This week, as the
1956-57 college basketball season passed the halfway point, the only major
unbeaten team left, North Carolina, was ranked first in the nation. Led by
Brooklynites Lennie Rosenbluth, Pete Brennan and Joe Quigg, nine of the 12
varsity players were from metropolitan New York. Here is the hitherto untold
story of a group of New York athletic "consultants" and the methods
they employ to channel many of the best prospects south to Coach Frank
McGuire's North Carolina Tarheels
In a cramped Bronx
apartment not far from the Yankee Stadium, a short, balding gentleman in his
70s dipped a thin hand into his inside coat pocket and pulled out a neat
business card. In the center of it was printed his name, William F. Kenney, and
in the lower left corner appeared the legend, "Consultant on Outstanding
Athletes; Baseball, Basketball, Football, Track and Swimming."
Surrounded by a
clutter of college and prep-school catalogs, the loquacious William F. Kenney
was unaccountably reticent when it was suggested that he pose for his picture.
He was by no means as shy with his tongue, however.
"I been at
this business longer than anyone else," he said. "Over 30 years, and
personally I'm responsible for over a couple hundred boys in college."
Among those Kenney claims as satisfied clients: Villanova, Fordham, Manhattan,
St. Anselm's of New Hampshire, St. John's of Brooklyn, St. Michael's of
Vermont, the U.S. Naval Academy and, more recently, North Carolina. When
challenged about his reference to the academy, Kenney bragged that Basketball
Coach Ben Carnevale "is one of my closest friends."
Only a week
earlier a special-delivery letter from Kenney, delivered in the fresh hours of
the morning at a two-story white frame house about 25 miles outside of New
York, had dragged a high school basketball coach from bed.
received an urgent request from my good friend Head Coach John W. Bach, Fordham
University, for a man over six feet four inches for immediate delivery,"
Kenney wrote. "He could enter on a full athletic scholarship this Feb.
term. He is desperate and has not got a good scouting staff.
in a recent conversation that I had with you during the Xmas holiday about a
good ballplayer getting out [of high school] this semester ending Jan. 30th
1956. I will recommend him to Coach Bach on your full approval..."
carefully reread the letter, shrugged and staggered back to his bed. By that
time he was used to receiving odd requests at all hours from curious men who
described themselves as "basketball talent hunters."
With the midseason
examination period behind the players, New York's free-lance scouts now are
girding for their crucial season of the year. By Kansas standards, where an
entire community combined forces to bring Wilt Chamberlain to the Lawrence
campus, their free-enterprise methods seem quaintly old-fashioned. An All-State
Texas high school football player, used to broken-field running among the
blandishments of civic leaders, oil and cattle men, might consider New York's
scouts low-pressure and slightly ineffectual. But they are a colorful,
fast-speaking and independent lot who enjoy the intimacy of the big talk that
surrounds big-time athletics. Generally, they are lone wolves who hang around
bandbox high school gymnasiums, looking, and no doubt feeling, like movie
versions of swift operators. This is their distinctive New York way, neither
better nor worse than recruiting elsewhere in the country and, judging by the
results, just as effective. Above all else, they take themselves seriously. The
cynics who think that all there is to spotting a basketball player is a
yardstick are fair game for their most withering contempt.
use only a yardstick!" Harry Gotkin, a New York garment manufacturer,
counters. "You'll get murdered. It takes good judgment to scout basketball
players. The whole business is a rat race."