The Harvard basketball team is going to face two major problems this season, but they will not be very noticeable in tonight's opening game against a weak Brandeis five in Waltham.
Like the New York Knicks of old, Harvard lacks a big man. Coach Floyd S. Wilson will try to ease the hurt by employing a "California" offense -- rotating the three forwards around, without actually having a man at center.
The trouble is that all three forwards are sophomores, and that is the second problem -- inexperience. Chris Gallagher (6 ft. 4 in.), Bob Kanuth (6 ft. 4 in.), and Barth Royer (6 ft. 6 in.) are up from a freshman team that had a fine season, but only split with Dartmouth and Brown and lost badly to Boston College.
Starting three sophomores would not be so worrisome, if one of them were a backcourt man. In Gene Dressler (5 ft. 11 in.) and junior Jeff Grate (6 ft. 1 in.), Harvard has an impressive backcourt, but there is no one up front to be a leader. When a team falls behind in a game, inexperienced players might tend to start shooting more, and lose control of the tempo of the game. An upperclassman who has been through the Ivy grind would certainly help.
The Crimson's lack of height creates two difficulties: rebounding and guarding against opponents' big men. Wilson frets about rebounding, but actually it shouldn't be too bad. Gallagher, who averaged 15.6 points per game for the freshmen, is tough on the boards -- why, he once out-rebounded UCLA's Lew Alcindor.
Defensing the big man will be a night-mare against some teams. Penn's Tom Mallison, (6 ft. 10 in), for example, is probably looking forward to meeting the Crimson.
On a shinier section of the court, Harvard could have a high-scoring pair of guards. Captain Dressler has a 13.9 point average after only two varsity seasons. Grate should do much better than last season's 6.9 average.
For the optimists (and the sophomore players are especially optimistic) the word is "balance." There is no high scorer like Keith Sedlacek; there is no big rebounder like Barry Williams. Instead, this could be the kind of team that puts six or seven men in double figures in one game. It is a team, Wilson says, "that doesn't really have a weak link on defense." And it is a faster squad than last year's.
Among the reserves, two sophomores and a junior are expected to see a lot of action. Dan Martell (6 ft. 6 in.) averaged 8.9 points for the freshman last year. Junior guard Bob Beller (5 ft. 11 in.) had a 5.7 average for the varsity.
One guy who could be a big surprise is sophomore guard Bob Johnson (6 ft. 3 in.), who adds height and spring to the backcourt. Johnson missed his whole freshman season with an injury, and he looks good enough to win himself a job where one doesn't seem to exist.
This will be Harvard's last chance to pick on Brandeis, because the immortal K.C. Jones takes over the coaching next season and will no doubt convert the team into a national power. Jones is still playing with the Celtics now, but he comes out to Brandeis practice about once a week, when the Celts are home.
What he sees is not a dangerous ball club. Brandeis had a 3-16 record last year, but then they were using two freshmen in their starting five (in colleges with under 1000 males, the ECAC waives the three-year eligibility rule).
Up front, Brandeis has senior Barry Zimmerman, who has averaged 20 points per game but is a trifle small to be a forward -- he's 5 ft. 11 in. The other forward is freshman Bob Nayer (6 ft. 5 in.) and the center is junior Dave Jacobson (6 ft. 6 in.). The guards are both sophs who started last year: Mario Gil and Steve Katzman, both 5 ft. 11 in.
Harvard should win easily tonight, but it is going to be a rocky season against a powerful Ivy League. The Crimson will have a great deal of trouble beating out Columbia, Cornell, Princeton, Yale, or Penn. But they have talent, and enthusiasm, which helps.