It was a jaunty prediction destined to become hard fact. True, Vanderbilt made nine more free throws than Alabama, but that could be a mark of its savvy as much as its home-court advantage. The team made 14 more than Memphis State, and that game was in Memphis. Two of its players are enrolled in pre-med, a few others are in engineering or sociology; there are no physical education or teachers colleges at Vandy, no Canoeing I or Badminton IT to sugar the athlete's academic load, and Skinner has been able to squeeze only one JC transfer into school in his 14 years there.
For most of this season everything has been dandy at Vandy. The only discordant note was struck over the Christmas holidays when a thief broke into Skinner's house and stole his television set—and too bad Compton was not around to filch it right back. The coach is a small, thin man with ruddy skin. His voice, like most everyone's in Music City, sounds like Gomer Pyle's. This season he has alternated four seniors and three sophomores in the lineup. They are called "the splendid seven," but lately that sobriquet is outdated.
Bob Chess, a 6'9" junior, has been giving Van Breda Kolff some help at center, and against Alabama he came off the bench to slow down Douglas, the Tide's sophomore center who is one of the best young big men in the country. "I just thought he was big, but he can get up and reject some shots," said Compton about Douglas. "I wouldn't doubt that he's probably the most valuable player in the league."
In a short time, Newton has changed the description of Alabama basketball from futile to fantastic. His first team won only four games in 1969; the last two have combined for 40 victories. His first seven players were raised in the state and each of the starting five was the most valuable player in his respective high school tournament. Everyone of consequence, except senior Ray Odums, returns next season.
This is hardly to say that the future is not now at Alabama. Newton is stirring three newcomers into the nucleus of Douglas, Cleveland and Odums and by the end of the year, perhaps when the NCAA Mideast regional is held at Alabama, the team will show it. Russell is improving game by game and so are freshmen T.R. ( Theodore Roosevelt) Dunn, a starter at forward, and 6'8" Rickey Brown, a spindly youngster who can play either center or forward. Both the freshmen were frustrated by Vanderbilt's aggressive defense. "They took away our inside game," acknowledged Newton, "although we did outrebound them by a comfortable margin. And the charging fouls hurt us. Guys got awful cautious. Overall, we ought to be good enough to win even with all of that."
But the doctors of Vanderbilt attacked the game as if it were a calculus problem. Every time the thing looked beyond solution, they got together and worked out a new formula, finally mystifying the opposition. "It looked bad for a while, didn't it?" Compton said later. "I guess you'd call it luck, to come from behind like that against a team as good as Alabama."
That's Vanderbilt, awfully lucky this year. Just like all the other undefeated teams, the ones that can be counted on one hand.