"I'd been saying, 'Gotta get back to the Palestra' for 17 years when we met Villanova in last year's season opener," says Magee. "They were supposed to have more firepower with the Trigger Brothers, Keith and Larry Herron, but we beat them 65-59, and suddenly Textile was front-page news in Philadelphia." Sammons & Co. had Temple down by 23 points in the Palestra later in the season and won 70-58. Villanova Coach Rollie Massimino has not yet carried out his jovial threats to drop Textile from the Wildcats' schedule. But after three losses to Textile in the last four games, Temple has taken the Rams off its schedule.
The Rams are no stranger to the spotlight, nor unaccustomed to springing the big upset. In 1970 Magee took one of his patchwork teams to the Division II championship. In the finals the Rams knocked off powerful Tennessee State, which was led by future pros Lloyd Neal and Ted McClain. It was a very good year to win, because 1970 was the only year the tournament has ever been on national TV. No polls were taken to determine how many Philadelphians knew what title Textile had actually won. But the City of Brotherly Love, hungry for a champ in any sport, welcomed the Rams home with a parade to the mayor's office. When Magee and the players returned to Germantown, campus buildings had been hastily rededicated (via poster board, paint and brush) in honor of the five starters. Althouse Hall, for example, became McGilvery Hall in deference to Jim McGilvery, the Rams' leading scorer and rebounder who had originally planned on paying his own way at La Salle until Magee offered him an extra scholarship he couldn't seem to find a body for.
So here was Herb Magee: flying high, a brilliant judge of talent with a telegram from Richard Nixon on the wall and an NCAA title under his belt, only 29 years old and on his way to the top. And from whom does he get one of his first telephone calls? John Wooden, asking him to be an assistant at UCLA? Jack Ramsay, looking for a new face on the 76ers' bench? Nope. "It was a guy over at the Germantown post office," Magee recalls. "They had heard our name, figured we were an industrial league team and wondered if they could get a pickup game with us. It reminded me of the time I went to talk to the father of a recruit. 'Thanks for your interest,' the man said to me, 'but we want our son to go to college.' "
There is another side of small-college life, that smalltime, nobody-knows-we're-here kind of feeling that pervades even a successful program like Philadelphia Textile's. Pete Mimmo and Steve (Cazzie) Rush, the Rams' sixth and seventh men, seem to describe this malaise best.
Mimmo says, "It's the six-hour bus rides to the Juniatas, the Albrights, the Susquehannas—teams you blow out by 30—that kill you. Then back on the bus for six more hours, and you get home by, oh, four in the morning. Feel tip-top for class the next day, right? And when we play at some places it seems like one of the referees could be the athletic director's brother. We thought we were the best team in Philadelphia last year, but people can always stop you with that zinger: 'Yeah, but who do you play?' "
Rush is a total basketball freak who collects memorabilia like Rick Mount's old Baltimore Claws jersey and talks incessantly about his own jump shot being the best in the country. His presence eliminates the need for a full-time sports information director at Textile, because, for example, he has memorized all of Sammons' statistics and can rattle them off at a moment's notice: "Emory was 11 for 13 from the field and 7 for 7 from the line against Old Dominion for 29 points. Came out with an itchy finger and made his first three shots on the way to 40 points against Delaware Valley." And so on. The Caz is a delight to be around and he can go all day if you let him. But his entire act seems a way of covering up his own disappointments.
"I got hundreds of letters as a junior in high school," he says. "The key is they were just letters, not scholarship offers. I was really selective at first; you wouldn't believe the schools that ended up in my wastebasket. Then, as a senior it boiled down to Massachusetts. They wanted me to meet Julius Erving and all that. Then they came to see me play, and suddenly they weren't inviting me up."
If the Rams can win another national championship, it will make a lot of people like Cazzie Rush very happy. It may not change their lives, though, the way it would if they were at Villanova or any major-college school. Harry Pure, bless him, will go on spending extra money to alter the layout of a new soccer and baseball field, so that a beautiful old copper beech will not have to be cut down. Herb Magee is committed to Textile, having survived this far after living first in the infirmary and then in a trunk room as an undergraduate. Emory Sammons' chances of playing pro ball hinged more on the existence of the ABA than on the prospects for an NCAA title this season. He will be drafted, win or lose, but whether or not he makes it is up to him. No way the Gem gets a no-cut contract.
Sammons is a good small-college player, as are his teammates, and in his element he can look as dazzling as, say, Michigan's Rickey Green does in his. Both players are concerned with trophies, engraved watches, championship rings—tangible rewards that make their endeavors seem worthwhile. In that sense, Sammons and Green are probably alike. Sammons may not be as talented or as tested, but he is cut from the same piece of cloth.