While other people watch the head-lines, professional basketball scouts keep their eyes, a lot of the time, on the small print in the sports pages, and the write-ups in the local papers that seldom make the Blue Star finals in the big-city editions. It is there, in the last couple of years, that the story of Richard (Buzz) Wilkinson has been written. This is one of the reasons why Mr. Wilkinson, currently spending his last season at the University of Virginia, probably is the No. 1 choice of most of the pro teams—perhaps the best but certainly the least-known star in the country.
In his sophomore year Buzzy was 16th in the national scoring average. Last year he was third behind Frank Selvy of Furman and Bob Pettit of LSU. This year he is second. He has a lifetime average of 28.4 per game, the second best ever recorded.
The pros have been content to let the news of Wilkinson's talents remain local. "The less publicity he gets the better we like it," a top man with one of the teams said. "We know he can make any club in the country. It's only a question of how much we have to pay him."
But news has a way of getting around. The Peoria Cats, champs of the AAU circuit, have Wilkinson at the top of their prospective list. Gene Shue, with the New York Knickerbockers now, but one of the best defensive players in college last year when he played against Buzzy, calls Wilkinson "the hardest-driving player in basketball. He's got a great inside shot—all his shots are great. He's fast as lightning, and he's a real classy ball-handler and dribbler. When you play him man-to-man, you just can't stop him and that's all there is to it."
The only player you can compare Buzzy with, Shue says, is Frank Selvy of the Milwaukee Hawks, but Gene refuses to do it. He has to play against Selvy this year and may have to face Buzzy next season.
According to Shue, Wilkinson has only one weakness—publicity. He doesn't get it. "He should have made All-American last year. He was third scorer in the country on a bad team that played mostly good ones—what else can a man do? If Buzzy Wilkinson doesn't make All-American this year, it only proves how meaningless the whole thing is."
There has been good reason for the lack of publicity about Wilkinson—namely his attitude toward his fellow players which is somewhat like that of a seasoned mother catbird pushing her young ones from the nest. He thinks it's high time the other players straighten up, fly right and start making baskets themselves. Several games this season he has spent the entire first quarter feeding the ball to his hand-wringing teammates before giving up and resigning himself to stardom. This holds his individual score down but Wilkinson is looking ahead to next year, when he won't be around. He is sincerely willing to sacrifice his individual acclaim if he can only get the Virginia team to stand on its own feet.
Wilkinson knows well the difficulties inherent in such a project. He is making that same attempt off the court in his personal life. He is the son of Dr. E. M. Wilkinson of Pineville, W.Va., a prosperous parent addicted to spoon-feeding. During a time out at a prep school game, the first basketball game Dr. Wilkinson attended, Buzzy felt a hand on his wrist and looked up to see whose it was. "There was my father," he says today with a shudder, "taking my pulse right out in the middle of the floor."
In this age of basketball goons, Wilkinson is peculiarly ungoony in appearance. He is only 6 feet 2, and he slouches. Like most great athletes, he practices the difficult, not the easy. He picks up tricks from his opponents. Shue, for instance, doesn't try to block one-handed push shots from in front, but steals the ball off the shooter's hand from behind instead. Wilkinson worked on it until he got it. He's an offensive star, and that is exactly why he works so hard on defense.
The reason Wilkinson makes so many desperation lucky shots is because he practices desperation lucky shots. When he makes incredible shots from fantastic positions with his left hand it's because he practices incredible shots from fantastic positions with his left hand. Before one big game two years ago a Virginia player asked Buzzy please not to throw him the ball. "I'd just drop it," he explained. When you can't throw the ball to your own teammates you've got to practice incredible shots.