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THERE WAS INDEED AN NCAA TOURNAMENT THEN, had been for years, but Carolina dared harbor no serious aspirations of winning the national title, because everyone everywhere simply assumed that Kansas would win the crown in 1957. This was because a young giant from Philadelphia, Wilt Chamberlain, had decided to play for the Jayhawks, and now he was entering his sophomore year, his first of varsity eligibility.
He was then perceived as superhuman. "People today cannot imagine the impact that man had on us all at that time," Joe Quigg says. "Wilt was just a colossus." He stood somewhat over 7 feet, he was powerful and quick, and he was black! His reputation preceded him to Lawrence, Kans., because he was surely the first high school athlete whose recruiting was coast-to-coast news. "I don't mean these things to sound wrong, but I was above all the other guys then," Chamberlain says. "I guess I was just ahead of my time."
Kansas drew San Francisco, the defending champ, in the semifinals of the 1957 NCAA tournament. A 6' 9" guy named Art Day jumped against Wilt. Chamberlain scored 32, at will, and Kansas won 80-56.
It was so devastating that most people forgot which team was coming into the final game undefeated.
MIDWAY THROUGH THEIR SCHEDULE, WITH THEIR record 16-0, North Carolina traveled to Maryland on a train and played the Terps before the largest basketball crowd in the history of the South, 12,200. When Maryland got possession of the ball, leading by four with 40 seconds left, McGuire called timeout for the purpose of reviewing how the Tar Heels were to act—like gentlemen—in defeat. They won in overtime. "From then on I knew they were really something special," McGuire says.
But it was McGuire who set the tone. "The best thing he did was he left us alone, five guys who played Noo Yawk style," Brennan says.
The Tar Heels aligned themselves in such a way as to defy conventional defenses. "There was a chemistry; patterns, not plays," Rosenbluth says, "and when you have that, scouting reports don't mean a thing."
In fact, broken down, the Carolina offense more closely resembled that used by the Harlem Globetrotters than any other. Rosenbluth was in the middle, back to the basket, the "showman," as the Globies call their "lead" (Meadowlark, Goose, Geese, whoever). Kearns was the "floorman" (Marques or Curly) out front with the ball. The two more traditional sturdy-center types, Quigg and Brennan, weren't under the basket, where they might get in the showman's way, but were put out in the corners.
Cunningham, at 6' 3", tall for a 1950s guard, was the other starter. Just where were you, Bobby? "Sneakin'. Always sneakin' around," he says. "Lookin' after my children." He means the four more-visible starters. Cunningham was the classic fifth man.
None of the others ever resented sending the ball in to Lennie, because they'd never seen a man who could shoot as he could—spinning layups, hooks, turnaround jumpers. Three of the other four starters—Kearns, Cunningham and Brennan—all proudly, distinctly recall being the one who threw the pass to Rosenbluth when he scored his most extraordinary basket, a 14-foot hook shot, in traffic, against Wake in the ACC tournament, in the final minute, down a point.