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Claude Terry, 6'5" third guard. Brains and guile. Out of Stanford, so figures. Another terrific shooter. Made 50 straight free throws recently. Looks like blond Sonny Bono.
Gus Gerard, 6'8" forward. Twin of Jones in face and leap. Not far behind him as player. Just beginning to lose bad habits from St. Louis, where Spirits gave up on him at 22. Brown says he told him to be patient. "On this team Gus doesn't have to fight guys to get the ball." When Jones was injured, Gerard stepped into lineup with 16 points, 21 rebounds. Believed to have a few good years left. Same can't be said for St. Louis.
Marvin Webster and Monte Towe: Frankenstein's monster and Little Beaver. After hepatitis, rookie 7-footer Webster coming back strong as shot rejecter. Cocky enough on defense to call out to St. Louis' Marvin Barnes, "Bring it on in here, Marvin," then stuff him. Known as the Human Eraser. Brown sends him into games, saying, "Go get me some chalk." Towe, 5'5", is former Munchkin joke. Smart, witty, keeps everyone loose. Brown says has paid back salary "tenfold" with attitude and spirit. Spectacular girl friend named Kervin. Towe can beat Little Miss Muffet one-on-one but few others. Doesn't matter. Wears red bandanna as a headband, resembling comic-strip Indian boy. Is he really, truly a pro? You betchum, Red Ryder.
What the Nuggets are doing is simply dominating the ABA by swift ball movement on offense, by switching, pressing change-ups on defense and by wearing the other people out with liberal use of the bench. Issel says he can't believe how many layups and open 10-footers Denver gets every game. "All we want to do is come down, change sides with the ball to get the defense to commit, then let ourselves loose," says Brown. And it works.
In truth the method is the same one that worked last season when Denver won 65 regular-season games. Only the Nuggets lacked real speed then, and the forwards couldn't shoot. Denver was upset in the western playoffs by a one-man gang from Indiana named McGinnis.
Since that was the second time in three years Brown's teams ran roughshod during the regular season only to fail to make the final playoff round, carping was prevalent concerning the coach's tendency to peak his club too soon; he has, in fact, given his men more rest days this time around. "I don't think we were too tired," he says of last year. "I think we were too conscientious. All year we preached that we're sacrificing, we've got the character, we're doing it right. Then we get tight. That's my fault."
It didn't help much that when the Nuggets needed a basket last season, they had to get it outside. Now Issel gives them punch down low. So does Gerard. And, of course, there is Thompson.
Though it is a well-kept secret, David the Flying Boy is experiencing one of the best freshman seasons in history. Artis Gilmore, Spencer Haywood, Chamberlain and Wes Unseld had MVP-Rookie of the Year campaigns in their respective leagues, and the debuts of Abdul-Jabbar and Cowens were monumental pieces of work. But David Thompson is 6'3�" tall. No man near that size ever had a first year quite like his.
It is not only Thompson's 26 points and 6.4 rebounds a game, his steals, blocked shots and 52% shooting average that are so impressive. Rather, just as in college, Thompson's very presence on the floor tends to lift his more seasoned mates at crucial points. "I'm starting to feel the way I did at N.C. State," Thompson says. "Like I can do it whenever I want to."
Although most of the Denver players have recovered from their initial surprise at Thompson's height (he was listed at nearly 6'5" as an undergraduate), they remain intrigued with his jumping ability and outside shotmaking.