WASHINGTON -- “We started from the bottom now we’re here.’’
Those lyrics by rap artist Drake have been the rallying cry of the University of Miami basketball team this season as the Canes went from afterthought to national power. The once-unranked team finds itself two wins from the Final Four heading into Thursday night’s Sweet 16 game against Marquette.
What these Hurricanes don’t realize, as they sing and dance to the thumping beat of those lyrics, is that they don’t really know from bottom.
Although they started the season as underdogs before the nation took notice, and Marquette player Junior Cadougan called the Canes “the Cinderella story of the season,’’ the UM team plays its home games in a $48 million campus arena, competes in the prestigious Atlantic Coast Conference and is featured on national television on a regular basis. The Hurricanes have been flying in style on charter planes in the postseason.
The true bottom of this program was April 22, 1971, when the UM Board of Trustees sat around a conference table and decided to do away with basketball because of sagging attendance and financial losses. The nomadic Hurricanes had traipsed from the Coral Gables High gym to the Miami Beach Convention Hall to Miami-Dade Junior College to Dinner Key Auditorium.
When the Board of Trustees folded the program that spring day, the press release read: “The basketball team will cease operation temporarily until such time as a permanent field house can be constructed on the main campus.’’
Rick Barry, the former UM and NBA legend, remembers the day well. His heart sank quicker than one of his trademark underhanded free throws. Despite their lack of a home court, the Hurricanes had built up quite a resume,and Barry hated to see it all flushed away.
Before Barry got there, a kid named Dick Hickox led the 1959-60 Hurricanes to a 23-3 record, top-10 ranking and their first NCAA Tournament.
Forced to get by on a shoestring budget, that team, known as “The Cinderella Five,’’ drove themselves to road games, shared banana splits at Breeding’s Drug Store, and their coach, Bruce Hale, laundered their uniforms and shared an office with coaches from three other sports.
When Hale went on the recruiting trail, he pulled out a photo of the palm tree-lined Miami Beach Convention Hall and told teenagers that is where the Hurricanes played most of their games — never bothering to mention the campus was a half hour drive from Miami Beach.
From 1962 to 1965, UM boasted a 65-16 record, and Barry was the undisputed star of that era. The 6-7 New Jersey native became the school’s first consensus All American in 1964-65 and led the nation in scoring with 37.4 points per game. He was the only player in history to win the season scoring title in the NCAA, ABA and NBA and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1986.
“I was very disappointed and upset that they did away with basketball,’’ Barry said by phone Wednesday. “It was a ludicrous decision. If it was money they were worried about, they should have dropped football. I went on talk shows and TV shows to lobby against the decision. It was ridiculous that a team from that school was practicing at the armory and playing games at a junior college gym.’’