It was supposed to be a giant coming-out party for four regional teams loaded with fresh young talent, but it became a coming-out party for giants—three 7-foot freshman phenoms. And when the basketball competition of the National Sports Festival III ended in Syracuse, N.Y. last week, America had a new center of attention—Stuart Gray of (oh, no, not again) UCLA. Gray easily outshone Patrick Ewing, who is headed for Georgetown, and Greg Dreiling, who is bound for Wichita State.
But let them introduce themselves. Stuart, you were the MVP of the tournament and your West team was the only one to win all four of its games.
"I graduated from John F. Kennedy High in Granada Hills, California, a suburb of L.A. It was a hard decision, picking UCLA, so many of my family being Cal alumni and all. But my father's on the faculty at UCLA, so that helps. I've lived in a lot of different places, and I really didn't begin to take basketball seriously until I moved to the Los Angeles area, just before I entered the 10th grade. Guess I've got the hang of it, sort of. I averaged 31 points and 18 rebounds per game last season at Kennedy."
You're next, Greg.
"I'm 7'1", which gives me an inch on the other fellows here. I graduated from Kapaun-Mt. Carmel High School in Wichita, Kansas, and Wichita's where I'm going to stay. O.K., I know there's an NCAA investigation going on that may mean less TV exposure and no tournament games. That's the trade-off I made. With the kind of personnel we have I think we can go all the way...if we get the chance."
"I lived in Jamaica until 1974 and graduated from Rindge & Latin High in Cambridge, Mass. I don't like to talk much, and anyway, my coach at Georgetown, John Thompson, says I can't be interviewed until after January."
The preceding remarks are hypothetical, but the stir the three 7-footers created at the Sports Festival was for real. They came together, 253 inches of young centers, the hopes and dreams of three Division I universities riding on their substantial shoulders, the hopes and dreams of dozens of other schools perhaps destined to be crushed under their giant footsteps. Singly, they're not extraordinary. Not yet. But collectively they're unprecedented. "I don't think I've ever seen three pivotmen of this caliber come into college at the same time," says Gene Smithson, who will coach Dreiling (pronounced dry-ling) at Wichita State. "To have three players like this coming in at one time is extraordinary," says Harlem Globetrotter scout Ernie Thuring, who is also the player personnel director of the DPI Summer Pro Basketball League in Los Angeles. "None of the three puts it all together right now," says Syracuse Coach Jim Boeheim, "but...." The implications are obvious. "The amazing thing about it is that each one is a little unique in his style of play," says Wyoming's Jim Brandenburg, who coached Gray's West team to the gold medal. "Each has a chance to dominate in his own way." But only Gray was dominant in Syracuse. He tied the East's Earl Jones in scoring with 73 points, led Dreiling and the South's Mike Wacker in rebounds 37-32 and had just two fewer blocked shots than Ewing (9-7).
Though he has been scrutinized as closely as any high school basketball player since Lew Alcindor, Ewing came into the Festival as something of a mystery. Could he possibly be as good as his clippings? And what was he like personally? His high school coach, Mike Jarvis, had limited his contact with the press, and Thompson, his coach on the East team, as well as at Georgetown, has done the same.
Thompson was right there when Ewing met reporters after games, and Ewing answered most questions in monosyllables. Thompson wouldn't allow him to be interviewed privately. His play on the court was often disappointing, too, for someone who came in trailing reams of newspaper copy behind him. He scored 41 points in his four games and had only 23 rebounds, the same number as the West's Ralph Jackson, a 6'2" guard. But statistics can be deceiving in all-star games, particularly in the case of a player like Ewing.