SI Vault
Tex Maule
February 18, 1957
With new field houses mushrooming like oil derricks, basketball is very big in Texas. And its big man is SMU's high-scoring Jim Krebs
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font
February 18, 1957

Big Jim And The Texas Boom

With new field houses mushrooming like oil derricks, basketball is very big in Texas. And its big man is SMU's high-scoring Jim Krebs

View CoverRead All Articles View This Issue

Jim Krebs's 24-point average put him 13th in NCAA scoring last week. The nation's top five:

1) Grady Wallace, South Carolina


2) Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas


3) Chet Forte, Columbia


4) Jim Ashmore, Mississippi State


5) Elgin Baylor, Seattle


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.

Basketball did 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 job."

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."

Continue Story
1 2 3 4