Coach Norm Sloan does have a couple of problems. Besides finding a new wardrobe of neon clothing, he has to replace graduated Joe Cafferky in the backcourt and Rick Holdt up front. Junior-college transfer Moe Rivers will move in at guard if he can learn the nuances of Wolfpack strategy. If not, Mark Moeller will do. And Tim Stoddard, who hit 48% from the floor as a sophomore last season, complements Thompson at forward with another transfer, Phil Spence, and with Steve Nuce filling in at forward or center. "We were good last year," says Towe. "We'll be better this year." That means State should survive the perils of the Atlantic Coast Conference where both North Carolina and Maryland will be better, too, but as for that national crown, will better be good enough?
The young couple snuggling under the covers of a bed outside Indiana University's Assembly Hall should, logically, have been posing for a local version of Joey Heatherton's Serta "Perfect Sleeper" mattress ad. However, when the two could be parted for a question they revealed that student basketball tickets were to go on sale in six days and they wanted to be first in line.
With fans like these and players like theirs, the Indiana Hoosiers, who had UCLA puffing in the NCAA semifinals last year, should again be first in line in the Big Ten. Beyond that, it will be up to two individuals to fulfill the challenge of a sign hanging above the Assembly Hall's entrance. It reads: HOME OF THE BIG RED HORDE. BEAT UCLA.
One of the persons is Bobby Knight, the hot-tempered coach whose ingenuous style has produced 39 victories in two seasons; the other is freshman Kent Benson, the auburn-haired center who chose Indiana over 300 other schools and who may become a horde all by himself.
Benson is from Henry County, the locale of Ross Lockridge's Raintree County, and like most every other Indiana "Mr. Basketball" before him, he is accompanied by folklore. A brutish high school player, Benson in one game rammed in 55 points and seized 35 rebounds. He is both Catholic and a member of the highly Protestantized Fellowship of Christian Athletes; he ate 33 pieces of chicken at the 1971 state finals banquet: last summer he managed to play basketball in Germany and still show beef cattle at the Indiana State Fair. At 6'10" and a slimmed-down 230 pounds, he can be as tough and mean on court as he is gentle off it.
Making sure Benson will be rough and ready for jealous opponents who will try to prove he made a mistake in going to Indiana is Scott May, a muscular 6'7" forward who has been all over Benson in practice. Scholastically ineligible as a freshman, May looks and plays more like Sidney Wicks than Benson resembles Bill Walton, which is the popular notion. The rest of the starting five—Forward Steve Green and Guards Jim Crews and Quinn Buckner—is imperturbable. There is not a senior on the team, and John Laskowski and Bob Wilkerson head a list of reserves who all can and do play.
Pro scouts already recognize that what they see in a Bobby Knight player is what they get. He pushes his players to their limit and seldom leaves room for improvement. The Big Red Horde should be the scourge of the Midwest provided it gets by that Big Green Horde from over South Bend way.