"Florida was always near the top of my list," says McDowell, a powerful 6'8" center who had more than 200 scholarship offers, "but the fact that the arena was opening mattered a great deal in my decision."
But new buildings aren't the biggest factor in the state's basketball buildup. Coaches are. There is no buzzword in college sports with quite the same impact as "Final Four." Final Four coaches "have been there." Final Four coaches can "turn programs around." And now three of them are plying their trade in Florida.
Florida State's Williams finished second with Jacksonville in 1970. Norm Sloan, who took over at Florida last season, won the national title with North Carolina State in 1974. Rose came in fourth with UNC-Charlotte in 1977 and third with Purdue in 1980. And Jacksonville's first-year coach, Bob Wenzel, was an assistant to Duke's Bill Foster when the Blue Devils lost to Kentucky in the 1978 final.
Of the Florida Four coaches, Wenzel, 31, has the toughest row to hoe. Last season the Dolphins were 8-19, and he has only one of his own recruits, freshman Point Guard Andrew Hinton, on this year's team. The Dolphins simply haven't been getting the blue-chippers that Williams and his successor, Tom Wasdin, attracted from 1968 to 1973, when Jacksonville went 107-27. And now Wenzel must compete for talent not only with his estimable peers in Florida but also, in the Sun Belt Conference, with UAB.
Heck, Jacksonville couldn't even lure a Gilmore to the campus. Williams took advantage of his long friendship with Artis to sign Oren Gilmore, Artis' talented 6'9" brother, last year. Gilmore had a total of 23 points and eight rebounds in his two tournament games. Frank Gilmore, another of the six Gilmore brothers, is a part-time assistant for Williams.
But Wenzel has solid recruiting credentials. While at Duke, he was primarily responsible for landing Jim Spanarkel, Gene Banks and Mike Gminski. Wenzel has committed the Dolphins to a running style of play; he wants them to fast-break at least 35 times a game. He also has imposed some stringent regulations. "At first I think the team kind of resisted his rules," says senior Forward Terry Brush, "but now that we've seen how they've helped us, I think we're behind him." Wenzel requires coats and ties on the road, team-breakfast attendance and a 6 a.m. study session in the office of Assistant Coach Marty Gross for every missed class, practice or breakfast.
The task Williams undertook at Florida State was different from those of the other three coaches. He wasn't called in to rescue a sinking program when he replaced Durham, whose 12-year winning percentage of .708 is the best in the school's history. Florida State wanted Williams to keep things rolling. Maybe he could even lure another Cowens or two to the campus and give Louisville some competition in the Metro.
"What I'd like to shoot for, rather than overtaking Louisville, which just isn't going to happen because they'll always have a great team, is just to move up alongside them," says Williams. "Try to make it a one-two conference rather than just a one." Williams has come in second to Louisville two of the three years he has been at Florida State, but the other Metro teams haven't exactly been standing still. Cincinnati, Virginia Tech and Memphis State have all been picked to finish ahead of the Seminoles in the conference this year.
Though his young squad lost its composure in the tournament final against USF, Florida State could spring a surprise by season's end. Next week Clemson transfer Mitchell Wiggins, a 6'4" forward who can board, becomes eligible, and Williams has already named him to the alltime team of players he has coached, with Gilmore and Morgan of Jacksonville and Jonathan Moore and Clyde Mayes of Furman.
Williams left both schools when things were going well. He departed Jacksonville for Furman following the glorious 1969-70 season in which the Dolphins made the national finals. His move had something to do with finances; he was getting less than $10,000 a year for X-ing and O-ing against people like John Wooden. He left Furman for Florida State after leading the Paladins to five Southern Conference titles and a 142-87 record in eight seasons. That move had something to do with Williams' love of sailing and deep-sea fishing, the latter a subject on which he waxes almost rhapsodic. Anyway, the easygoing Williams, surely one of the few coaches in the country to leave the practice court holding hands with his wife, seems a natural for basketball among the palm trees.