For the moment, though, Snowden appears to have all the talent he needs to reach the NCAA West Regionals in March. They will be played at Arizona's new McKale Center—sort of a home away from home, lizards and all.
Since it is impossible to write a report about the Friars without somehow mentioning Ernie DiGregorio, reflect for a moment on vintage Ernie D—before he signed with Buffalo and people began to question everything but his Italian ancestry. Here comes Ernie, dribbling up court against Memphis State early in the NCAA semifinal game. Kevin Stacom is on the end of the fastbreak and DiGregorio whips him one of his wonder passes for a layup. Stacom is the curly-headed and indefatigable kid who rejected lucrative professional offers to return to Providence.
Here comes Ernie D again. This time it is a behind-the-back half-court bounce pass to Marvin Barnes, who vaults with the ball above the rim to put in a basket. Barnes hurt a knee later in that loss to Memphis State but recovered to play in both the U.S.A.-Russia series and the World University Games in Moscow. He was the leading rebounder and finished second in scoring at the World Games. He, too, could have turned professional as a hardship case, but he also chose to play a final season with Providence.
So while it is goodby to Ernie D—and to Fran Costello and Nehru King and Charlie Crawford—Coach Dave Gavitt can look forward to another year of Stacom and Barnes. In monetary terms that amounts to more than a million dollars in players. The question is: For all that obvious dedication, can the Friars be as good without Ernie D?
Just maybe. In Barnes, who blocked 137 shots and was second nationally in rebounding (19.0), Gavitt has a dominant center that any team in the country other than UCLA would covet. In Stacom, who hit 55% of his shots, he has a prized shooter who additionally is solid defensively. Depending upon who plays the other guard position, Stacom also can run the club, but he would be better off as the shooting guard.
Gary Bello, a junior who saw little action last year, and Rick Santos, a junior-college transfer, are candidates as DiGregorio's replacement. Santos is the favorite, but there is also 6'4½" freshman Joe Hassett to consider. The best high school player in Rhode Island last year, he has a DiGregorio reputation as a passer and, remarkably, lives even closer to the campus than his backcourt predecessor did—which is to say he practically came out of the boiler room. Barnes can expect rebounding help from forwards Mark McAndrew and Bob Cooper, a two-time All-Service and three-time All-Navy selection whose chief job was recruiting boots. That's a switch the Friars hope will help boot them home.
There are days when Coach Al McGuire, burdened as he is with the responsibilities of fame and wealth, does not come to practice. And there have been days, like a recent one, in which he came late and departed early. During his few minutes courtside he gave $30 to a former player and fell into a loud argument with a current one. The final thrust was the player's, a 5'10" bench warmer. He told the coach to shut up. McGuire smiled. Later, while eating shrimp in a restaurant he partially owns, the coach said he did not even know what the fuss was about. "I am," said McGuire, "75% bull and 25% serious."
And who isn't at that traveling road show on Wisconsin Avenue in Milwaukee? Mary Beth, Al's lollipop-licking secretary? Mike, the information director, who says that creeping foliage will be the ruin of the concrete and asphalt school he once loved? Chris, the 384-pound student sports editor who skipped picture day to buy a case of beer? And certainly not the zanies clad in fringe-tinged Sand-Knits with the Menomini Indian stripes who will likely appear at an arena near you this fall.