THE CHARACTER BUILDERS
"He's 15 years old and has a 90% academic average," droned Manhattan Basketball Coach Ken Norton to a meeting of fellow coaches in Chicago the other day. "He is extremely well coordinated and, at the same age, is better than Wilt Chamberlain. He attends Power Memorial high school [in New York City]. I know we won't get him, so I'm letting all you other coaches in on it."
Thus did Norton introduce to the fraternity a bright young 7-footer in somewhat the same manner as a cattle auctioneer putting a prize bull on the block. The boy's name is Lewis Alcindor.
( Norton may have been sadistically kidding about not getting Alcindor, but it is true that the boy went to Power Memorial because he could not scrape up the money to attend Manhattan's affiliate high school, thus reducing Norton's chances.)
"Coaches and scouts throughout the country will be beating a path to New York to see and try to recruit Lewis Alcindor," said Norton. And no doubt Norton is right. Basketball coaches are partial to 7-foot boys. And no doubt Lewis Alcindor will be wooed and enticed by some of the most convincing charmers in the business. The fact that he's only 15 will make no difference.
A boy of 15—even if he is 7 feet tall—is probably not ready to stand up to the pressures of big-time recruiting. Nor should he have to. If the coaches don't think they have a responsibility to move slowly they might consider one effect of unbridled recruiting, now being reported in the newspapers—the trial of such as Jack Molinas, Joseph Green and Aaron Wagman, accused of bribing basketball players to fix games. The coaches, quick to denounce gamblers, ignore the fact that young players were thoroughly prepared to shave points by the example set them when coaches made them lavish offers—often illegally lavish.