Besides dribbles, free throws and 25-foot jump shots, every college basketball season serves up a smorgasbord of winners and losers, ample dishes of jubilation and lamentation. It usually offers something else, too—one team that is magic, and one that is all but tragic. In consecutive years Florida State has filled both roles. Last season State was a Cinderella in sparkle-dust sneakers, an NCAA finalist and about the only team to score at least a moral victory over UCLA. This season has drawn to a markedly dissimilar conclusion for the withered Seminoles. Now they are the losers, the cadavers of their game, a team with ennui for a mascot. Who killed Florida State? Why did it die?
The answers are there to be found, found in Tallahassee, where disgruntled fans accuse the team of every malady except ring around the collar; found in Room 361 of a student dormitory on the FSU campus where for part of the season the team's two best players lingered in limbo; found at the pleasant suburban home of Coach Hugh Durham, a flustered, disillusioned man on a swaying tightrope; found among former Seminole players who are dismayed by the team's chilling decline.
Florida State began the season with three players gone from last year, two of them starters. But it had two very promising junior college transfers, Benny (The Glide) Clyde and Otis Johnson. The returning veterans included slick-shooting Ron King; Lawrence McCray, a 6'11" center who performed well against UCLA's Bill Walton; 6'10" Reggie Royals; and little Otto Petty, the scampering 5'7" mini-hit of the '72 NCAA final in Los Angeles. It seemed that the only way to stop Florida State was for tin team to stop itself.
And that is what happened. The Seminoles opened the season as the second ranked team in the country. They enc it with skid marks all over a record that shows eight losses, defeats not so appalling in themselves as in their construction, for Florida State has no played well this year, certainly not in the games it lost, occasionally not ii the 18 games it won. Sometimes it ha; been easy to pinpoint the trouble, as in the case of Ron King, who was injured in the team's sixth game. Sometimes not so easy, as with Benny Clyde, who was suspended from the squad in late January and not reinstated for nearly a month. King and Clyde are the players in Room 361.
"People talk about what we had coming back this year," says Coach Durham. "They don't talk about what we lost. They forget Greg Samuel, Ron Harris, Rowland Garrett. Samuel played 30 games for us last season and committed only 30 fouls. And that while being matched against the best backcourt man on the other team every night. He was the best defensive guard in the country, that's all. And then there was Garrett. All he did was make the Chicago Bulls—without a no-cut contract. And Harris. No one knew him. He was our sixth man, but he was in every game at the end. He was our most valuable player. The team voted him MVP after the season was over. People say, 'What's wrong with Florida State? All that talent and they're losing.' Well, maybe we lost some talent, too."
Every defeat has bitten a piece from Durham's soul, and there have been times when he must have felt like a man caught in a whirlpool Tallahassee is a Southern town, and Durham's predominantly black teams have galled a segment of the population. People hesitated to complain in the face of success, but defeat enjoys no such protection. "I know there are people against us here," Durham sighs. "Hell, we have people like that on our own scorer's table."
The coach and his players have been demeaned as "outlaws" and worse on occasion by rival coaches, charges that have gained credibility if only because Durham's teams twice have been put on probation by the NCAA. "Everybody in the United States knows that," Durham says wearily. "It seems that every time someone wants to write about what's wrong with college basketball, Florida State's name is brought up. I think we've paid our penalty.
"I knew the pressures that would arise because of the black athletes when we started to recruit them, but I'm not going to go out there and strive for mediocrity. I'll tell you, we're making more of a contribution to society than, say, someone like Dean Smith at North Carolina. Sure, you take a kid who scores 1,200 or 1,300 in his college boards, and you're not going to have problems. But we're taking kids who, if we didn't take them and put them into college, probably would end up as a drain on society instead of a possible asset."
