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The richest vein of young basketball talent in the U.S. runs through the secondary-school system of New York City. There and in the immediate metropolitan area 200-odd public and parochial high school teams (many more than there are in a number of basketball-mad states, such as Kentucky) have for years been producing the stars who later brighten collegiate gymnasiums from coast to coast.
In the past decade especially, New York-trained players of exceptional ability have turned up on rosters at schools thousands of miles from home, and the reason, of course, is that college-level basketball in the city has been in a long period of decline and de-emphasis since the betting scandals of the early 1950s. During that period, for example, a North Carolina U. squad composed almost wholly of New Yorkers won the NCAA championship, and last year's winner, California, was led by a brilliant guard from Brooklyn.
Lately, however, there have been clear signs (St. John's NIT victory this spring, for one) that basketball is regaining its former place as No. 1 sport in New York collegiate interest. What still holds it back somewhat is not the slight, lingering hangover of spectator skepticism but an indirect result of the scandals. So many city youngsters return each year after basketball careers on the pleasant campuses of the South, Midwest and Far West and tell their stories at their high school alma maters that New York boys have become disenchanted with big-city-style college life.
The other day one of our better Midwest teams came to New York for a game in Madison Square Garden and, as his colleagues have done for years, the coach used this opportunity for recruiting visits to several city high schools. He worked particularly hard on one good prospect and later asked the boy's coach what his chances were of landing him. "They're excellent," he was told. "All the New York schools are after this boy, but he doesn't want to go to college by subway, the way he has to go to high school. He's also heard about the pretty coeds and the campus social life at Carolina and Kansas and places like that. If he doesn't pick yours, it'll be some other out-of-town college."
Despite all this, five of the New York area's big independent schools—St. John's, NYU, Manhattan, Fordham and Seton Hall—have excellent teams this year. They all have first-rank coaches—Joe Lapchick, Lou Rossini, Kenny Norton, John Bach and Honey Russell, respectively—and it was inevitable that such men would eventually recapture a good part of the steady flow of local talent. Interestingly enough, New York colleges seldom recruit outside the metropolitan area. The vast majority of players on all five teams come from local high schools.
St. John's and NYU took on two of the nation's ranking powers last week, and both demonstrated that they deserve to be rated with the best anywhere. NYU beat Marquette 70-69, and St. John's lost to St. Louis 76-67. Even so, St. John's may well have the best collection of raw talent of the four. It is largely a sophomore team, however, and though it held a 13-point lead at the half, it fell apart later before the cool, deliberate play of St. Louis' veterans. St. Louis Coach John Benington is a close friend of Cal's Pete Newell and San Francisco's Phil Woolpert, and has obviously used their ball-control tactics as his model—and very successfully. But St. John's fine all-court performer, Tony Jackson, the two speedy guards, Ivan Kovac and Tony Pedone, the veteran Bernie Pascal and the lanky Leroy Ellis will comprise a formidable crew by midseason. It may happen sooner, if each learns to suppress an obvious desire to win games singlehandedly.
In winning its game, NYU beat a Marquette team even stronger than the one that set a 23-6 record last season and went on to the NCAA regional semifinals. Over-all, NYU is a rather heavy-footed bunch, but the backcourt, Ray Paprocky and Russ Cunningham, is quick and handles the ball very well. Paprocky, a rookie, will upset many a defensive alignment with his deceptive, broken-field drives and sharp passing. Center Tom Sanders can hardly be stopped within a 20-foot radius of the basket, though he still shows a regrettable tendency to stand around uselessly when he doesn't have the ball. Fortunately, he gets it often.