Before basketball at the University of Miami swaps its peach fuzz for some Crockett-and-Tubbs stubble—before it becomes a program, rather than the delightfully unpredictable adventure that a caboodle of freshmen, transfers and walk-ons has made it thus far this season—let's roll some highlights from the salad days of Hurricane hoops.
•1960—Coach Bruce Hale, frustrated in his attempts to get an arena built on campus, tells his players to take out insurance policies before they fly out of a Midwest airport in a snowstorm. He asks each Hurricane to list his beneficiary as "University of Miami field house." If the plane goes down, Hale figures, at least something good will come of it.
•1965—Forward Don Patrican, angered at the preferential treatment Hale accords Miami star Rick Barry, who is engaged to Hale's daughter, writes a poem of protest and slips it under the coach's door. The last couplet reads: None can risk a slip or flaw/Unless he be the coach's son-in-law.
•1967—Center Mike Wittman, told to check into a game, reports to the scorer's table and says, "Wittman in for debauchery."
It is a documented fact that no one by the name of DeBauchery has ever played for the Hurricanes. In fact, for 14 seasons after 1970-71, no one of any name did, because of the decision to suspend the sport "temporarily." Since then, Miami has won national championships in football and baseball. The school has fielded a women's basketball team for each of those 14 seasons. Yet, until the Mad Serb, the Fertilizer Salesman's Son and the Basketball Orphans got together to do something about it, you could find men in short pants doing just about everything imaginable around the Miami campus—except playing major college basketball.
The Mad Serb is Miami athletic director Sam Jankovich. He left his job as A.D. at Washington State in 1983 on the express condition that Miami commit itself to bringing back hoops. "Sam's the kind of guy whose coat is off and shirttail's out by noon," says Bill Foster, the Hurricanes' coach, whom Jankovich hired away from Clemson of the hoity-toity ACC.
Foster, the son of the fertilizer salesman, is the man who has implanted Division I basketball at North Carolina-Charlotte in 1970, then began selling the sport to the football-crazed folks at Clemson five years later. Now 49 and professionally secure, Foster was Jankovich's first choice to coach the 'Canes. He wouldn't overreact after a premature win, like Miami's 81-78 defeat of Georgia on Nov. 30 (though he did say it "ranks as one of the top three or four with me"). Nor would he overreact after a blowout loss, like the Hurricanes' 109-64 debacle at UCLA on Dec. 21 (though he did call a morning practice after the 'Canes' red-eye flight home).
With Foster in hand, Jankovich needed to foster some funding for the team. Enter the Basketball Orphans. They're South Floridians, many of them migrants from the Northeast who grew up with the Big Five in the Palestra, or college triple-headers in Madison Square Garden. "They'd liked it and kind of missed it," Foster says. "Most of them think they know the game. They're opinionated, but I can live with that."
He can certainly abide the $50,000 that each of 19 high rollers has pledged to donate over a four-year period. At a fund-raiser during which 14 of those boosters came forward, toastmaster Al McGuire said, "If this were a Catholic school, you'd all be ordained cardinals." Says Foster, "They're all hitters. And those 19 have helped us bring in a lot of others."
When Foster arrived on campus in March 1984, Jankovich took him by the armory, the university's old ROTC training site, to see if it might be a suitable practice facility. "Depression immediately set in," Foster says. "You couldn't conduct a good practice in it. And you couldn't have gotten anyone to practice in it."