SUMMER, 1973, ARRIVED AT THE doorstep of Barry Dowd like a hungry wolf. Fangs bared, fur bristling, full of ominous growls and gloomy predictions, it seemed to be trying to tell him something he was really in no mood to hear. For Dowd, who had just steered the University of Texas at Arlington through a so-so campaign in the sprawling Southland Conference, the future seemed shrouded in black crepe. His beloved Mavericks were in dire need of reinforcements and his trusty assistant had just been whisked away to another job, leaving Dowd all alone in the recruiting forest. It was one of those moments when a basketball coach recalls the words of his sainted mother-in-law and wonders what it would be like to sell insurance for a living. Looking back, he recalls his most vivid impression at the time.
“I kept saying to myself, ‘Boy are we gonna be in bad shape,’” he remembers.
Then a blessed event occurred. The phone rang, and after a brief conversation Dowd was prepared to face hungry wolves by the thousands. In UTA’s brief struggle to become a major athletic power, that phone call may come to be remembered as a moment of destiny. It was those wonderful folks down in Houston, calling to say that Michael and Willie would be delighted to come join the Maverick crusade and, oh, yes…Robert had decided to come along and make it a threesome. It was a joyous moment for Dowd, except that he was having a slight problem with his equilibrium and was in danger of sliding from his chair and landing nose first on the carpet.
“I nearly had a coronary when I found out they were coming,” he admits. “I couldn’t get down to Houston fast enough…I was afraid they’d change their minds before we could sign ‘em.”
What he signed—Michael Long, Willie Davis and Robert Jammer—was approximately half of a high school basketball team noted for bounding over tall buildings and running through opponents with the power of an exploding mortar shell. They were the faithful minions of coach Jackie Carr—known to their friends as the Wheatley Wildcats. To their enemies, they were a constant reminder that Attila the Hun once lived.
It was a team that achieved the impossible—denting the smug Texas conviction that God placed cattle, oil, and football players on this good earth and that everything else is an annoying example of man’s imperfection. Shattering this time-honored belief, Carr’s purple armada launched each voyage to the tune of stomping feet and wild chanting from the audience. It was almost like a football game.
This frenzy reached its peak on a sultry March evening when the Wildcats trotted sleepily into the University of Houston’s Hofheinz Pavilion (Cap. 10,400) for a playoff game and were greeted by 13,000 screeching converts, with upwards of a thousand more sulking about outside, casting surly glances in the direction of the guards barring the doorway. Neither of the arena’s two regular tenants—the Cougars and Rockets—ever had it so good. Next day, the newspapers dutifully reported that it was the largest crowd ever to see a high school basketball game in Texas and that, in fact, it may have been the healthiest throng that ever witnessed ANY sort of basketball game here.
The game itself was just another laugher for Carr’s raiders; for this was a team which averaged 110 points per game enroute to a 43-1 season and a state championship and sent 16 graduates into the college ranks on basketball scholarships.
Three of these, as previously noted, are now the treasured possessions of Barry Dowd, who scored such a major recruiting coup that he does not particularly mind that the crown jewel of the Wheatley arsenal—Eddie Owens—escaped and is now safely ensconced in Jerry Tarkanian’s new nest in Las Vegas, or that Steve Jones, another of Carr’s awesome delights, defected to Shelby Metcalrs camp at Texas A&M. This last arrangement hit a slight snag when Jones narrowly missed fulfilling the entrance requirements at A&M, but he accepted a momentary detour to Hill County JC, where he is doing pleasing things with a basketball and strengthening his academic history.
The manner in which this talent became scattered is perhaps a source of some vexation to the University of Houston’s Guy Lewis, who already owns the services of Jones’ older brother Dwight. It was widely assumed that Jones and Owens, at least, would don Cougar robes, but Lewis can be consoled by the acquisition of Wendell McKelvey, a spitfire guard who quarterbacked Wheatley’s searing attack.
Dowd’s particular good fortune apparently stems from an annual high school tournament held in the Maverick gym which Wheatley usually wins. In the course of their yearly visits, several of Carr’s players grew fond of the place.
“That tournament was the greatest idea we ever had,” says Dowd. “In five years, we never got a single player out of it, but we sure made up for it this year. This was really a great breakthrough for us…we feel it could be the start of something big.”
What it started has not yet become big, but it gets a little larger with each game. Long, Davis and Jammer have, in the manner of their comrades, proven that even as dew-eared freshmen they are capable of playing college basketball. Dowd reports that “everything is gonna be just fine around here.” Tarkanian, similarly, grants Owens an appropriate share of the credit for his team’s fast start this year, a comforting thing for a coach in his first year at a new school. Most impressed, perhaps, is Hill County coach Carter Williams, who had Jones unexpectedly dumped in his lap and has spent the season watching his young dervish pump in 20 or so points a game with the regularity of an expensive Swiss watch. Hill County won one of its games this year 167-83, reminiscent of the things Jones and his playmates used to do at Wheatley.
When they were all assembled together on one awesome high school team, the player people heard