The season has been one of patchwork for the beleaguered coach. He has tried three different starting lineups as he searched for the antidote to his Frankenstein monster, inserting new and hopeful formulas after King dislocated his ankle playing against Alabama and was out for the year, and then again after Clyde was suspended. He even moved Petty down as he desperately sought someone to come off the bench and keep his team rolling. But without King in the lineup Florida State's shooting was futile and the team was vulnerable to zone defenses.
"The guys are saying that Coach Durham has changed," King says. "Maybe he has. You get different players, you have got to change. We used to cover all over the court. We used to dog, dog, dog, steal the ball, start the break. Now we slow it down. It's not like it used to be."
A perceptive young man, King has analyzed the team's behavior as puerile. "If a guy messes up in a game," he says, "the others players get mad at him instead of helping him. They say he shouldn't be in there playing. They start hangin' their heads. And then you have guys getting mad because they aren't being used enough. And it all falls back on the coach. Last year we didn't have any problems. Everybody is complaining this year."
Durham is rankled by the situation, and the charges. In his seven years as a head coach this has been the first season in which he encountered serious personality problems. Despite warnings, including one from Clyde's hometown adviser, Mrs. Rubye Wysinger, who told the coach that her ward would need delicate treatment, Durham recruited Clyde out of Ellsworth Junior College in Iowa. Admittedly a superior individual basketball talent, the youngster was struggling to forget a childhood that included some brushes with the law in his hometown of St. Petersburg, Fla. He was a product of poverty, with a reputation as a bitter, moody, withdrawn, suspicious individual. Those who know him claim that he does not trust anyone, specifically whites. Some people resent his detached manner. Indeed, one of Durham's frustrations is that Clyde seldom smiles. Perhaps that is because life has not seemed all that funny to Clyde, whose face is pocked with the scars of childhood fights.
"We took a chance on Clyde," says Durham. "We knew that going in. But what are you going to do, shut a guy off because he made a mistake somewhere in his life? That's the easy way out." The coach hoped that his other players would keep Clyde straight. He was wrong.
Almost the opposite occurred. "Clyde really influenced the team in a bad way," says Harris. Last year's MVP now is doing graduate work at Florida State preparatory to entering medical school, and he is surprisingly candid. "He really brought them down this year. A lot of dudes look up to Clyde and follow him. If he wanted to do it fancy, then everybody wanted to do it fancy. If Clyde wanted to spin and take the ball through his legs, then Petty wanted to and Johnson wanted to. Everybody wanted the spotlight.
"There were a lot of little things. Like at practice, everybody would be playing really good defense and suddenly Clyde would start laughing and say: 'Hey, you're all crazy.' Things like that. Coach might tell Clyde to run a lap, and if the players laughed, Clyde might tell Durham to go to hell. He's like that.
"Durham probably used the wrong approach with him. He tried to be easy on him, to be his buddy. But maybe he should have been hard from the start. He tried to get Clyde to change his game, to cut out the fancy stuff, but without that Benny is just another person, and he wouldn't change."
Clyde finally was suspended after slugging a player late in a game against Southern Illinois. He had tried to one-hand a rebound, and to his embarrassment lost control of the ball. While chasing it out of bounds a Southern Illinois player jostled him and Clyde punched back. The flagrant foul almost cost Florida State a win. This, following a series of broken curfews, skipped classes and real as well as insinuated insubordinations, was too much for Durham.
"Benny thinks society is shafting him," says Durham. "I told him instead of crying, he ought to be thankful that The Man gave him more basketball ability than 95% of the people in the world. He doesn't look at it that way. He thinks the reason he is a good basketball player is because he works harder than everybody else. He's wrong. It's the natural ability. When he wants to be, he's fantastic."
Clyde was reinstated after he met the rather meager penalties Durham outlined for him when he was dropped. "I told him that he had to go to class for 10 straight days and make curfew when we had it," Durham says. "That doesn't sound like much, but to a guy who is used to not going to class at all it is. If Benny lands in the pros with a coach who demands excellence, he'll be terrific. But if he ends up with one who lets him go his own way, he won't cut it. You know, aside from the suspension, I haven't had any trouble with Benny. He's just never had to do it somebody else's way, that's all. If Benny had come to Florida State as a freshman, he'd be great today."
