Gaines paid his coaching dues, winning 80 games and losing 55 between the 1946-47 and '51-52 seasons, mostly with guys on the GI bill who would leave after graduation for better lives in the North and Midwest. They stayed in touch, though. And soon they were sending Gaines players like Jack DeFares, Carl Green and Charlie Riley, New Yorkers all. Joe Nichols and Bernard Terry came in from the Midwest. Oris Hill, a 6'7" magician, arrived from Illinois. There was 6'5" Tommy Reynolds, who had the good wrists and a dead shot from 25 feet. And George Foree, from Carbondale, Ill. And John Leon Whitley, from Philadelphia, a consolation prize that fell into Gaines's considerable lap when he went North for a guard named John Chaney, now the coach at Temple. "That was a time of experimenting for me," says Gaines. "Ever hear of the psychology of colors? I had a beige room, a blue room, a green room and a red room for pregame meetings. If we really needed it, we went to the red room. I got the guards and the penetrators from the Northeast, the shooters from the Midwest."
With those players, Gaines's Rams won 93 games and lost but 27 between 1953-54 and '56-57. Then in 1957-58, the Rams were a flat 13-12, and people began to feel that Gaines was on the decline. It was a nice career, though. Well done. Clara, who gave birth to Lisa in 1953, had become pregnant with Clarence Jr. It might have been time to move on. But where? "Without selling your manhood, you could make it in Winston-Salem," says Gaines. "I went to many other places. But I always ended up coming right back here."
The CIAA was cooking by now, and the league's coaches and their players had become legends, at least on their small campuses on their sides of small towns throughout the South. Only word of mouth took them elsewhere. John McLendon at North Carolina College in Durham—he had Sam Jones, the future Celtic and NBA All-Star. Mark Cardwell at West Virginia State had Earl Lloyd, who would later perform with the Detroit Pistons. Virginia Union had Jumpin' Jackie Jackson, who never reached the NBA. Over at Elizabeth City, Bobby Vaughn would later have Mike Gale, soon to become a member of the San Antonio Spurs. Globetrotter great Curly Neal was at Johnson C. Smith College in Charlotte. Gaines's old friend Cal, 25 miles away at North Carolina A&T in Greensboro, had Alvin Attles, a star player, an NBA-champion coach and now president and assistant general manager of the Golden State Warriors. And the country was talking about what Lennie Rosenbluth and Co. at North Carolina had done against Kansas and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1957 NCAA tournament.
In the CIAA, people were wondering whether Bighouse could still do it without players of this caliber. Gaines often wondered what he could have done if, say, a Wilt Chamberlain had come along. Someone like Wilt came along rarely enough. Never to Winston-Salem. Not a chance.
Then along came Cleo Hill.
"I had wanted to play for Bighouse," says Attles, who came South from New Jersey. "But he had enough guards. So I went to A&T. Then I heard Cleo was going to Winston-Salem. Cleo was from Newark, like I was. So I knew. He was probably the greatest high school player I'd ever seen. Just a shade over six feet tall, he jumped out of the gym and literally had every shot in the book—with either hand. The way I remember it, there was nothing he couldn't do."
After high school Attles and Hill had played together in Newark against a team of older, rougher players, semi-pros called the Ironbound Dukes. "They hadn't lost a game in a long time," says Attles. "We came in against them, a bunch of kids, and Cleo just took over. He hit 41, got all the rebounds, blocked everybody's shot. After the game the older guys were looking at him with murder in their hearts. They did this for a living, sort of, and here this kid was, on a lark, and he laid them open. Cleo was laughing. But those men weren't."
"I had done just enough work to get by at South Side High," says Hill now. "I was already known as a ballplayer. Abe Saperstein had already contacted me, promising a spot on the Globetrotters. Well, they had remedial courses at Winston-Salem, and I needed them. Gaines made it known I'd have to do the work. He brought in Jim Brown to talk about education. I swore Jim was talking to me alone. So, in that kind of environment, with my kind of game, I suppose I flourished a little."
So much so that during Hill's senior season, an All-Atlantic Coast Conference playmaking guard from Bones McKinney's Wake Forest team over on the west side of Winston-Salem decided he wanted to see Hill play. It never entered the young Billy Packer's mind that he was going behind a curtain. So he came to Whitaker Gymnasium in 1960 to watch a Rams game and found himself the only white person in the arena.
"I had hitchhiked across town," says Packer, who is now CBS's principal college basketball commentator. "I wasn't even thinking about east Winston-Salem being a place where I wasn't supposed to be. I guess when you're young, you don't think that way. That was the first time I saw Bighouse. I wasn't hard to pick out. He said, 'Son, you better come sit on the bench with me.' So I did. I watched. Cleo Hill remains one of the greatest college players I've ever seen. We got the exposure in the ACC, even though Cleo was far better than I had ever thought about being. As for Bighouse, he was a great man then and still is."