And then there were four. . . .
Three members of Oxnard College's not-so-notorious Detroit Seven, who last fall motored from downtown Motown all the way to O-Town with roundballs spinning on their fingers, apparently have decided to make a one-way trip out of a visit home for the holidays.
"They may not be back," Coach Bruce Furoya said. "I haven't heard from them. They weren't playing much anyway."
Missing, probably because of inaction, are Eric Tate, Ian Jackson and Adrian Haywood.
Two of the remaining four from Detroit, Phillip Barry and Frank Mason, have not made it back from visits home, either. But Furoya insists they shall return.
"Phillip and Frank worked hard and have played well when they've had the chance," Furoya said. "They said they'll be back before we play Ventura on Jan. 4."
Oxnard, in a switch, plays host to Ventura in a Western State Conference opener at 7:30 that night. The Condors (5-9) have yet to play a home game, and, well, they won't really be playing at home Monday, either. The game is at Rio Mesa High. Oxnard does not have gym of its own and plays most of its handful of home games at the Camarillo Boys Club.
"I used to complain about it," said Furoya, who is in his first year as head coach after serving as assistant for several years, "but now I try to use it to our advantage. The kids kind of take pride in always being on the road."
Of course, some hit the highway of no return.
Besides the five missing from Michigan, freshman John Thomas has not returned from visiting his family in New York City. "It's been storming out there," Furoya said. "He'll be back."
It might get nasty around Oxnard if Thomas stays away--he is a starting guard averaging nine points and 3.7 assists a game.
His contribution will be essential against WSC opponents, seven of whom have winning percentages of .500 or better in nonconference games. Hancock, the No. 1-ranked team in the state, is 15-0. Ventura (10-6) is the defending state champion. Moorpark (9-5), Bakersfield (9-6), Canyons (9-6) and Cuesta (5-5) are off to decent starts.
Ventura has had some rocky moments as Coach Phil Mathews has tried various combinations of freshmen to complement All-American sophomore Cedric Ceballos.
"All these hard times will just make us a better team during conference games. I hope," Mathews said.
Ceballos, a forward, leads WSC players with an average of 30.6 points a game. Forward Mark Gray, Ventura's only other sophomore starter, is 10th with an average of 14 points a game. Oxnard's sophomore guard Kenny Smith is fourth with an average of 20.7 points a game.
Moorpark's leading scorer is sophomore guard Tom Neumayr, who averages 17 points and 5.5 rebounds a game. Rich Murphy, a 6-7 center averaging 13 points and 5.8 rebounds, and Fred Parks, a 6-4 forward averaging 11 points a game, also are playing well for the Raiders.
Most junior college coaches might take it for granted, but in light of Oxnard's travel woes, Mathews and Moorpark Coach Al Nordquist might be thankful most of their players are from the Southland.
"We'll be all right if Thomas, Barry and Mason make it back," Furoya said.
The Detroit Seven, most of whom Furoya says originally "just called me and said they were coming out to Oxnard to play basketball," were a mixed bag of ballplayers from the beginning.
The Pied Piper of sorts was Keith Childress, a 6-7, 225-pound sophomore center who is averaging 14.2 points and 6.5 rebounds a game. Last year, Childress scored only six points all season but had such a good time he went home to Detroit and told all his friends about Oxnard College and that ocean air.
"I got calls from guys I never heard of," Furoya said. "They'd tell me, 'Coach, I'm 6-5, 200,' They'd get out here and I'd tell them, 'You must have lost three inches during the plane ride.' "
Childress looked like a bust last season but has turned into the team's most improved player.
"If one player has done a tremendous turnaround, it is Keith Childress," Furoya said.
The only other member of the Detroit Seven who has made a significant contribution is Howard Watson, a 6-1 swingman, who does not start but is one of the team's best defensive players, according to the coach.