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Barry McDermott
March 12, 1973
Last year Florida State was Cinderella, but now it is only the slipper. The reasons reveal how fragile are the components of an athletic team's success
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March 12, 1973

Clyde The Glide And The Slide

Last year Florida State was Cinderella, but now it is only the slipper. The reasons reveal how fragile are the components of an athletic team's success

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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 He was a product of poverty, with a reputation as a bitter, moody, withdrawn, suspicious individual.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.

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