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Suddenly, calling LSU games had become a complicated proposition. Officials had to rethink the game as it pertained to the league's new sensation. "One thing you didn't want to do was foul [Pete] out of the game," says Charlie Bloodworth, a veteran SEC official. "Pete put more people in the seats than anybody."
Fan mail arrived at the LSU athletic department by the sackful. Practices became targets of opportunity for groupies and autograph seekers. Pete's practice socks were pilfered from the trainer's laundry bags. That's when Pete started washing them himself. Those socks were talismans; teenage boys began to abuse their own white hosiery until it was acceptably gray and droopy. And this was in football country. Reporters from Georgia and Mississippi who had never even been to a basketball game started making themselves seen. Suddenly, games in places like Oxford and Athens and Tuscaloosa were selling out.
Even the opposing players couldn't take their eyes off Pete. "You were never supposed to look at your opponent during warmups," says Johnny Arthurs, then a high-scoring forward for Tulane. "But there we were: watching Pete put on a show."
Arthurs also recalls watching game film of Pete: "[He] had a move where he got out on the break and dribbled between his legs and then behind his back. We made the coach replay it again and again and again because no one believed he actually did it."
Every so often an amazed Bud Johnson would ask, "Hey, Pete, how come I never saw you practice that one?"
"Oh, yes, I have," Pete would say. "Many times."
"In my head."
For Press these moments of basketball genius were the sacred seconds, a synthesis of conceptual art and performance art. As he told Time during that 1967--68 season, "I get to the point where I don't coach him. I just watch."
In Pete's first season of varsity ball, LSU improved from 3--23 to 14--12 while violating the game's every orthodoxy, not to mention the very principles that had made Press--proponent of ensemble basketball, erstwhile defensive guru--a great coach in the first place. Though Pete had long arms and great anticipation, the physical tools of a great defender, he couldn't be bothered with defense. "Pete had to work so damn hard on offense," says starting guard Rich Hickman, "he used defense to rest."