In the pregame warmup, the gangling Negro looked awkward and ill at ease. He pushed his practice shots toward the baskets as if he knew they would miss; he shambled around the floor like a lost kid. But when the whistle blew for the University of San Francisco v. Loyola of the South basketball game in New Orleans last week, San Francisco's big (6 ft. 10 in., 210 lbs.) Center Bill Russell seemed the All-America ace he was cracked up to be. Before he left the game he scored 20 points. On defense he gave Loyola fits. The Southerners could not find shooting room. Bill Russell's one-man campaign kept them off balance from the start; U.S.F. won 61-43.
Man-Made Southpaw. Long before he knew what the word meant, Bill Russell was trained to be an athlete. But basketball was not part of the plan; in Monroe, La., where Bill was born, a Negro boy's prospects for first-class high-school training in basketball were close to zero. Bill's Uncle Bob decided that his nephew should grow up to be a baseball player. If Bill developed into a lefthanded pitcher, he might play good enough ball on Monroe's sand lots to earn a college scholarship. So Uncle Bob started early to convert a naturally righthanded boy into a southpaw.
For a year his uncle made Bill eat and pick things up with his left hand; once when he fell asleep clutching a half-eaten turkey drumstick in his right fist, Uncle Bob switched the bone to Billy's left hand so that he would wake up with everything right.
Just as Uncle Bob planned, Bill grew up to be a southpaw. But baseball was forgotten when the family moved to Oakland, Calif. Like any other youngster. Bill tried to imitate his older brother, who was a flashy, high-school basketball player. On the court Bill was ambidextrous, but he was mostly Pogo-stick legs and gawky elbows, too awkward to make the regular team until his senior year.
Big as he was, Bill made no impression on the big-college coaches who control athletic scholarships. Then an alumnus brought Bill around to see the U.S.F. Dons' coach, Phil Woolpert. Phil took one look at the happy-go-lucky string bean with the outsize hands, and saw just what he was looking for. In the fall of 1952, Bill Russell began to attend classes at U.S.F., a small Jesuit school (2,500 students), and to practice basketball in the pint-sized St. Ignatius High School gym, where the Dons work out for want of a floor of their own.
Russell-Made Rule. Last year he led the Dons to the N.C.A.A. title (TIME, Feb. 14). Shy and self-effacing anywhere but on a basketball court, Bill Russell played with the drive and desire of a champion. As Woolpert wanted, he specialized in defense: "If they can't shoot, they can't score," the coach told him.
Bill was no ace on offense, but he was good enough. His teammates would purposely fire flat, fast shots that should have bounced off the backboard for sure misses, then Bill would move over, stick his big paw up like a second backboard, and tap the rebound in. The technique was so exasperating that rival coaches wrote a new "Russell rule" into the gamethey widened the free-throw lane to 12 ft. so that Bill would have to stay farther out of basket-hanging range.