It was perhaps only natural that the spotlight should remain centered upon football, for the great autumn pageant of the American college scene still had to observe a few curtain calls. It had been another smash season with an old but always delightful plot. The oldest alumnus grew young once again as he watched it unfold—and the youngest coach grew old. All-America halfbacks were born under the publicity man's typewriter touch and blazed to glory on the field—or perhaps faded to obscurity under a rattling tackle made by a nameless guard. But while bowl teams ran through endless rehearsals for the big Jan. 2 finale (meanwhile keeping an eye cocked on the governor of Georgia), a new act slipped onto a corner of the stage. College basketball bounced in.
The entrance attracted more attention in some sections than others. There were still those among the old guard of the Ivy League who packed away their coonskin coats with a steadfast resolution not to stir again until eight-oared shells are lowered gently into the Charles and the Thames next spring. But elsewhere—well, at the University of Iowa, where sellout crowds watched Iowa play one of the nation's stoutest football schedules, thousands of fans switched over to the Iowa field house on Saturday afternoon and joined a national television audience of millions in watching the opener against Nebraska. At Ann Arbor, a big Michigan end named Ron Kramer tugged off his cleats and shoulder pads, slipped into a pair of canvas shoes and satin pants and prepared to take over top billing in the winter spectacular. At West Point a tall cadet named Don Holleder followed the example of Quick Change Artist Kramer, hoping to help win another victory over Navy on a different field of friendly strife.
But most of basketball's cast of characters—the youngsters who will make the college sports headlines for the next 100 days—are athletic specialists, and basketball is their specialty. Perhaps at the head of the cast is a 21-year-old named Bill Russell, whose presence at San Francisco is the chief reason the Dons are expected to be again the best college team in the U.S.
Bill Russell is a 6-foot 10-inch Negro from Monroe, Louisiana. His father hoped that he would be a left-handed baseball pitcher because "only girls play basketball." In high school, after the family moved to California, he was overshadowed by an older brother who was a better athlete; it appeared that his family, which had religiously saved to send him through college, would indeed have to pay his way. Then Phil Woolpert, coach at San Francisco, decided to risk an athletic scholarship. Now, four years later, Russell is described only in superlatives by such neutral observers as California Coach Pete Newell who says he "is the finest individual performer ever on the Pacific Coast," and this is an area which produced Stanford's Hank Luisetti and Jim Pollard.
Russell is a tremendously modest young man and, even out on the basketball court before a game, stands awkwardly ill at ease, looking as embarrassed as a teen-age girl in her first Bikini bathing suit. But, once in action, he has to be seen to be appreciated. He covers the court in incredibly long strides, goes up in the air to block sure baskets (he can high jump six-foot-seven) and the next moment is down at the other end of the court to tip one in for San Francisco. Opening the season against Chico State, Russell played only part time but still collected a handsome 26 rebounds and scored 15 points. Saturday night, against a good Southern California team, he stepped up his pace and almost blew the Trojans off the court. It was like a big boy playing keep-away with small boys. USC's Tony Psaltis broke for the basket all alone; a sure layup for two points. Tony jumped in the air, pushed the ball confidently against the backboard. Out of nowhere a large hand reached up and pinned the ball against the boards. Bill Russell eased the ball down and threw out to a teammate. Ten long strides and Russell was under his own basket. The teammate missed a set shot but the large hand reached up again and stuffed the ball in the basket. It was that way all night. In the first half Russell personally outscored the opposition with 19 points and led San Francisco to a 34-16 advantage. Then he came back to drop in five more points, make it 43-18 before his coach mercifully pulled him out of the game. San Francisco won 58-42.
If basketball men had to name a team right now which would be playing San Francisco in the NCAA finals March 24, many of them would say Kentucky. This is part reflex action, part the reputation of Coach Adolph Rupp—and part Bob Burrow. Rupp has had seven All-America centers in 26 years at Kentucky; Burrow, a six-foot-seven-inch retired bass horn player from Texas, may become the eighth.
Burrow is a friendly young man with short-cropped brown hair, a grin and a knack for making friends. He majors in physical education, makes average grades, wants to play pro basketball when he finishes college and later become a coach. Son of a lumberjack, Burrow came out of the east Texas pine country to become the nation's No. 1 junior college player in 1954 with little Lon Morris, a small Baptist school which benefited from his presence to the tune of 2,191 points. Rupp never saw him play until he reported for practice last year but he accepted Burrow on glowing scouting reports. It was a wise decision. Now a senior, Bob proved to be a tough and aggressive man under the basket, played almost every minute of Kentucky's games last year, averaged 19 points a contest and earned a reputation as one of the greatest rebounders in the nation. "The only way to beat Kentucky," says DePaul Coach Ray Meyer, "is to break Burrow's control of the backboards."
Saturday night, as Kentucky beat LSU 62-52, Burrow had his troubles. With an injured foot hurt in an athletic club initiation the Tuesday before possibly contributing to an off night, the big center played only part time, scored only seven points. But the season is a long one and none of Kentucky's opponents can afford to take much consolation from Burrow's sore foot.
Out in the mountain states, where Utah is expected to have one of the best teams of the year, Coach Jack Gardner proudly lists four returning starters from last season's Skyline Conference champions. The chief of these is Art Bunte, a deceptively easygoing fellow with the face of an overgrown cherub and the build of a football tackle. His normal playing weight is 215 on a 6-foot-3 frame, which makes him about the shortest big-time pivot man in the game, but he makes up for it with his deceptive speed, a beautiful shooting touch and one of the roughest sets of hips and elbows under the basket this side of the pros of the National Basketball Association.
Bunte's confidence in himself and his teammates is supreme. "Shucks, coach," he will tell Gardner, who, like all basketball coaches, verges on apoplexy when things fail to go just right, "we'll murder these guys." And they usually do. Last year Bunte, who hooks with both hands and can hit on the jump and set shot as well, averaged 19.2 points and once scored 43 against Utah State. Saturday, when Utah opened the season against Wichita, it was an easy game and Bunte didn't have to work too hard. Playing only about half the game, he scored 12 points in a 73-51 Utah victory which saddened the initiation of Wichita's new, gleaming,' flying-saucer-shaped field house. For once he had no trouble sleeping after the game. "This one wasn't close at all," Bunte said. "Not much to worry over tonight."