If we can please the preachers at Walla Walla and, with the same program, please the wild men of the mountains, we surely ought to please the multitudes of the world.
—JAMES DeMOSS, patriarch of Oregon's beloved DeMoss Family Lyric Bards, circa 1880
And now, a century later, comes another parochial band rambling out of the Great Northwest to spread its gospel, which happens to be defense, and to play its music, with lyrics that admonish everyone never to take a bad shot. But are the multitudes of the world paying attention? "Nobody knows what we look like," says Oregon State's star center, Steve Johnson. "Nobody knows our names."
Well, you can call them Beavers. After all, that's their official moniker.
Or you can call them believers and receivers, seeing as they're positively convinced of the efficacy of that all-but-lost art known as "passing."
Or you can even call them geezers. Five seniors are playing together for the fourth season, and the coach is working in his 30th.
But you don't have to call the wonderful Oregon State basketball team that nobody respects except the voters in the polls—and they aren't entirely sure—"Johnson" anymore.
It is the special irony of Oregon State's immaculate 17-0 season, which continued apace last week as the Beavers crushed UCLA 81-67 and then resorted to their cobweb defense to turn back Southern Cal 55-48, that while word of the team somehow has managed to slip out of the green glades of Corvallis, allowing the Beavers to reach the top of the rankings, the only individual's name that has made it across the Continental Divide is that of the 6'10½", 235-pound Johnson. But, truth be told, for all his scoring totals, field-goal records and dazzling hooks, Johnson is but a second line of offense.
Oregon State first establishes its outside game, rather than the inside, as tradition dictates, because Coach Ralph Miller has passers who can thread a pumpkin through an inner tube and shooters who can knock down the baskets from anywhere within the drenched confines of the Willamette Valley.
Few outside the Pac-10 can identify these operatives—Ray Blume, Mark Radford and Lester Conner are foremost among them—because the Beavers' marvelous 27-4 season in 1979-80 ended prematurely with an upset loss to Lamar early in the NCAA tournament and also because Oregon State has .never been on a major-network national TV game. This video slight will be corrected when the Beavers play St. John's in Uniondale, L.I. on Valentine's Day and at UCLA on March 1. So watch closely. The unselfish, quick-witted folks in the backcourt will spread the floor, whirl the ball around the horn like berserk infielders turning triple plays and then suddenly shoot the lights out, forcing the opposition to focus its defense on the perimeter. Then it will be time for Johnson to go to work inside and...well, who were those masked men?
Against UCLA Johnson scored four baskets in the first half but finished with 27 points. Against Southern Cal he got four points in the first 11 minutes but went home with 25. When Oregon State defeated Washington 97-91 in overtime, Johnson had 30 of his 38 points after the intermission. A late starter? No. It's the Beavers' plan to open things up with slingshots and then close the show with their cannon.