A tropical rain storm wailed through the rafters of the air-conditioned coliseum in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico as the Classics, Harvard's self-styled "vagabonding basketeers" took to the floor, undaunted by the murmur of a capacity crowd and the steady woosh emanating from the opposite end of the court as the Puerto Rican national team ran through a dunking drill.
The Classics touched down in San Juan at the start of spring vacation and found themselves the talk of the town after a publicity blitz by the Puerto Rican Basketball Federation and the People to People Sports Federation that sponsored the goodwill trip.
"We got our door blown in," Kevin Kallaugher said, summing up the Classics' opening encounter with the national team. Despite the 86-50 debacle, the team was never nonplused after hitting the hard-wood of Mayaguez in their third crack at the Puerto Rican squad.
"Every time they dunk, the crowd goes bananas," recalls Kallaugher. "It was phenomenal. All of a sudden 6000 people said 'fua.' It was outrageous." Kallaugher was quizzical when it came to pinning down the exact meaning of "fua." "It's an emotional word that just has to do with a dunk," he explained.
When play got under way in Mayaguez the Classics turned in their strongest outing against the talent-laden host team, favored to win the bronze medal at the Olympics in Montreal, clinging to a 35-34 lead at the half before succumbing 71-65.
One of the more renowned cagers on the Puerto Rican five is Teo Cruz, whom Coach John Harvey eyeballed at 6'8" and 220 pounds. The 35 year old Cruz, who will be playing in his fifth consecutive Olympics this September, played fresh-man ball for NYU at the same time Satch Sanders was leading the Violet varsity.
Harvey, who described the host team as "sort of physically intimidating," was pitted in a tactical battle with opposition coach Tom Nissalke, a former coach of the Utah Stars and currently a scout for the Milwaukee Bucks.
During their one-week tour, the Classics rode on the crest of the basketball mania that is sweeping Puerto Rico. "The fans don't know much about the game," says Kallaugher, "but they get totally shitfaced and go around following their home teams." Kallaugher says "it was really kind of a big ego trip. We were celebrities."
Besides four drubbings at the hand of the national team, the Classics conducted a clinic attended by 240 San Juan youngsters, played an exhibition game at a prison, and coach Harvey along with senior captain Ted Killory appeared on a live-television interview.
The exhibition at the maximum security prison took place in a sweltering courtyard before what Harvey called a "captive audience," as inmates looked on from the five decks of cells on all four sides. "You felt kind of engulfed," said Harvey.
"It's really a scary place," recalled Kallaugher, "evidently there are 20 to 30 murders there a year. Everyone carries around big sticks." In the middle of the proceedings a convict allegedly hit a fellow inmate with a two-by-four.
Nevertheless, when it was all over, the prison recreation director told the Classics they were "the biggest thing that happened in the prison all year. You don't realize how much good you've done."
The visit even catapulted the Classics into national prominence when the Puerto Rican newspaper E1 Mundo mistakenly reported that they had come within one point of upsetting the national team in the game at Mayaguez. A United Press International picked up the story and sent out a wire dispatch that ran in many of the nation's leading papers the next morning.