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Last week, while the rest of the country stowed the aluminum trees for one more year, eight college teams gathered in Philadelphia's Palestra for the Quaker City Tournament, another of those holiday ornaments conceived by three wise men and a thousand athletic directors to ease us through the Christmas withdrawal season on cold turkey. The tournament was spicier than any leftovers, what with a stuffing of upsets, close games and even the coming of a newborn babe under a shining star. When it was over, Temple had the title, defeating weary California 51-42 in the championship game. "It's like Camelot," said first-year Temple Coach Don Casey.
He could be excused for the hyperbole. A few weeks ago, when Temple played at Knoxville in the Volunteer Classic, Casey decided to fight the Tennessee zone with a stall that produced an 11-6 loss, national headlines and a firestorm of criticism. Even the Temple fans accused bewildered Casey of being everything but a dirty double dribbler. The victory in the Quaker City helped dim the flames.
The tournament also served as the venue for a new star in Temple's galaxy—Jerry (Hound) Baskerville, who burned just as bright as Kohoutek. A 1970 Philadelphia high school graduate, Baskerville had been a strolling basketball minstrel the last few years, searching for a place to play his tune. After bringing up his grades in the first term, he became—surprise, Harvard!—eligible for Temple's first-round game on Thursday night. Baskerville rebounded and shot all over the court, and the Owls lurched to a two-point victory.
" Casey told me that he had a new kid who was pretty good," said Tom Sanders, the former Boston Celtic who is in his first year of coaching at Harvard. "I had never seen him but it sort of told me something when he made 12 in a row in the warmups. It was like the old days in the neighborhoods. You walked over to their court and along came some ringer you'd never seen before."
Out of condition after his layoff, Baskerville was wheezing the next two nights, but teammate Joe Anderson took charge as Temple beat Cincinnati and California. Anderson is called "the toughest man in town" by Temple fans, and Quaker City opponents found him meaner than a gas station attendant. Anderson scored 22 points in the second half of the semifinals against Cincy and nine during a 13-minute stretch in the title game when Temple rallied from three points down to take a 15-point lead over Cal with a minute left.
Unfortunately, this was Philadelphia's last annual Quaker City Tournament. After 13 years in town, the Eastern College Athletic Conference is moving the event to Providence, R.I., and renaming it, presumably. The tournament began in 1961 and only twice has a school from outside Philadelphia's Big Five—that cluster of Temple, Penn, St. Joseph's, La Salle and Villanova—managed to win the title. This year Penn was the favorite with Cincinnati rated a challenger. Temple was not rated much of anything. The Owls' debacle in Tennessee hung heavily over them, and they had lost to Cincinnati by 12 points in a desultory showing earlier in the year. As it turned out, neither Penn nor Cincy could play up to potential. Penn lost to California in its opener and eventually finished a dismal sixth. Cincinnati, trying to fit together the pieces after a recent spate of injuries to stars Ron Hightower and Lloyd Batts, could not solve the puzzle and was knocked out by Temple in the semis, finishing up fourth after a loss to Penn State in the unconsoling consolation round.
California came to the tournament with a deceiving 3-4 record that included road losses to North Carolina and Dayton by four points and to West Virginia by two. But the Bears had a pair of big, adroit guards who were as slippery as ice cubes and just as cool, a 6'10" freshman with a Hollywood name, Rock Lee, and a couple of late baskets against Penn's zone defense. Carl Meier's free throw won the game 64-63, with no time remaining. When it fell through, Temple's Casey, sitting on the sidelines, smiled like a man who had just remembered where he had hidden some money from his wife. Now he might win, he seemed to be telling himself.
After six years as assistant to Harry Litwack, who had coached Temple forever, Casey at 36 was in charge. But he had not played college ball and he was only a high school coach when he pestered Litwack into hiring him at Temple. For all his good fortune, he was humble. "I feel like I'm up against Aristotle, coaching against these guys, people you've read about and respected all your life," he said one night. He even asked Dick Edwards, the California coach, to send him some notes on his man-to-man offense when the tournament was over.
He did not, however, ask Ray Mears of Tennessee about his zone defense. He merely hated it. "Why should we let them play their game?" he said, still explaining that early-season stall. "They wouldn't come out. As it turned out, we really should have won the game but we missed a couple of shots." Upon which he admits that he would not use the slow-up strategy again. The reaction was intense and, as he says, "I guess it's un-American not to want to attack."
It would be unwise and worse not to attack now that Baskerville is aboard. He has changed Temple's armament, moving it up from the status of the Home Guard to that of the Wehrmacht. "He can turn their team around," Sanders said. "You can see that he's head and shoulders above anybody else in the tournament."