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For their own good
Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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'72 Seminoles stand proud of their legacy
From a place that worships pigskin, FSU's men's basketball team had to overcome objections and perceptions to reach the NCAA title game.
By BRIAN LANDMAN
Published January 20, 2007
When Rowland Garrett arrived at Florida State in the fall of 1968, he didn't have to be told where his sport fell in the pecking order.
"It was a football town," he said.
But by the time he left, the playing field in Tallahassee was more level.
As a senior, he and the Seminoles, talented but unheralded in the days before ESPN, were emboldened by criticism and controversy at the most pivotal of times. They got on one of those magical runs that have made March Madness the spectacle it is today, advancing to the NCAA championship game in 1972 before losing to powerhouse UCLA 81-76.
FSU hadn't made it that far before.
"We kind of put Florida State on the basketball map," said Garrett, a forward on the team and one of four players who, along with their legendary coach, Hugh Durham, will be at the Donald L. Tucker Center today and honored at halftime of the Miami game.
That's a historical fact that won't be lost on the current Seminoles, who are looking to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1998 and again redraw the lines of prestige and awareness in a town that remains consumed with football.
"We'll make sure our kids are aware of how important an event like this is," FSU coach Leonard Hamilton said. "There's a lot to be learned from a team that has accomplished so much. Those guys left a legacy."
The turning point
To a man 31/2 decades ago, the Seminoles knew that the 1971-72 season could be something special. Durham said the "backbone" of perhaps FSU's most talented team, the 1969-70 group led by senior Dave Cowens one that was 23-3 but unable to go to the NCAAs because of recruiting violations, were upperclassmen.
"We knew what we had," said Garrett, 56, who owns a chemical manufacturing company in Mississippi. "We knew we had the potential to go a long way."
But would they?
In the NCAA field for just the second time, the Seminoles faced rumors on the eve of their opener against Eastern Kentucky that Ron King, Reggie Royals and Lawrence McCray had signed agreements with agents, which would have made them ineligible.
They missed the team's morning practice as NCAA officials interviewed them. The players signed affidavits that they had done nothing wrong and were given the okay to play, but the Seminoles seemed out of synch and eked out an 83-81 win.
"That game," Garrett said, "was the turning point."
Not some 'renegades'
The Seminoles followed with an easy 70-56 win against Big Ten champ Minnesota, then overwhelmed Kentucky 73-54 in the Mideast region finale in what turned out to be the last game for UK's iconic coach, Adolph Rupp.
The Seminoles were off to Los Angeles and the Final Four.
But on the day of the semifinals, they read that Long Beach State coach Jerry Tarkanian said the Seminoles lacked the "patience and discipline" to really play at this level.
"Instead of having a negative effect on the team, there was a positive effect," said Greg Samuel, a guard who's 56 and has been a teacher and coach at Flanagan High in Pembroke Pines for 33 years. "We wanted to prove to people we weren't some renegade team put together with afros."
The Seminoles did that against Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels, building a 23-point second-half lead, then holding on 79-75.
Before the Seminoles could think about John Wooden's Bruins, including Bill Walton, Jamaal Wilkes and Henry Bibby, they had to deal with more rhetoric.
This time from Bill Wall, the president of the National Association of Basketball Coaches, who lambasted FSU for its recruiting practices and said the Seminoles shouldn't have been allowed in the tournament.
A special team
The Seminoles took a surprising 21-14 lead, but McCray, who had held Walton scoreless in the opening minutes, got into foul trouble and had to sit. Walton took control - he finished with 24 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks - as the Bruins led 50-39 at halftime.
Durham, however, said an unsung hero for UCLA that day was backup point guard Tommy Curtis, who was from Tallahassee Leon High and eschewed FSU to head to Westwood. Starter Greg Lee couldn't handle FSU's pressure, but Curtis could.
FSU rallied to make it close, but it was of little consolation. What does Garrett remember most?
"We lost the game," he said.
Folks still talk about that talented and driven team, its remarkable tournament run and how it altered the landscape in a football town.
"We were a special team," Samuel said. "We did something that in the history of Florida State basketball had never been done, and that's an amazing thing to be a part of."
Times researcher Mary Mellstrom contributed to this report. Brian Landman can be reached at email@example.com or at (813) 226-3347.