Column: Durham and Cowens return to FSU

TALLAHASSEE – Florida State seems to be having a “year of the reunion.” With every woman’s team inviting players back to campus during the 50th anniversary of women’s intercollegiate sports at FSU, the biannual men’s basketball reunion was held this weekend. 

Over 60 players, coaches, and trainers returned for the festivities. Introduced by decades during Florida State’s 59-49 victory over Georgia Tech, they watched as the Seminoles got back on track with their fourth straight win.

While there were too many record holders and storytellers to mention, two names come to the forefront always for the impact they had on the sport, and how the game was played on the FSU campus.

Hugh Durham, who will turn 83 this year, was both a coach and a player at FSU. He was one of the top scorers in ‘Nole history, averaging 18.9 points per game. After graduating in 1959, Bud Kennedy hired his as an assistant immediately. Durham would serve in that role until Kennedy’s untimely death led the Louisville native to the top job at age 29.

Durham talks in a quiet voice these days, but likes to come back and see players he coached. “I’m asked what Florida State means to me, and I always say it is what Florida State did for me.”

Durham was a risk taker, most noticeable with the 1972 team that went to the national championship game and falling short to UCLA on their home court. With multiple black players (Vernell Elzy, Ron Harris, Rowland Garrett, John Burt and Roy Glover, Durham cemented the team during a time when race relations was a national discussion.

He also mixed in seven states worth of recruits, 11 of the team players appeared in at least half of the team games.  Although that was an attractive draw, the run that took them to LA included defeating North Carolina and Kentucky.

Falling short in the finals, the 81-76 score represented the closest a John Wooden UCLA team would get to being upset in their 12-year championship run.

Dave Cowens also came from Kentucky and left Florida State as one of the all-time top scorers. He was drafted by the Boston Celtics where he garnered both rookie of the year and MVP awards. Later he would coach at the pro level, and in 1991 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Cowens said he enjoys hearing the stories of what the players have done with their lives.  In fact, in the post-game area, Cowens leaned against the doorframe and just watched the room full of animated conversations.
How important were these two to Florida State basketball? Cowens is the only one who has a number retired at FSU.  Hugh Durham is one of five gaining the distinction of an honored jersey.  Durham is also in the hall of fame.

Time slowed up in Tallahassee Saturday as they interacted with other players and fans got to watch the legends. 

It was good to see.

Kerry Dunning covers Florida State on the Palatka Daily News.

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