Skip Dillard couldn't understand it. He wanted to get down and get funky. He wanted to whoop and holler. He wanted to climb on the bus, ride back home to Chicago and, as he put, it, "find a couple of women and party." But elsewhere in the DePaul dressing room, Mark Aguirre was worrying over a sore hand, Clyde Bradshaw was holding an ice bag to his left knee, and the rest of Dillard's teammates were silently taking off their uniforms. Dillard clapped his hands twice and yelled "No. 1!" No one paid any attention. He did it again. Still no response. Finally, exasperated, he declared, "Y'all don't seem like you're too happy to be No. 1."
Well, they were and they weren't. After defeating Marquette 92-85 in Milwaukee last Saturday night to assure themselves of this week's top collegiate basketball ranking, most of the DePaul Blue Demons were either too tired, too relieved or too wary about the future to celebrate their lofty status. "It's good to be No. 1, but we want to stay there," said Bradshaw, Dillard's playmaking backcourt partner. "We can't let ourselves be overcome," said Center Terry Cummings. "Then we might think we're more than just a basketball team."
But if any team in the country has the right to be proud, it is DePaul. The Blue Demons have defeated UCLA, Missouri and Marquette on the road this season, and they haven't lost at home in the last three seasons. Their 12-0 record—the best DePaul start in 16 years—makes them one of only two unbeaten teams in the country (the other is Syracuse). And now they are No. 1 for the first time ever, because last week Duke, the only team ranked ahead of them, lost twice while they themselves were beating Ball State 96-79 and then the Warriors.
The one person who might object to DePaul's high station is Ray Meyer, the 66-year-old coach who last month won the 600th game of his 38-year career. Meyer voted his team fourth in last week's UPI coach's poll, and he said he was considering third for this week. "We're not a super team," he says. "There's at least 15 on par with us. But we're getting better, and we're going to be a helluva team by tournament time."
Begging your pardon, coach, but Mark Aguirre (pronounced Uh-gwire) considers the Blue Demons to be a helluva team right now. "I have no doubt we will win the national championship this year," says the team's marvelous forward, "but being No. 1 at any stage of the season is a big accomplishment. There's something special about that number."
And "24" is a special number, as well, because it happens to be the one on Aguirre's uniform. Marquette tried to stop him last Saturday with a man-to-man defense, but that is foolhardy unless the lone defender happens to be The Incredible Hulk. Against the Warriors, 6'7", 235-pound Aguirre twisted, turned and spun for a season-high 36 points to increase his average to 25.8 per game. Let it be known that Aguirre has succeeded Michigan State's Magic Johnson as college basketball's most entertaining player.
Aguirre received some unexpected support against Marquette from Dillard, who scored a season-high 23 points. Between them the two former high school teammates made 21 of 25 free throws. Meanwhile, the crafty Bradshaw dealt out 10 assists, raising his season's total to 83, and Cummings maintained his team rebounding lead with eight.
DePaul's success is a tribute to the quality of players in the Chicago public high school leagues. Of the six Blue Demons who see considerable action, only two, senior Forward Jim Mitchem from Albuquerque and junior Bradshaw of East Orange, N.J., didn't grow up riding the "el." Aguirre and Dillard are sophomores who played at Westinghouse High, and Cummings and Teddy Grubbs are freshmen who starred at Carver and Martin Luther King, respectively.
Of course, Chicago has been producing outstanding players for years, but until recently DePaul wasn't getting many of them. Meyer used to depend on friends and alumni to recommend players because he didn't have the inclination or the resources to go find them himself. This began to change, however, in 1971, when one of his better Chicago-bred players agreed to become a part-time—and later Meyer's first full-time—assistant coach. That player was his son Joe.
Ray gave "Joey" a budget of $3,000 and said "Go get 'em, boy." But Joey didn't have the slightest idea of how to do it.