"In basketball you don't need an awful lot of guys," says Harvard coach Frank McLaughlin, smiling. "You only need a couple of guys and you're a national contender."
And if you talk to Frank McLaughlin long enough, you might forget that Harvard hoop has not had a winning season since 1972-73, has never won the Ivy League title, and that basketball sometimes seems like the forgotten stepchild of Harvard sports.
The coach will have you thinking with him about things like national prominence. The talk stops tonight, and reality makes its yearly debut at 7:30 in the IAB, when the Crimson meets Catholic University.
Reality was unkind to Harvard last year. The cagers went 8-21, playing the roughest schedule a Harvard team has ever played.
And Harvard did not--and does not now--have "an awful lot of guys." Most of all, they are young, incredibly young. On the whole team, there is one senior and two--count 'em--two juniors. Five sophomores and five freshmen dominate the squad.
The prognosis, like so often with young teams, is uncertain. Guard Bob Allen, the 6-ft. 4-in. senior captain, will direct the three-guard, two-forward offense. Notice the absence of a center.
Allen says, "Our first weakness--it's no secret--is lack of size." Unfortunately, Allen understates. Harvard may not have seen a hoop team this small since they were playing with leather helmets out on Soldiers Field.
Of the starters--Allen, juniors Tom Mannix and Mark Harris, and sophomores Don Fleming and Robert Taylor--only Harris is 6-ft. 5-in. The rest are shorter.
"In order to be successful," McLaughlin says, "we are gonna have to scrap." And scrappiness keeps coming up in the conversation. Translated, that means plenty of movement, tough presses and a fast break offense. And not many rebounds.
Two of the five freshmen figure to see plenty of action and shoulder heavy responsibility early in the season. The coach touts 5-ft. 10-in. guard Calvin Dixon as "someone the students will really enjoy watching."
Everyone liked watching him in his native Philadelphia, a town that takes its basketball seriousy. Dixon was a two-time All-Metro selection and he led the Crimson in a pre-season exhibition with 12 points against Canadian Athletes in Action. His electric style of play prompts Allen to say, "he's combination of Alton Bryd (Columbia's graduated star guad) and Glen Fine (Harvard's graduated playmaker and Rhodes Scholar)." A pleasing mix.
This year's annointed New Big Man is Lamar Flatt, 6-ft, 9-in., 220 lbs. out of Clemson, S.C., another town noted for its hoop proclivities. Allen calls Flatt "a really strong offensive man," on a team that will struggle for every fieldgoal.
Offensive firepower will have to come primarily from last year's freshman All-Ivy swing man Don Fleming, who averaged 11.9 points per game--tops for the team--and exploded for 30 points in the loss to Boston College and 29 in the dramatic one-point triumph over Yale. Harris, 10.4 points per game last year, also will have to score, though his primary responsibility as the team's "big man" will mean guarding players much taller than he, and clearing the boards.
McLaughlin, with the voice that neither Notre Dame nor Cambridge has yet contaminated from its pristine Bronx origin, is optimistic: "All the returnees are playing better than they did last year." In the Ivies, Penn--last year in the rarefied preserve of the NCAA final four--"has the best talent, but it's inexperienced. And the rest of the league is balanced."
The schedule includes several formidable non-Ivy opponents, with a University of Texas contest at the Boston Garden next Tuesday the most enticing match-up early in the season. Tonight the real stuff starts, and, as always, there is lots of "potential." The transfer to w's and I's often proves traumatic, Stay tuned.