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Some people in Jacksonville claim Gilmore has improved his game by 30% over last year when he was embarrassed by UCLA's Sidney Wicks in the NCAA finals. Wicks, giving away six inches, blocked four of Gilmore's shots and intimidated the intimidator. That's when the Dolphin coaching staff decided they had to make Gilmore just as effective on offense as he was on defense. The answer was the "Wicks stick," an old field-hockey stick wielded in practice by Assistant Coach Jim Watson. Gilmore had to shoot over it, getting a taste of what it was like to be one of the mere mortals who play against him.
Gilmore also worked hard on his game all summer in Jacksonville, and he had plenty of opposition. Wasdin says he saw a three-on-three pickup game in which five of the six players were 7-footers (the sixth was 6'10"), all of them enrolled at JU or considering it. One of the 7-footers was freshman Dave Brent, who has run the 220 in 22.1. One can't quite say he'll step into Gilmore's size 17s next season; Brent wears 15s.
"Right now, Gilmore is still three years away from his potential," says Watson. "He'll be a dominating factor on defense his first year in the pros, and if he continues to work as hard up there as he has for the past year he'll become a top scorer, too. The biggest thing, of course, is that he's learned to take the ball to the basket and take advantage of his size to get it in. Where he was going up and away from the basket, he's now using his strength to make the power moves inside. Then, too, he's not being forced to score as much—like at William & Mary, where Artis got only two points but played one of his better games. He completely dominated the game defensively with 13 blocked shots and 20 or so rebounds, and the team scored 100 points."
The week leading up to the Houston game was a painful one for Jacksonville—mostly in the ankles. In the East Carolina win, reserve Greg Nelson leaped high for a lob pass, landed on somebody's foot and tore ligaments in an ankle. Later in the week Vaughn Wedeking, JU's best ball handler and outside shooter, twisted his ankle playing one-on-one with teammate Mike Blevins, who already had a twisted ankle. The same day an assistant manager turned an ankle. Neither Wedeking nor Nelson made the trip. The manager had to suit up so JU could scrimmage Friday.
Wasdin thought the Dolphins could win without Wedeking, even though Oklahoma City Coach Abe Lemons had told him he might as well chalk up a loss even before he got on the plane for Houston. One reason Wasdin was confident was that the teams had agreed there would be a "split crew"—one ref from the Missouri Valley Conference, which normally works Houston games, and one from the Southeastern, which services JU. About 20 minutes before tip-off Wasdin learned both refs were from the Missouri Valley, and both were Texans.
As it turned out, JU didn't get homered. The refs worked a fairly good game, especially in the first half. Poor defense, poor rebounding and Wedeking's absence had much more to do with the loss than the whistles.
Houston, certainly, had plenty of size and talent of its own, including 6'7" Dwight Davis, the leading scorer and shot blocker, and Guard Poo Welch. (TCU has a player named Goo Kennedy. All-Star pickers in the Southwest have got to put Poo and Goo on the area team.) In addition, the Cougars had Coach Guy Lewis' zone defense, a "one-Artis-one." Wasdin countered with a box-and-four, Gilmore being the box all by himself.
Early in the game Burrows and Fox worked a couple of their fly patterns, but the Dolphins were pathetic on defense, giving up uncontested close-range jump shots. Houston's 6'7" Steve New-some took the most advantage, getting 20 points in the half, which surpassed his previous game high. Still JU, helped by Gilmore's cowing presence on defense and Fox's offense, built up a nine-point lead, and when Dwight Davis got his fourth foul Houston had to abandon its full-court press.
JU led at the half 45-40 and seemed in good shape; it had been outrebounded 28-17 and still was ahead. Morever, Newsome had three fouls, and Fox had held Welch to four points.
Shortly before the second half started, Wasdin came over to the press table. "You know what happened?" he said in a strangled voice. "Some fan tripped Fox when he was coming out and he sprained his ankle." (After the game, Fox said a spectator kicked him in the left ankle and then ran into the stands. Another version had Fox tripping over his own feet.) Wasdin went over to Guy Lewis to complain. "Tom," said Lewis, "I didn't put anybody over there to trip him."