[Here’s a speculative 1970 article about “the M boys.” That would be three preseason college Americans: LSU’s Pete Maravich, Purdue’s Rick Mount, and Niagara’s Calvin Murphy. The reporter, who remains nameless, asked six pro “experts” for their thoughts on the three highly-scoring collegians and whether each has what it takes to make a splash in pro basketball. What follows is a fun yea-and-nay that, with the benefit of 50 years, makes for interesting reading today. The article appeared in SPORT Magazine’s 1970 Inside Basketball.]
They were standouts as sophomores, even better as juniors and now, as seniors, they’re virtually consensus choices on all the All-American teams. The M boys—LSU’s Pete Maravich, Purdue’s Rick Mount, and Niagara’s Calvin Murphy—have been glowing assets to college basketball and will be missed when they go on to graduate work in either the NBA or the ABA.
Of course, NBA and ABA scouts and coaches have been watching and evaluating the M boys for years. Bearing in mind that a college star does not necessarily make a good pro, or even a pro for that matter (where have you gone Paul Hogue, Lennie Rosenbluth, Charley Tyra, etc.?), we asked six professional experts what they thought of the M boys and how they thought they would fare as professionals.
Our panel consisted of former New York Knickerbocker player and coach Dick McGuire, now the Knicks’ chief scout; Baltimore Bullet player-assistant coach and scout Bob Ferry; new Los Angeles Laker coach Joe Mullaney, who watched the M boys last year as Providence College coach; San Diego Rockets coach and scout Jack McMahon; former Boston Celtics standout K. C. Jones, now coach at Brandeis University and a part-time scout for the Celtics; and coach and scout for the ABA New Orleans Buccaneers, Babe McCarthy.
Almost unanimously, the experts considered Maravich the best of the three ballplayers. Surprisingly, despite Pistol Pete’s NCAA record-breaking, nation-leading averages of 43.8 and 44.2 points per game the past two years, every one of the pros was even more impressed with his ballhandling and dribbling.
“Maravich has the greatest basketball imagination I’ve ever seen,” said Ferry. “I simply don’t know how he does half the things he does with the ball. He has great, quick hands, quick eyes, he’s an unbelievable passer, and a great middleman on the fastbreak. He can penetrate with the ball, can hit the open man—offensively. I don’t think there’s a thing he can’t do.
“I saw Cousy a lot. I played with him. But I think this kid is a much better ballhandler. There is no comparison as far as dribbling and doing things with the ball. He’s simply unbelievable.”
Ferry wasn’t alone in his opinion. “Regardless of how much local love you have for Cousy on the East Coast,” drawled McCarthy, “this kid is three or four inches taller, heavier, and yet has all of Cousy’s cat-like moves. I can’t even describe Pete. And I think he’s going to be even greater as a pro, because without hurting anyone’s feelings, he joined probably the weakest basketball program in the South three years ago and has never had the kind of talent around him to magnify his great ballhandling skills.”
McMahon was the third pro to compare Maravich to Cousy, though he did so more with a spectator’s view in mind. “He (Maravich) has color, he has flair,” McMahon said. “For fan appeal, I think he’ll be the greatest thing to come into pro basketball since Cousy. He’ll take a chance with the ball and go to make the real tough play. Will a coach let him do it? If it works, he can do it. But I think it would be a mistake for anyone to change his game. If you want a good, sound backcourt man who never throws the ball away, don’t draft Maravich. Because he’s going to throw it away. But he’s also going to make plays you never saw before.”
The experts were impressed with Pistol Pete’s shooting. “There’s no question he can shoot,” said McMahon. “Anyone who can lead the country in scoring with every defense rigged against him has to be able to shoot.” But they didn’t go overboard in their praise as they did about his ballhandling and dribbling. “Saturation shooting,” K.C. Jones called it. “He scores 50 points but throws up 100 shots. He’s a good shooter, but not a great one.”
