In three seasons at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, 6'1" Guard James Paul (Bo) Clark has learned to live with pressure. As the leading scorer among the country's college players last season, he knows that whenever he takes the floor he will face defenses geared specifically to shackle him. Then there's fear of another major injury; he has already had three, one nearly fatal. And there is pressure of a different sort, one he could have avoided but which he handles with grace and good humor. Bo Clark, perhaps the finest shooting guard in college ball at any level, is the son of the Knights' head coach, Gene (Torchy) Clark.
Ah, the "coach's son." He's the kid who always gets to pitch in Little League, the one who plays quarterback because he and the head coach have the best rapport, the one who makes the basketball team even if he can't go to his left...or his right. And he faces extra pressure to excel; no matter how good he is, whenever he fails, people whisper, "He's only on the team because he's his daddy's boy."
Failure is something Bo Clark is unfamiliar with. His 31.6 points per game last season included 51 against Florida Institute of Technology and 44 against Flagler. In a game with Florida Memorial College in 1977 he scored 70 points. He is the Knights' alltime scoring leader with 2,211 points, and he has a chance to become the eighth player in NCAA history to score 3,000 points in his career. To get his 28-point career scoring average, he has taken nearly 30 shots a game, a third of his team's total. The potential for embarrassment in this statistic is not lost on him. "I'd really be in trouble if I were playing for my dad and taking 30 shots a game and we were losing," he says.
But there has been very little losing at Central Florida. In the 10 years since Torchy Clark initiated the basketball program at the school, which was once known as Florida Technological University, the Knights have gone 173-57 and have won three berths in the NCAA Division II tournament. During Bo's career the team has been 66-16, twice winning the Sunshine State Conference championship. In 1977-78, when Bo broke a bone in his right foot and was redshirted for the entire season, Central Florida won 24 in a row—its longest winning streak—and reached the final four.
December 17, 1979
"That team had a nice chemistry," says Torchy, "but I wouldn't want to be without Bo again. Bo is a Division I player in a Division II program."
It does appear that Clark is usually at his best when the competition is stiffest. In games against major-college opponents the past two seasons, Bo has a glittering 28.7 average, including a 31-point performance in an 84-77 upset of Southern Conference favorite Furman in the season opener two weeks ago. Time and again he scored from outside or slipped behind the Paladins' man-to-man defense to score layups. It is Division II opponents, however, who have to bear the brunt of Clark's offensive prowess.
"He's a threat, so whether he's hot or not, you have to guard him," said Florida Memorial Coach Alfred Parker after the Knights defeated his Lions 116-70 in Orlando last week.
"We've played against him for four years, and he works very hard and goes to the bucket very well," says Florida Institute of Technology Coach Norm Cockrell. "I'm glad he's a senior."
As a freshman in 1975-76, Clark was the Knights' second leading scorer, with a 24.1 average, which he raised to a third-in-the-nation 28.8 as a sophomore. He sat out the following season after sustaining the foot injury and undergoing an operation to repair torn cartilage in his left knee, then returned to form and was playing well last year, until an accident in a crucial midseason game against Florida Southern nearly cost him his life. With 1:23 to go in the game, the Knights were attempting to stall away a victory. "The ball went through my legs," Bo says. "Three of us dove for it. One of the guys accidentally kneed me in the chest, knocking me to the floor, and then the other guy kneed me right in the temple."
"He went into convulsions almost immediately," says Trainer Ron Ribaric. "I held his head so he wouldn't keep banging it on the floor. It was very fortunate that the team doctor was there. Bo was turning blue and jerking his legs. We were very close to starting CPR [Cardio-pulmonary Resuscitation] on him. We worked on him for the better part of 30 minutes."
Torchy watched from the sidelines, wondering if his son would survive. Bo's mother, Claire, was in the stands, unaware of the gravity of her son's injury. An ambulance was called, and Bo was rushed to a nearby hospital, where his injury was diagnosed as a severe concussion with seizures. He missed three games, and now hardly remembers the fearful seconds following the collision. "He asked me later how long he was out and said that he felt as if he was falling down a hill, getting beaten up for about seven seconds," Torchy says.
Bo was a first-team all-stater at Bishop Moore High School in Orlando in 1975, but although he was contacted by more than 125 schools, only a dozen made Clark firm offers. "I guess the scouts knew I was going to play for my dad," he says. "It's always been my goal to play for him. I'd think with all the success he's had any young player would want to."
Torchy's success, first as a high school coach in Wisconsin and later in college, is based on an amalgamation of Lombardian philosophy and a flair for the dramatic. He may talk of "matching up" his personality with those of his players and of treating them as individuals, but he also openly taunts them during games and at practice and says he "hurts them to help them."
When the Knights win, Torchy is noticeably absent from the locker room. He believes in letting his players enjoy their success. The pep talks or reprimands come later, at practice. "The time to get on them is in practice, after a win," he says. "Why get on them after a loss? They feel bad enough as it is."
Guiding the football and basketball teams at Xavier High School in Appleton, Wis., 20 miles from his hometown of Oshkosh, Torchy was one of the state's most successful coaches in the 1960s. From 1961 to 1969 his football squads had a 63-8-1 record and won seven championships; his basketball teams went 178-14 and won eight straight titles. Though he had nothing more to prove in the high school coaching ranks, Torchy had to be talked into applying for his current position by his younger brother, Jim, then basketball coach at Bishop Moore. When Torchy was asked during the job interview what he would do to advance the Knights' basketball reputation, he replied, "I'd play in Madison Square Garden and in New Orleans at Mardi Gras time." At that point the dean informed him that the athletic budget would never allow such a heady flight into the big time. "I realized later that I gave them the wrong talk," he says. "I should have given them the poverty talk."
Indeed. For most of Torchy's first two seasons, the Knights had no uniforms—much less scholarships. Until a 2,700-seat field house was opened in the fall of 1977, Central Florida was forced to play in local high school gymnasiums or at places such as McCoy Air Force Base, 17 miles away. For a while the players' gym clothes doubled as their uniforms, and when uniforms finally did arrive they were, as one player described them, "white suits with mold on them." Said another, "We were the worst-equipped and best-coached team in the country."
In those days the Clarks' garage was the headquarters for the basketball program. "When we finally got the uniforms I had to mend them and wash them myself," says Claire Clark. "We even had the first-aid equipment in the garage."
What the Knights lacked in wealth they made up for in victories. Clark's first team had a 13-3 record. The best player in those early seasons was Torchy's oldest son, Mike, who held the school career scoring record until Bo broke it at the end of last season. Now that's keeping it all in the family.