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."