The big, gangling
youngster moved with the awkward grace of a Great Dane puppy. He loped
down-court with long, heavy-footed strides, and it was only after you watched
him for a while that you realized the big body had the sure economy and the
ease of motion of a fine athlete, and then you could see that while the body
movements were deliberate the big hands had the very quick accuracy of the paw
flick of a great cat.
Jim Krebs played
basketball with absolute concentration, absorbed and intense, and the rocketing
waves of sound from the 8,500-odd people overflowing the new Southern Methodist
University field house washed around him unheard. He jockeyed strongly for
position under the basket, leaning his 6-foot 8-inch, 225-pound frame into the
continuing pressure of three Arkansas players trying to guard him, his
movements never hurried but sure and often surprisingly deceptive. He
maneuvered easily and well in the cramped space available, trying for a long
time to free himself from the human picket fence surrounding him. When he found
he could not clear himself he moved out and away to the corner of the court,
and three times, quickly, feet trailing like a crane in flight, he lifted oddly
soft, high jump shots that whispered cleanly through the net and raised the
deafening roar of the crowd to bedlam.
This crowd, the
biggest in SMU history, had come to see Krebs score and, seeing it, would come
again, and the new field house, dedicated only this year, is already too small.
Krebs is the key player on the top team, leading a remarkable surge of
basketball interest in the Southwest. Besides SMU's $2.5 million field house,
four more conference schools are playing in field houses completed in recent
years. Arkansas is playing its second year in a million-dollar building seating
6,000 with a future capacity of 9,000; Texas A&M in 1954 completed a
9,000-seat field house, and Rice, back in 1950, finished a 6,000-seat field
house. Texas Tech, newest member of the conference, has a 10,000-seat field
house. Since 1950, seating capacity in the conference has increased from 20,000
to 44,000, and most of it is being filled. At the SMU-Arkansas game, fans
filled the gym, spilling over into temporary seats on the floor and standing
three deep at the ends of the court. The crowd was a noisy and excitable one,
albeit not yet as knowledgeable as, say, an Indiana basketball crowd.
To them, Krebs
was most of the show. Although he was hampered early in the game by the
Arkansas zone defense which had three men around him, he scored 18 points in
SMU's 69-55 victory. He hit from far out—the jump shots from the corner—and
when Arkansas changed its defense to send men out to harry him, he moved in a
bit closer and whipped a shallow-arching hook shot through the cords, bouncing
the shot off the backboard. Finally, Arkansas abandoned its zone defense in
desperation and tried to handle Krebs man for man and, feinting beautifully
with an oddly deceptive head and shoulder movement, Jim slipped away for
layups, covering an amazing distance in two long, reaching strides to the
basket. On defense, he ambled almost casually across the area in front of the
basket, chevying his man away from the easy-shot zone. Krebs is not a strong
jumper, lifting only a little off the floor when he leaps for a rebound, but he
plays position so precisely and his hand and eye coordination is so good that
he is a great rebounder.
He is a complete
basketball player, with all the skills of the game, but he has not been one
long. Krebs came to Southern Methodist four years ago, from Webster Groves High
School near St. Louis, and he had played only one full season of high school
basketball then. In that year, his last at Webster Groves, he broke all the
school scoring records and led his team to the semifinals of the state high
school tournament. He had bids from 20 schools before he decided on SMU, which
was far from a basketball power at the time. Doc Hayes, the quiet, low-key
coach of the Mustangs, pitched his arguments on the contrast between going to
one of the big basketball schools which already had a tradition of winning and
coming down to SMU where there was a chance to start one. "Down here,"
Hayes told Krebs and two more St. Louis boys, "you kids will be long
remembered." Krebs agrees: "They'd never had a real basketball
tradition down here, and the idea of all of us coming down together from St.
Lou's to make it seemed pretty fine."
When Krebs is
graduated this spring, the tradition will be a solid one. With him, SMU has
already won two conference championships, is well on its way to a third.
not come easy to Jim. As a high school freshman he could not make the frosh
squad. He played a little on the B team as a sophomore, but he grew five inches
that year and he found the job of coordinating the lanky body too much for him.
It was a psychological shock, too, to find he was going to be so much taller
than the run of mankind.
"I guess I
didn't realize how big I was going to be for a while," he says. "It
came pretty quick and it was hard to get used to. But I did. You have to. A fat
man can reduce and a skinny man can try to fatten himself up. Even a little guy
can wear elevator shoes, but there's no way to whittle off height."
Krebs was awkward
and tangle-footed and with a less patient and less understanding coach than
Webster Groves' Tyke Yates he might never have become a good athlete. Yates let
the coltish boy go his own gait, offering encouragement and suggestions but not
pushing him. Krebs was sick with an ear infection much of his junior year, and
Yates brought him along slowly in practice his last year. Says SMU Coach Hayes,
"Yates recognized the importance of the kid's building confidence. Kids can
be pretty cruel, and Tyke didn't put Jim out until he was ready to do a good
One of Krebs's
strong points is a capacity for frank and searching self-analysis. After his
high school career he decided that he needed a hook shot to play college
basketball, and he spent the summer working on one. "I used to shoot 300 or
400 hook shots a day," he says. "It's a tough shot to shoot right. If
you turn your wrist a little too much you miss, and then if you don't follow
through right you miss. You got to work and work to get everything right, just
like grooving a swing in golf. I finally got it, though."