SI Vault
Larry Keith
January 26, 1976
For most of its 210 years Rutgers has been outside the mainstream of sport but the current Knights are unbeaten and rising—fast
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January 26, 1976

Fresh Rapids On The Old Raritan

For most of its 210 years Rutgers has been outside the mainstream of sport but the current Knights are unbeaten and rising—fast

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Rutgers is fast, very fast. Get the ball, break downcourt, pass, shoot, score. Press, steal, score again. The Scarlet Knights have turned their basketball schedule into a relay race and lapped their first 13 opponents. They are quick of hand, fleet of foot and swifter than the Old Raritan.

When the Knights are not attacking an opponent from one direction, they come from another, scoring 97.2 points a game on offense and forcing 27 turnovers on defense. After Boston College absorbed a 105-82 licking at home last month, Eagle Coach Bob Zuffelato said he had never seen a faster team.

Other coaches are not too sure what the blur was. A game can be in doubt, when suddenly Rutgers revs up and starts burning rubber, turning close contests into routs (23 points is its average margin of victory) and leaving skid marks up and down the court. "It's just a matter of time before it happens," says play-maker Ed Jordan. "When it does, it's fun just to watch," adds reserve Guard Mark Conlin. "Like going to the circus," concludes Assistant Coach Joe Boylan.

Led by All-America candidate Phil Sellers, the Scarlet Knights already have broken the school single-game scoring record with 119 points against Seton Hall and won Rutgers' first tournament ever, the Poinsettia Classic. With a schedule that does not include an opponent in the current Top 20, the Knights also have a good chance for their first unbeaten regular season. As for the NCAA tournament, Penn Coach Chuck Daly was boosting Rutgers for the final four even before his Quakers were blitzed 95-80.

This kind of get-up-and-go excitement is long overdue at the New Brunswick, N.J. university. Only 17 miles from Princeton, it has suffered a sub-Ivy inferiority complex for most of its 210 years. And despite its long history, Rutgers' athletic accomplishments are surprisingly few. It did host the first college football game, against Princeton in 1869, but the site of that grand occasion is now a parking lot. Similarly, the nearby birthplace of alumnus Joyce Kilmer is an American Legion hall. (I think that I shall never boast/My home is now the Legion post.)

Rutgers had maintained such a low profile athletically that when Coach Tom Young arrived from American University in 1973 he did not realize that it was New Jersey's state university. "I just knew it had a great location for recruiting," he says.

That location—halfway between the basketball hotbeds of New York and Philadelphia—seldom has been exploited. From 1950 to 1965 the Knights enjoyed only one winning basketball season. There have been 10 straight .500-plus years since then, with the greatest success coming after Young's arrival.

He coached Rutgers to 18 victories and an NIT bid in his first year, and 22 wins and the school's first NCAA invitation the next. But Young's public recognition has lagged behind his accomplishments. He played and roomed with All-America Gene Shue at the University of Maryland and, following an interruption for Army service, returned to co-captain the Terps to their only ACC championship in 1958. He spent the next 15 years coaching in the Washington area, starting as the 24-year-old head man at Catholic University, returning to Maryland for two seasons as an assistant and finishing at American.

Young has guided his teams to 248 victories in 388 games, clinging all the while to any old towel he can find and usually squatting in front of the bench. It may look funny but it works.

So does his lenient attitude toward his players. The Scarlet Knights may stay out late, grow beards, stuff the ball in practice and even drink beer on the team bus after games. His coaching philosophy also suits them. "The players got excited about full-court pressure defense when they realized it was the quickest way they could get the ball back and score again," Young says.

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