But it is too easy and surely unfair to put the entire blame for Florida State's demise on Benny Clyde. Other factors are involved. Perhaps more than any player on the team, Clyde needed a successful year at Florida State, for he saw in this season a chance for a pro contract and a ticket out of the maelstrom that has been his sorry life. Even now he talks about how well he will perform for Florida State next year—if he does not get a good offer from the pros after their undergraduate drafts.
"There were eight kids in my family," says Clyde. "My old man ran off and left us when I was 2. The old lady had to bring us up. It was rough. Now the old lady is afraid I'm going to blow it, but I'm not."
Last summer Harris and Florida State Guard Otis Cole visited with Benny in St. Petersburg. "It's really bad there," remembers Harris. "It was so bad that we lied to him and told him we had to leave. You go down to the store and you just see junkies lined up everywhere nodding. Clyde's girl friend wouldn't ride in our car because she said it looked like a police car, and she didn't want anybody shooting at her.
"People don't realize what a pro contract means to a black person like Clyde. It's his only chance to get out. I come from the same type of thing. There were nine kids in my family. It was hard, but I never had to beat up people for lunch money like Clyde says he did. You don't know what it's like to go through four years of school with only one pair of pants. The saddest thing I ever saw in my life was coming home and looking on as my dad ate bread and syrup for lunch when he was working 13 hours a day. I made it through okay, but Clyde didn't. Maybe he had a different personality than me. Maybe he's insecure."
"From the git-go, he had the reputation here as a bad guy," says Clyde's roommate, King. "Maybe people were looking for him to mess up."
Florida State began its season with three relatively easy victories. The first hint of trouble came in the Marshall Memorial Classic when Princeton beat the Seminoles by two points. Days later came the King injury against Alabama, and that set a pattern. By the middle of January even Durham was not voting for FSU in the weekly coaches' poll.
"I told my assistant coach before the start of the season that Benny Clyde is the type of player who can get you ranked second," says Durham. "But then if everybody doesn't come through for you, you start out high and play yourself down. And that is what happened.
"The sad thing is that Clyde still doesn't understand why he was suspended. He thinks it was only for hitting that player. He doesn't understand that it was another example of him thinking about himself and the hell with Florida State. Clyde could be a super player. But he won't let himself be. He has to be fancy. He has 'to do his thing,' as he calls it. He can't just play basketball. And by doing it his own way, he's going to foul up sometimes. But he can't see that."
When the chastised Clyde returned to the team, he played briefly against South Alabama and went scoreless, then again came off the bench in the first half last week against Marshall, a lamentable contest—but fortunately the next to last game of the season—that the Seminoles lost 71-59. "He got seven rebounds in nine minutes," says Durham. "Then he got tired. It was a lack of conditioning. Benny tells you how much he wants to play, but he didn't want to play enough to run on his own while he was suspended."
Durham has suffered other recent disappointments. Before this season, he liked to point out that all but one of his previous black players went on to graduate. Now he has a couple who probably won't get their diplomas. They stopped going regularly to class last fall because they presumed they would be playing professional basketball next year. "That's the problem with the young players," says Harris. "They come here and get influenced by some of the older players who don't go to class, and then the young players think they don't have to go, either."
No wonder Durham's hair is falling out. But despite the trauma and the grating sound of a crashing kingdom, the coach realizes that things could be worse. Last year he considered taking a pro coaching job—with the hapless Philadelphia 76ers.
Now he looks to the future. He feels certain Florida State will be back on top next year. Perhaps it is wishful thinking to hope that Benny Clyde will be there, too. If The Glide started the slide, maybe he could help end it for State, and for himself, and stir up some of that sparkle dust again.