Playing alongside Buckner could be John Laskowski, the Hoosiers' assist leader who was used as a sixth man most of last year but moved into the starting lineup at the end of the season. Now it is likely he will surrender permanently his reserve's title to Bob Wilkerson, a 6'6" junior who can be used at guard, forward or center.
Indiana has shown improvement in each of three seasons under Knight, winning 17, 22 and 23 games and capturing at least a share of the Big Ten title the last two times. Even though winning the league is hardly a certainty, the Hoosiers already are talking about an assault on the NCAA championship. They have the guns to do it.
A reporter called John Wooden the other day and asked, "Can UCLA come back?" Feigning puzzlement but surely having understood, Wooden answered, "Where have we been?"
For the first spring, summer and fall in eight years, where UCLA has been is off the throne and in the thick of also-random. How does it feel coming into a season as just another challenger? "No different," Wooden insisted. "We don't live in the past. We never made reference to the national championship when we won. We don't make reference to it now that we've lost."
Be that as it may, the Bruins are burning for the chance to come back, to show what they can do without Bill Walton, Keith Wilkes and the rest of the gang that won 88 straight and set college basketball on its ear.
Because of past standards, coming back means all the way, and that will be some task. For the first time since the Bruin reign began, UCLA has neither a dominant force in the middle nor an experienced leader in backcourt. And in October the team suffered a severe blow when illness benched promising sophomore Forward Marques Johnson.
Nevertheless, the Bruins are not yet Teddy bears. They do have some strength left—such as size, speed and talented players. Seven-foot-one Ralph Drollinger returns from a summer of mountain climbing to take over full-time at center where he filled in admirably for Walton. Senior Dave Meyers and sophomore Rich Washington hold down the corners. Meyers claws the backboards like a 6'8" wildcat. In the 6'9" Washington, he has a running mate of unlimited potential. Many observers compared last year's freshman pair of Johnson and Washington with the young Curtis Rowe-Sidney Wicks combination of several seasons ago. Rowe played the solid, workman role and Wicks was the uncertain child of brilliance. If Johnson cannot come back from his mild hepatitis—and Wooden is not counting on his return—Washington, often lazy in his first season, must take over as rapidly as Wicks did to fill the void.
Similarly, Andre McCarter, the quicksilver enigma in backcourt, will be a marked man. Since coming to Westwood from Philadelphia, the 6'3" McCarter has always played out of control, failed to adapt to Wooden's style and never shot well. With a starting position finally in hand, he is trying hard now and seems to be assuming a leadership role. Six-foot-five Pete Trgovich and little Jimmy Spillane will share backcourt time with McCarter, depending on how much Wooden needs Spillane's shooting or Trgovich's defense.
Though Swingman Gavin Smith is coming along, nobody seems possessed of that ideal "sixth-man spark" Wooden covets. As a result, the Bruins are no longer very deep, and the Pacific Eight is even talking about a conference race. Still, UCLA is UCLA. That might be enough.