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Class. You can't beg, borrow or buy it. If you go out looking for it, you'll never find it. Class isn't the money you make, the clothes you wear, the car you drive or the house you live in. It isn't the way you pronounce your vowels, cross your legs or fold your napkin. It isn't the people you know or the places you go. Class either is, or it isn't.
Consider the 10 young men pictured on pages 42 and 43 in the salon of the McCormick Mansion in Chicago, which now houses Lawry's restaurant. Each of them is a sophomore basketball player, and together they make up one classy class. If you think they look fine in their starched collars, immaculate white waistcoats and patent leather pumps, you should catch them some night in satin shorts and sneakers. You should see them jumping and running, switching and driving, passing and dribbling, shooting and dunking. You should see them playing, and then you will know what class is all about—at least on a basketball court.
They do not come along very often, these classes with class, but when they do, the balance of power in basketball is invariably and dramatically affected. Coaches' jobs are saved, arenas are filled and new champions are crowned. In keeping with this tradition, these 10 sophomores have already left an imprint on college basketball. Only one of their teams had a losing record last season. Because of the group's proven performance and its even greater potential, it is already being mentioned with some of the great classes in basketball history (see box on page 50).
Let's take the achievements of the top five. It is more than coincidental that following 14 previous postseason failures, Notre Dame reached the final four of the NCAA tournament with Kelly Tripucka at forward. After all, Tripucka was the Most Valuable Player in the Midwest Region. Duke put Gene Banks at forward and leaped from a tie for last place in the ACC to second in the NCAA. Who had ever heard of Iona before Jeff Ruland started jumping center there? Last year the Gaels finished 17-10 playing a murderous schedule, and they now look like the best Eastern team north of the ACC. Kansas Coach Ted Owens was a candidate for unemployment until Guard Darnell Valentine quarterbacked the Jayhawks to the Big Eight title. But none of these four had as profound an effect on his team, or on college basketball, as did Michigan State's gangly guard, 6'8" Earvin (Magic) Johnson. A schoolboy legend in Lansing, he went to East Lansing and turned the Spartans from a 10-17 loser into a 25-5 Big Ten champion. As the Michigan State highlight film tells it, winning basketball returned to Jenison Field House "as if by magic."
The other five selections from this illustrious class are frontcourt men Albert King of Maryland and Cliff Robinson of USC, guards Danny Ainge of Brigham Young and Jeff Lamp of Virginia and Center Herb Williams of Ohio State. It would also be honorable to mention four others: Michigan's All-Big Ten Forward Mike McGee, Utah's All-WAC Center Danny Vranes, Florida's leading scorer Reggie Hannah and Villanova's Alex Bradley, who was among the Eastern Eight's top 10 in both scoring and rebounding.
Kentucky Coach Joe Hall, whose team would probably be highly ranked this year if he had successfully recruited Ruland, calls this "one of the best classes in many, many years. I just hope they don't turn pro too soon, because if they're available for the 1980 Olympics, we'll be good."
Michigan State's exuberant Johnson feels even more confident than Hall does. "We'd have a great team," he says, envisioning an Olympic lineup of the top five sophs. "We'd have a killer in the middle [Ruland], a dude to shoot [Tripucka], a power forward to bang heads [Banks], a quick guard [Valentine] and me—I'd be running the show." Dig it.
Several of these players are in an Olympic development program, and the others are likely to get their first crack at international competition within the year. Johnson, Valentine, Banks, Robinson and Vranes played on a young American team at a tournament in the U.S.S.R. last summer. The coach on that trip, Bill Vining, a veteran of 24 years at Ouachita Baptist and of numerous international expeditions, says, "I can't remember a U.S. squad with this many quality youngsters." Despite their youth, the Americans reached the finals before losing to the Soviets.
Johnson's availability for the Moscow Olympics, not to mention his junior and senior seasons at Michigan State, depends on when he turns pro. Kansas City General Manager Joe Axelson says, "Johnson could start for anybody in the league tomorrow." Searching for someone to run the Kings' offense, Axelson wanted to draft Earvin No. 1 last spring, but Johnson decided to stay in school at least one more year. Kansas City chose Player of the Year Phil Ford of North Carolina instead, but Axelson still calls Johnson "the most exciting college player I've ever seen. I can't believe God created a 6'8" man who can handle the ball like that."
Nor can many other people. Johnson seems to be Cousy, Maravich and Meadowlark Lemon rolled into one fancy passer. Last year Purdue Coach Fred Schaus called him "the finest freshman I've ever seen," and Michigan Coach John Orr declared, "It took the Spartans 30 years to get up there, and if he goes away, they're going right back down."