“I’m sure his shooting will become more realistic when he’s a pro,” said Mullaney in an attempt to be diplomatic about the number and length of the Pistol’s shots.
Less diplomatic was Ferry on the subject of Maravich’s defense. “Defensively, I don’t think he’s worked up a sweat yet,” said the Bullet handyman. “But I don’t blame him or his father (Press Maravich, the LSU coach). He picks up enough fouls trying to run the offense, so you don’t want to lose him on the defensive end. (For the record, Maravich has learned to take great advantage of his opponents’ fouls. In a game against Florida last year, he went to the foul line for 27 shots and made 22 of them.)
Some people have pointed to several run-ins Maravich has had with referees, the occasional public disagreements he’s had with his father, and his showbiz, hot-dog style of play. They have concluded that he may not have the proper attitude to make it in the pros. McCarthy, who is close to father and son, insists this is not the case. “Look, there’s a real narrow difference between a great competitor and a temperamental one,” said McCarthy. “Pete’s a great one. He loves the game.”
“He’s the only great player I ever heard of with a father for a coach,” said Ferry. “I think this has very definitely hurt him emotionally. I think that after being the star of the team for so long, and after playing for his father for so long, he may be starving for discipline.
“Whenever I see a boy with this many talents, I think of a thoroughbred racehorse, very high strung. I think that against the better competition, the best will come out of him. I just think he’s such a great player he can adjust to anything.”
No one put Mount in Maravich’s class as an all-around player, but the experts did roll out the superlatives for the Purdue ace’s shooting, which accounted for 33.3 ppg. last season, second in the country to Maravich. There were two “greats,” a “fantastic,” a “terrific,” and a “wonderful” used to describe his ability to put the ball in the basket. True, that’s only five. McMahon offered a dissenting opinion, which we’ll get to later.
The player Mount was most often compared to was, oddly enough, Cousy’s old backcourt partner, Bill Sharman, now coach of the ABA’s Los Angeles Stars. It was both a compliment and a criticism—a compliment in that it was high praise for his shooting, and a criticism in that it was a knock on his ability to handle the ball and make plays.
“He’s one of the best mechanical jump-shooting guards I’ve ever seen,” said Ferry, “not only in his shooting, but in his ability to use other players to get free off the pick.
“But I question his quickness and ability to penetrate. In our game, you have to be able to penetrate to be a real star because it’s the only way to keep a defensive man honest. Pro ball has turned into very much a one-on-one game, especially for the guards, because you don’t want your forwards setting too many picks and getting away from the offensive boards. A really top guard has to be able to create plays for himself, and right now I question Rick Mount’s ability to do it, other than using a pick. He’s going to have to play for a team with a good ballhandling guard. It’s like Sharman. Alongside Cousy, he was great.”
K.C. Jones agreed that Mount was not a great ballhandler, but didn’t see it as a major problem. “Some players, like Oscar, can make their own plays, while others, like Bill Bradley or like Sharman years ago, need help. Your teammates know your strengths and weaknesses and can help you out. If they set picks for Mount, he’ll shoot your eyes out.”
Ferry, Jones, and two other experts saw both some good and bad things in Mount’s game. McGuire, however, saw almost nothing but good, while McMahon saw virtually nothing but bad. Which is why teams have scouts.
“A great, great shooter who can get free for shots, improved on defense, and handles the ball well—he’ll go first round without a doubt,” said McGuire.
“I know he’s going to get drafted very high on the basis of his shooting ability, but I think he’s got to develop some other skills outside of a long jump shot,” said McMahon. “Things like making a play; drawing the defense to you, then giving the ball off; having the ability to go all the way to the basket; recognizing that when someone has a little better shot than you, give him the ball—he’s forced quite a few shots, you know. I don’t say he can’t do these things. I just say he hasn’t yet. A pro coach knows he can’t win consistently by depending on outside shooting alone. I think someone is going to have to work hard with Mount.”
