Oklahoma. Land rushes, oil rushes and fullback rushes. I never met a football man I didn't like, or an oil well. If it can't block, tackle and get down and grunt like a fatty in a buffet line, Okies claim it's probably weird. Their legends come in shoulder pads, or sayin' interestin' stuff like ol' Will Rogers did. Great game, Bud. Certainly is, Chris.
Oh, there have been a couple of baseball players from the state. Mickey Mantle, Bobby Murcer, Johnny Bench. And genuine cinema stars like Van Heflin and James Garner. Yet old Henry Iba is the only man who ever interested them in basketball very much, and he's been gone a while now.
But the times, they are a-changin'. Oklahoma now has not one but two outstanding, legitimate, potential All-America basketball players for the first time since the invention of television. Together they are the hottest pair since Little Fauss and Big Halsy went through the area, and have about the same dimensions. The puny one is Willie Biles of Tulsa, a 6'3" guard who likes nothing better than a meal of vegetables and ice cream topped off by a 40-point night. The big 'un is 6'9" sophomore Alvan Adams out of the University of Oklahoma. He does magic tricks both on and off the court and opponents wish he would make himself disappear. The two sensations have Oklahoma folks running out to tack up a basket on the backyard derrick.
The two of them started their season's serious operation last Friday night in Oklahoma City in the Big Four doubleheader at the Myriad Center. The bill was a basketball extravaganza between the state's four major universities, and B&A gave every indication that they were going to have another big year. In between yawns Adams scored 12 points and had 13 rebounds, and Oklahoma had an 87-68 victory over Oklahoma City. Alvan spent the summer playing against the Russians and the Chinese and he admitted that the return to college competition was a bit tedious, although his passing and defense were still up to the standard that made him Big Eight Player of the Year in his freshman season. Biles, meanwhile, was trying out a novel image last week, and, like a suit of new clothes, it will need alterations. Willie scored 19 points but Tulsa sputtered to an embarrassing 72-54 loss to Oklahoma State.
Although similar in appeal, Biles and Adams are separated by a chasm of diverse cultural and environmental backgrounds. Willie Biles, one of 12 children, was raised in a small black community on the southeast fringe of Memphis, Tenn., and likes to remind people that he was the only athlete from his high school ever to go away to college and stay there. He never learned to enjoy the rich taste of steak, part of the reason he is considering becoming a vegetarian. Even today steak makes him sick.
Biles is best typified by that comical creation of Cheech & Chong's underground humor, Basketball Jones, who wants nothing more than to hit the open man and get a pick at the free-throw line of life. Last year Biles showed up for practice with shortly cropped hair. "Keeping an Afro neat takes a lot of time," he explained. "I didn't want to take the time away from basketball."
Adams is an honor student who graduated at the head of his 900-member high school class in Oklahoma City. He is wavering between a career in basketball and one in medicine. At least one pro basketball general manager has called him "the best college freshman I ever saw," and the Utah Stars drafted him and dangled a big contract at the end of last season. In his debut with the Sooners he scored 34 points and set a school rebounding record with 28 and went on to be second in the conference in rebounding, also averaging 22 points a game. He shot 55% from the floor, and after he broke his wrist and had to sit out the final five games he moved to the sideline as the team's radio color man. His teammates call themselves The Adams Family. A group of local high school students clusters in the stands at home games wearing red helmets and lettered T shirts. They are Alvan's Army.
On a night before the Big Four doubleheader, their commander-in-chief was outside when a shooting star streaked across the sky.
"Maybe that's the new comet," someone remarked.
"No," Adams corrected. "The comet Kohoutek won't be visible until the end of the first week of December. You will be able to see it through the 15th of January, with best visibility just before sunrise, and at times its path will stretch across one-sixth of the sky. The comet is composed of vaporized gas...."