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It may come as a source of encouragement to aspiring young athletes to learn that Cousy, Beau Basketball himself, did not make his high school squad during his freshman and sophomore years. Lack of height had nothing to do with it; he stood 5 feet 10 inches as a sophomore, tall enough. It was simply that Lew Grummond, the coach of Andrew Jackson High, had such a wealth of material that many fine prospects like Cousy could hardly expect to win a suit unless they happened to have the exact qualifications Grummond was looking for. After he was cut his sophomore year, Cousy went back to playing for a team in the local CYO league sponsored by the Long Island Press. It was at one of these league games which Grummond attended that Bob first caught the coach's eye. "I didn't know it at the time," Bob was relating not long ago, "but Grummond had a spot open on the team for a left-hander. I'm a natural righty, but almost as soon as I started playing basketball, when I was 12, I started practicing with my left hand too. Anyhow, Grummond thought I was a left-hander when he saw me play. He talked to me after the game and told me he wanted me on the squad, whether I was a natural lefty or not."
Bob played a season of jayvee ball for Andrew Jackson, the last half of his sophomore and the first half of his junior years. He was then promoted to the varsity and came on fast enough to be named in his senior year to the All- New York City public high school team. A number of New York colleges were interested in his future plans, but Bob, his mind set on going to a school outside of the city where there was some vestige of college life, turned them all down and decided on Holy Cross, after also mulling over Dartmouth and Boston College. He spent the summer between high school and college working at Tamarack Lodge in the Borsch Belt, waiting on tables and playing for his alpine alma mater in their classic clashes with their ivied rival, the Nevele Country Club. During his vacations from Holy Cross the next three summers, Cousy returned to Tamarack Lodge. "The mountains were crowded with first-class players," he says, "and the competition was a wonderful thing for all of us. That is how I have always learned—observing some player who could do things I couldn't and seeing if I could get up to his level." Cousy's first-and enduring idol, by the way, was Dick McGuire, the superb playmaker of the New York Knickerbockers. "Dick's a couple of years older than I am," Cousy said recently, "so I never got to play against him when we were kids although we grew up pretty close to each other. I always admired the way he did things, and I still do. One of the events I look forward to each year now is making the All-East team, particularly because of the chance it gives me to team up with Dick against the West in the All-Star game. Working with Dick you can experiment with moves you wouldn't dare to try during a regular league game. You're so loose they usually work. For me, the finest pleasure in basketball has always come from making some unorthodox pass that results in a basket."
A UNANIMOUS ALL-AMERICA
During Cousy's last two seasons at the Cross, topnotch players like Bob McMullan, Frank Oftring and Andy Laska came along to replace the stars who had graduated. Buster Sheary, who had succeeded Julian as coach—Doggie had gone into the pro ranks to coach the Celtics—dispensed with the two-platoon business, but for the most part went happily along with the fluid style of offense, featuring the swift and tricky ball handling for which the Holy Cross teams had become known. Sheary's first club failed to make the NCAA when they were beaten by Yale (led by Tony Lavelli, probably the most graceful of all the hook-shot artists and probably also the least skillful basketball player in all other departments of all the scoring specialists who caught the public's fancy). In Cousy's senior year, Holy Cross ripped off 26 straight victories before falling into an unaccountable tailspin and dropping four of its last five, including its two games in the NCAA. Cousy was a unanimous All-America choice that year. "Those things are all a matter of publicity," he once remarked in the hardheaded way he reacts to all hoopla. "Winning those 26 straight put the spotlight on our team, and I benefited from that. I think I may have actually played a shade better my junior year."
During his four collegiate seasons, Cousy compiled a new record point total for a Holy Cross player, 1,775 points in 117 games for an average of 15.1 points a game. He won a lot of games with 11th-hour heroics—for example, he sent one game against Bowling Green (which Holy Cross eventually won) into overtime with a Merriwell heave from 50 feet out which actually entered the basket after the final gun but counted nonetheless since it was in the air when the gun went off. What made him a backyard name throughout New England, though, was his finesse as a floorman. "We never had the big man, so we developed a 101 variations on the give-and-go," Cousy says of the Holy Cross teams he played on. "They claim we sold basketball to New England, but we may have also retarded it. We possibly oriented the people in the wrong direction by emphasizing the spectacular. Nowadays if a Worcester crowd sees a legitimate offense based on a tall man in the pivot, they think it's dull stuff, kid stuff. They want that old behind-the-back passing, that old open bucket."
College was all Cousy hoped it would be, and then some. He made close friends and they, as much as his aversion to the impersonality of a big city like New York, were responsible for his later decision to make his home in Worcester. He got over the shyness he had in meeting people and became much more at home when called on for a few words at banquets. (He has a slight speech defect that turns his r's into l's.) A conscientious student, he was regularly on the dean's list, majoring in business administration but taking more and more courses in sociology. He wrote his senior thesis on "The Persecution of Minority Groups."
At the time of his graduation from college, Cousy had devised just about all of the ball handling abracadabra that is now synonomous with "The Cooz," though, to be sure, he has refined and polished his moves as a pro, trebled his variations on them, and learned how to integrate them far better into his own play and the play of his teammates. As he looks back today, Cousy has some very lucid ideas on what he happened to do right at an early age in hitting on a fundamental concept of basketball that enabled him to develop a greater diversity of maneuver than any player before him. Briefly, these are his thoughts on the essentials of good basketball:
The primary skill a young player must try to acquire is to master his weak hand, his left hand if he is a righty. Learning to shoot with it amounts to only a small advance. To be a true threat, a man must be able to move equally well both to his left and right, and this includes being able to dribble, pass and shoot while going in both directions. The whole art of dribbling, for instance, depends on keeping your body between the ball and the man guarding you. Against a capable opponent, you cannot drive forward from right to left, say, unless you can dribble with your left hand. Otherwise the ball is unprotected.
Unless he also possesses an accurate shot, an agile dribbler can operate only at 50% of his effectiveness. If he is no threat shooting from the outside, his man can afford to give him room and let him shoot, gambling that he will make a poor percentage of his shots. By giving him this room, the defensive man acquires a margin for error which allows him to stay between his man and the basket even if he has been slightly faked or anticipated a move incorrectly.