Seven hours before his basketball team took the court at Kansas State University last weekend, Cincinnati Coach Ed Jucker sat in a Manhattan, Kans. coffee shop and stared into his empty soft-drink glass. "I'm in a fog," he said. "I just don't know how good we are." Any of the country's several hundred other college basketball coaches would have strained a short rib laughing at this dour sight. Cincinnati had, after all, four starters back from the team that decisively won last year's national championship. It had won its first four games this season with consummate ease. Jucker might have to wonder whether his team could beat the Boston Celtics, but this concern over Kansas State hardly seemed necessary.
Yet Ed Jucker, as intense and analytical a coach as there is in basketball, had a point. Those first four victories were insignificant, he knew, because they were scored over mediocre opposition. This in turn meant that he could not be sure he had made the right decision in replacing his graduated All-America center, Paul Hogue, by shifting Forward George Wilson into Hogue's old spot. Center George Wilson, like national champion Cincinnati, had not really been tested. Now Kansas State was willing to oblige, and was an appropriate opponent to provide Cincinnati's first valid challenge.
Like Cincinnati, Kansas State is a school with an awesome victory tradition. Each has won over 80% of its games during the past five years. What is more significant, both teams feature an unusually aggressive defense, and both operate a pattern offense so faithfully that they are suspected of trying to make the fast break as obsolete as the eight-hour workday. Finally, in Kansas State, Cincinnati was facing a team coached by one of the most resourceful minds in basketball, that of 40-year-old Tex Winter.
While students began lining up outside the K-State field house at noon last Friday in order to maneuver into the best seats for the 9:30 p.m. game, Winter and Jucker were doing some maneuvering of their own at a booster club luncheon downtown. Both coaches have had basketball books published within the past few months, and when they were called upon for a few remarks the two authors unblushingly injected plugs for their works as they indulged in the standard coach's ploy of puffing up the legend of the opponent's strength.
"I want to tell you all how grateful I am that Ed got his new book out in time for me to study it thoroughly before this game," said Tex Winter. "What's the name of your book again, Ed?"
" Cincinnati Power Basketball," said Jucker.
"Oh, that's right. I knew there was 'power' in the title somewhere," said Winter.
A relaxed man with dark hair and an almost sleepy expression, Winter piled up the pressure by stating that he considered Cincinnati the nation's best team during the past two years, and he considers them to be the same thing now.
No laughing matter
Ed Jucker may have had a wonderful sense of humor at one time. But when you coach a basketball team that has won 60 of its last 65 you begin to see enemies everywhere. Why not? There are enemies everywhere. So Jucker fielded Winter's praise with his version of uproarious laughter—a tight-lipped grin. "We're not nearly so deep as we have been the past five years," he said. "We'll just have to struggle along and do our best."