As the sun
squeezes through the fog over San Francisco Bay, there is more than a new day
dawning. Hard by the freshly scrubbed rabble of Haight-Ashbury, not far from
the seamy glitter of North Beach and high atop the college basketball polls
sits the University of San Francisco, last year's bad bet but this year's
winner. Like California wine, the Dons are good, and getting better.
Most notably, the
team has 19 straight victories, winning with such aplomb that it is untested as
well as undefeated. Quarrelsome as usual, the Dons appear certain to snarl
their way to the West Coast Athletic Conference title and have San Franciscans
reminiscing about the days some 20 years ago when Bill Russell and K. C. Jones
gave rise to the phrase "defensive pressure" and led USF to
back-to-back NCAA championships and 60 straight victories (see page 28).
California could produce a team as dichotomous as this. At one moment it
resembles the Beach Boys, at the next Hell's Angels. But the blithe coach,
former USF star Bob Gaillard, hangs out a DO NOT DISTURB sign, sips some wine
and says with a wink, "Remember the earthquake."
In a sense the
earthquake struck last year. San Francisco lost its final three games, all in
overtime, and four of its last five and in doing so approached an NCAA record
for dissension and rumors. James Hardy, a soft-spoken, chess-playing forward
nicknamed "Trouble," refused to play in the second half of the league
championship game and several other disgruntled players were packing bags.
After one particularly depressing loss, Gaillard and his assistant, Dan
Belluomini, found themselves at 2 a.m. at a truck stop on the outskirts of
Cincinnati, drowning their sorrows in weak coffee and commiserating with two
women bowlers. "Don't worry so much," said one, "you can't hit the
head pin every time."
Gaillard closed his ears to critics who claimed he should not play so many
freshmen—he started three—and this year the silence is deafening. The team's
average margin of victory is 19.3 points, and it is averaging 94.6 points a
game. The Dons are also among the nation's leaders in field-goal (.544) and
free-throw (.774) percentage, and are unchallenged at flamboyant dunks,
especially those by Hardy, who after one spectacular stuff told the dazed
defenders, "That was over you, and you, and you."
Hardy is one of
the squad's remarkable sophomores. Two others are Bill Cartwright, the 7-foot
center from Elk Grove, Calif., and Winford Boynes, who was named Northern
California Player of the Year last season. When the three first arrived on
campus amidst a shower of newspaper clippings, optimistic fans predicted
instant title. Instead they got 22-8, that disastrous finish—including a
first-round loss in the NIT—and were in need of a team psychiatrist. The
problem was that the veterans did not take kindly to the precocious newcomers.
After one fight in practice, Forward Ray Hamilton, an ordained minister,
muttered, "The devil's in the gym."
Now things are
heavenly. Hardy admits "I thought about transferring," and Boynes was
contacted by both Louisville and Oklahoma, but only Guard Russ Coleman
switched, enrolling at his hometown University of the Pacific. Despite some
feeling that it already had too many players, USF shuffled the deck and came up
with a new ace in playmaker Chubby Cox, a 6'2" transfer guard who was a
starter for two years at Villanova. He has replaced the bad shot with the good
pass and is the reason the Dons have 95 more assists and 133 fewer turnovers
than the opposition. To demonstrate his contentions, Cox went through four days
of practice without taking a shot. "There's more respect for each other
now," says Hardy. "Last year we had a lot of bloody practices, but it
all worked out."
Francisco still gives the impression of a team that doesn't truly care about
the game, but this is a facade. Except for a brief spell when he had an ankle
injury, Boynes cannot remember the last day he did not hold a basketball. He
has a key to the gym and even practiced shooting on Christmas. "Only for 90
minutes," he points out. "After all, it was Christmas Day." The
quick and slick guard once injured his ankle jogging on the hilly streets at 11
p.m. Frequently he roams the city or sits in hotel lobbies all night when he
cannot get his mind off basketball. "I used to have idols," he says.
"Now I want people to look up to me."
That the 6'�"
Boynes is a guard confounds some clubs, but just as important, his switch to
the backcourt from forward has allowed 6'6" senior Marlon Redmond to move
back inside where he was all-conference as a sophomore. Gaillard was asked why
Cartwright was not getting more rebounds—he led the team only twice in its
first 17 games. "Pretty hard to do when you have to go up against Redmond
and Hardy every night," the coach answered drily.
It is an
indication of the club's strength that its team captain, Jeff Randell, its best
shooter, Rod Williams, and a richly talented guard, Allen Thompson (nicknamed
"Mr. Clean" because he does his laundry twice a day), all are on the
bench. "Man for man, going down to the 11th man, we got to be the
best," says Boynes. "Sophomore...what is a sophomore? Just a title. We
were young last year. This year we are ready to do it." Cartwright says,
"The only weakness we have is that there aren't enough positions for the