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Last season Dayton suffered most of its 10 losses because it did not have enough muscle. And since the Flyers' leading rebounder was a senior, Coach Don Donoher did not have a hard time figuring out that what he needed was size. His recruiting succeeded so well that now Dayton has its biggest—and one of its youngest—teams ever. The Flyers have five players who stand between 6'8" and 6'10", and only one is an upperclassman. "Basketball's still a game of quickness," says Donoher, "but it's difficult to recruit the burners. The alternative is to play bigger. A lot of teams have had success with power and muscle, so I decided to get with it. We're made big, too, by the fact that Paxson plays guard."
Senior Jim Paxson, 6'6" and one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball, is the main reason Dayton is expecting one of its best teams since the early 1950s, when Paxson's dad was a star forward. Jim Sr. began taking his son to games and to basketball camps when the younger Paxson was barely big enough to hold a ball. Ever since, Jim Jr. has concentrated on hoops so much that now he is one of the smartest and best players in the country.
In a typical game last season, against Louisville, Paxson scored 18 points, had six steals and made his defenders look foolish with the ease with which he got open. "Jim really knows how to maneuver," says Donoher. Paxson never seems to get tired, either. He averaged almost 37 minutes a game, which was nearly as impressive a statistic as his 17.4 scoring average and 52.1% shooting. He also led Dayton in assists and steals and usually guarded the opponent's best man.
This season Paxson will be the steadying influence on the young Flyers. His mate at guard, Jack Zimmerman, a junior, is experienced enough, but 6'9" Richard Montague, the regular at center, is a sophomore. And 6'10" freshman Mike Kanieski and soph David Abel may both be in the lineup, if they win a three-way battle with Tim Pohlman for the two starting forward spots. The runt of the freshmen is 6'2" Dan Bockhorn, son of former Flyer star Arlen Bockhorn. The rest of the class includes a 6'5" guard, Sean McNally, and George Morrison (6'10", 225 pounds) and Mike Gorney (6'9", 225).
Of course, bigger does not necessarily mean better, and the Flyers are faced with their usual tough schedule, which includes Notre Dame, Louisville and Michigan. Nevertheless, Dayton fans cannot wait to see what Donoher will do with all his good, big talent, however raw it may be. Their high expectations are understandable because they know—if few folks elsewhere do—that Donoher has been as good as any coach the past 15 years. Although working at a private Catholic school where the enrollment (6,000) and budget are modest, Donoher has won 65% of his games.
Donoher is excited, too, but in a low-key way. "We all think we'll be national contenders," he says, "but you never know. Last year, for the first time since '74, we were able to go on the road and be in contention against the best teams. We lost some, of course, but this year maybe we'll do better. If we work hard, we ought to win our share." And the Flyers' share ought to be 20 victories or more.
The Kansas-Nebraska Act of 1978-79 should turn out to be no less explosive than its 1854 predecessor. Consider the matchups: the renowned Jayhawk fast break against the celebrated Cornhusker defense; big Kansas Center Paul Mokeski against agile Nebraskan Pivotman Carl McPipe; Jayhawk playmaking Guard Darnell Valentine against Cornhusker smoothie Brian Banks. On paper, the teams are close. What makes Kansas the favorite in the Big Eight is Nebraska's tendency to fold. Last year the Cornhuskers won their first 10 and were 19-3 at one point, but faded to finish at 22-8. Ranked in the Top 20 on three occasions, they lost their next game each time. "It was difficult to maintain high intensity," says Terry Novak, the captain of that team. "Maybe we got worn out by the practices." Adds Forward Curt Hedberg, a graduate student in architecture who is still eligible for the varsity under a new NCAA regulation, "Every year I've been here we've peaked and burned out. The coaches have let up a little in preseason practices this year, which is a good sign."
For Nebraska to challenge Kansas, the 6'8" McPipe cannot afford to burn out—or foul out. He was in foul trouble in 19 of 30 games last season. "I have to be smoother," he says, "and keep my hands to myself." If he can stop being so aggressive, McPipe should be the best center in the Big Eight. His statistics last season—15.3 points and 7.9 rebounds a game—were impressive enough. Back then he was spelled by 6'7" Andre Smith, one of the country's best substitutes. An excellent shot inside of 15 feet, Smith came off the bench to score 21 points against Colorado and 18 against Kansas State. Having improved his rebounding, he will start this season in Novak's vacated forward spot. Hedberg, swingman Bob Moore and freshman Jerry Shoecraft, who starred on the Indiana championship high school team, will give Nebraska an excellent forecourt—if McPipe is not forced to the bench too often.
Then there is Banks, a ball hawk, playmaker and shooter extraordinaire. Banks came out of the infirmary to engineer a 62-58 upset over Kansas, and he does less dramatic things well, too. "He can draw a charge better than anyone I know," says Novak. In fact, Coach Joe Cipriano kept Banks busy doing so many things that he tended to tire. "I know that Brian didn't get enough rest in the past," Cipriano says. "Now we have Jack Moore, and he should give it to him." Jack is no relative of Bob, but he was a teammate of Shoecraft in Indiana. Though only 5'10", he was the MVP in the Hoosier high school tournament. Both Banks and Moore should stay fresh, thanks to a skilled third guard, Mike Naderer.