From humblest beginnings—early achievement was measured by victories over Agoga, Turner's Sports Shop and the Miami Beach Canoe Club—the University of Miami basketball team had pressed on for 28 years toward a humble future when Bruce Hale, known as Slick, arrived on campus to be the coach in 1954. No deliverer has ever been met with such generous apathy.
As a whole, Miami was not taken with basketball. "Our first game was played at the Miami Beach Auditorium," recalled Doris Hale, Slick's wife, at lunch last week. "A beautiful place. It seats about 4,000. There were 75 people there to see us, including the ushers, and most of them were in the front row sitting down. I almost cried. I did cry."
"Seventy-six," said Bruce Hale.
"Seventy-six what?" said Doris, turning to her husband.
"Seventy-six people. That's more than 75. Think positively," said Hale.
Positively undespairing, Hale went on to have a losing season at Miami in 1954-55. He hasn't had a losing season since. His Hurricanes have won 157 of 240 games in nine years plus and now often play to capacity crowds at the Miami Beach Convention Hall. As a regular treat they upset teams like San Francisco, Duke, Bradley, Louisville and Oklahoma City. Currently, they are only 9-4, with recent road losses to Florida and Florida State dimming a promising season. But they are a young team and have in Rick Barry, the coach's daughter's boy friend, one of the very best front-court players in the country and one of its top scorers.
Hale brought Miami its first All-America player (Dick Hickox), its first 7-footer (Mike McCoy, who believed that if he spent half his time asleep in the dorm he would suffer the embarrassment of only half as many staring people), its first national ranking (10th in 1960), its first invitations to major tournaments (the NIT, the NCAA). And where once the Hurricanes traveled on hamburgers and milk shakes and experienced middle-of-the-night bus breakdowns in places like Micanopy, they now eat steak and jet to California.
Exactly how Hale manages it is a continuing wonder, however, because what Miami has not had in his time, or anybody's, is a field house. Neither does it have a gymnasium. In contrast to the school's extravagant football facilities, Hale works his team in a shabby little on-campus armory. The armory belongs to, and is occupied until 4:30 each day by, the U.S. Army. Basketball bouncing is not allowed until 4:31. "But it's much better than practicing outdoors or on borrowed time in high school gyms—which is what we used to do," says Hale. "I'm grateful to the Army."
Incongruously, Miami then plays its home games in the swish Miami Beach Convention Hall, or in the Auditorium next to it, before large and relatively impartial audiences, the Beach being 12 miles from the Miami campus. The neutralizing effect is not nearly so bad as the effect on Hale's recruiting. "The first thing a boy wants to know is, 'Where do you play?' I can't show him a field house, so for now I tell him to think of the last time he watched a televised fight from Miami Beach. That's where you'll be playing, I tell him. I'm grateful to television."
Hale has been lobbying for a field house long enough for some of his players to have graduated and bred children since they first heard him talk about it. He gets frequent encouragement, but not one cement block. An eternal optimist whose fate, it seems, is to be surrounded by eternal pessimists, he goes on making plans because, says Doris Hale, "he is a nut for challenges. The field house is a challenge." Better jobs have been offered him, too. Hale is a respected former professional player, coach and referee. But he will not leave Miami until he gets his field house, and once he gets it he probably will never leave.
Hale is 46, looks 35 and is called Slick, mostly out of earshot, because of the way he combs his hair—straight back and presumably unmussed since about 1945. A man without a pretension to call his own, he is undismayed by the inelegance of his office: a clutter of boxes, dirty uniforms and old trophies in a single room below the spacious Miami football offices. His secretary is a portable typewriter the team gave him. "I get tickled when somebody tells me to 'have your secretary drop me a note,' " he says. "My secretary is me."
Hale is adored by his players. He allows them under his skin and into his home, where they eat his barbecue. They practice on his make-do court, swim in the pool he and Doris built, and, in Rick Barry's case, go steady with his daughter Pamela. He runs—or outruns, as the case may be, because he still is in fine shape—with them in practice and searches for ways to reward them. He spent $150 on individual trophies to commemorate Miami's first NCAA tournament even though the team got sandbagged by 23 points in the first round. At Miami's last home game, he introduces the families by spotlight and presents orchids to the mothers.
Hale's discipline is too soft and his ship too loosely run by some standards. He prefers to regard his players as men and to let them come to their own conclusions. He walks out of practice without a word if he becomes angered, and after a stunning loss to Stetson last year the only thing he said on the bus ride home was, "Are you sure we're on the right road?"
But the most extraordinary thing about Hale is that he has the radical notion that it is extremely poor taste to yell at an official. When things are bad for his side, as they were the other night in Gainesville against Florida, he merely acquires the pained look of a man in need of a Rolaid and tries to keep very still. He has compassion for referees ("I was one, so I know their problems").
The current Miami team is neither the best nor the worst of Hale's creations, but Forward Barry is the best player he has ever had. The 6-foot-7, 19-year-old junior from Roselle Park, N.J. has averaged 30.9 points and 16 rebounds a game, set a record of 50 points in one and has been called "magnificent," "exceptional," "mighty fine" and, recently, "better than Art Heyman" by admiring rival coaches. Hale's worry is that Barry can also equal Heyman's temper. He scored 35 points against San Francisco and then tried to throttle an opposing player for what he thought was an indiscreet elbow. He went careening into the first row atop Florida's Dick Tomlinson last week in Gainesville. In the NIT against Providence last year he threw the ball into the stands when charged with a foul just when Miami had cut a huge Providence lead to two points. The result was a technical foul, the ball was given to Providence, and quickly the lead shot up seven points, extinguishing Miami's chances.
Junior Guard John Dampier, a California junior college transfer who played with Cincinnati All-America Ron Bonham at Muncie (Ind.) Central High School, is a deadly long-range shooter. With Barry, he made up the highest-scoring two-man punch in the country until the recent road trip, when he suddenly went cold. While Barry was pouring home 102 points in the three games, Dampier was held to 45, and Miami lost two out of the three, to Florida 114-91, and to Florida State 80-78.
It is reasonable to believe that Dampier's is a temporary failure, however. He scored 41 points against Army and 35 against Syracuse on successive nights in the Hurricane Classic, and when he is right, there is nothing safe within 40 feet of the basket.
The only senior in the Miami starting lineup is Guard Bernie Butts, an A student and an aspiring lawyer who was known as Boom-Boom in high school because he shot so much. Butts once scored 63 points in a single game for Hialeah (Fla.) High. Then he went to Kentucky, where Adolph Rupp told him he was going to stop shooting and be a playmaker. Boom-Boom's response was to shoot the first two dozen times he got his hands on the ball. Then he got married. Rupp was sufficiently distracted. Butts transferred to Miami where, not more than half a dozen booms later, he became Hale's best playmaker. At Slick's positive urging, of course. With such persuasive powers of recruiting as well as coaching, Slick Hale is going to be battling for an NCAA championship one day.