There was a time when going to a basketball game at little Amherst College in Massachusetts was about as thrilling as compulsory chapel. Jim Rehnquist has changed all that. The muscular, 6’3″ junior from McLean, Va. has led his team to a winning season and poured in enough points to attract unusual national attention. But, as the son of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William H. Rehnquist, Jim suspects the publicity isn’t entirely his own doing. “The attention is good for my ego,” he concedes, “but I realize that part of it is because of my old man, and that bothers me. I also think the constant puns about both of us being on the court and the bench are juvenile.”
Averaging 15 rebounds and nearly 30 points a game (he has been running one-two among small college scorers most of the season), Rehnquist spends little time gathering splinters. An all-state center at Langley (Va.) High School, he passed up bigger colleges—he had feelers from Dartmouth and Colgate—after visiting Amherst on a balmy October afternoon. “The people were friendly,” he says, “and when I found out that free beer was on tap at the fraternities every night, I knew it was the place for me.”
It mattered little to Rehnquist that there are no athletic scholarships at Amherst. Or that he would be playing in a drafty, decrepit field house known as The Cage. Or that the level of play would not match his dreams as a schoolboy. “I think I could have improved a lot more if I had played in the Ivy League,” he concedes, “but the basketball here is competitive. Everyone on the team is good friends and very close. That makes it fun when you win, and all that much worse when you lose.”
A superbly accurate shooter—”probably the best I’ve ever seen in college ball,” says his coach, Rick Wilson—Rehnquist averaged 27 points a game as a freshman. His 24-point average as a sophomore was sixth highest in the nation. In one game last month he scored a remarkable 50 points. Yet he admits to weaknesses in defense and ball handling and doubts that he has any future as a pro. Has his name caused him any problems on the basketball floor? “One guy asked me,” he says disgustedly, “if my father could fix his traffic ticket.”
A National Merit finalist in high school, Jim industriously squirreled away $1,000 his senior year washing dishes 30 hours a week. Now he rises at 6:30 every morning to manage Amherst’s student dining room staff. A history major with a B+ average, he hopes to teach after graduation, and perhaps play some semipro basketball in Europe.
More liberal than his father, who was appointed to the high court in 1971 by President Nixon, young Rehnquist says they often swap viewpoints. “I don’t agree with him politically at all,” he says, “but he’s a tough guy to argue with.” Nor does Jim get much help from his mother, whom he fondly describes as a “misplaced Victorian.” Dissension, however, ends at the front door. The elder Rehnquist tries to see Amherst play whenever he can. He missed only one of his son’s games in high school, and that was on the day of his swearing-in. Once, when young Rehnquist was called on a dubious foul, Langley coach Bob Pence was startled to hear a furious protest from the stands. “I looked around to reprimand the parent,” recalls Pence, “and there I was, face to face with a Supreme Court Justice.”