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.