And, finally there is Murphy, who, in McCarthy’s opinion, “might be a combination of Maravich and Mount—but, unfortunately, is so much smaller than them.” Maravich stands 6-foot-5; Mount 6-foot-3; Murphy is 5-foot-10 and, according to most experts, has only a questionable chance of making it as a pro because of his lack of size. “I’d take a chance on him in the second, no, probably the third round,” said McGuire, a small man (6-foot) who did make it.
No one thought Murphy’s size would hurt his offense in the pros. “He’s quick enough and is enough of a threat to go to the basket to keep the defense far enough away so he can get his jump shot,” said Ferry. That jump shot helped Murphy score 32.8 ppg last season, good for third place behind the other two M boys in the national rankings.
“But on defense . . . on defense, he’ll have a problem,” Ferry continued. “He can stay with them as far as quickness, but I don’t know how much good that’s going to do when they pop the ball over his head.
“Today, they don’t take the small guy into the pivot as much as they used to, because the bigger guards can take advantage by just jump-shooting over him. Psychologically, they have the advantage of knowing there’s nothing he can do to stop their shot. Maybe if he was drafted by a team with a great defensive center like Bill Russell, he could play a pressing, harassing defense, and, if his man got by him, there would be someone back there to pick him up. But there aren’t too many clubs around with that kind of big man.”
Jones was the lone dissenter on Murphy, perhaps because at 6-foot-1, he had to overcome similar odds to make it with the Celtics (and having Russell as a teammate didn’t hurt either, as Ferry observed). “I would say his chances aren’t great, but I think they’re good,” said K.C. “They used to try to take me into the pivot, or do something else to try to take advantage because they were bigger. The way I fought back was to play in front of them as much as possible to keep them from getting the ball. Look, it’s a big problem for Murphy. He’s going to have to be smart and scrap, be very aggressive, and get help from his teammates. But I think he has a chance to make it, not a great chance, but a good one.”
Both Mullaney and McCarthy thought Murphy’s chances depended greatly upon the kind of team that drafted him. “He’s got to be on a running team to have any chance at all,” said McCarthy. “Take Larry Brown of Oakland. He’s 5-foot-11, I think. He was the finest fastbreak guard in the ABA. He did a heck of a job. Yet he couldn’t play defense against my Jones boys (guards Steve Jones, 6-foot-5, and James Jones, 6-foot-4). I would say we got between 20 and 35 points a game off of him. So, you get the benefit of his speed, but he has to hurt you on defense.”
“If he gets with a big club, a contender where he could compliment a big man and get a little help on defense, he might fit in,” said Mullaney. “It’s like Johnny Egan with the Lakers. With three superstars to carry the team, Egan can make a good contribution. With a team that isn’t going anywhere, there’s always a tendency for everyone to start looking more to themselves. If Murphy gets with the team that plays that kind of basketball, he’s going to be in trouble, because he’s not the kind of player that can be effective by himself. He’s got to have help.”
And finally, as was the case with Mount, McMahon was the most pessimistic of all our experts on the subject of Calvin Murphy. “My impression is that Murphy will definitely be too small,” he said. “I know he scores a lot, but when I saw him, he took a lot of bad percentage shots and didn’t hit them particularly well.
“Combining that with his obvious problem playing defense, and I would have to say I rate his chances as very questionable. I mean, you can go back to guys in the past—Willie Somerset is the last guy to come to mind—who were good ballplayers but just too small to make it in the pros.” (McMahon is probably unaware of the fact that the 5-foot-10 Somerset, last year, was one of the few bright spots with the New York Nets of the ABA.)
In summation, a consensus ranked the M squad in this order: Maravich, Mount, and Murphy, with Maravich and Mount definitely going in the draft’s first round, in Murphy in the second or third. In approximately 11 months, when the M boys step onto the court to make their professional debuts, we will begin to see how right or wrong the experts were.