Clarence Martin first arrived on the “Hill” in 1982 as one of Clem Haskin’s prized recruits and over the next five years the young man from Alexander City, Ala. developed into one of the most popular Hilltopper cagers in Western history.
Martin’s style of play on the court and his demeanor off the court epitomized that of all true champions. On the court, Clarence was the enforcer and the protector who played with heart, determination, power, a touch of nastiness, and a never-say-die attitude. Off the court, Clarence was, and is, a very down-to-earth, friendly, and intelligent individual who represents the true definition of a Hilltopper.
Over the course of his career at Western, Martin experienced the growing pains of the team’s move into the more powerful Sun Belt Conference, the pain of a severe knee injury that almost cost him his career, the departure of his mentor and coach Clem Haskins, and finally two years (1985-87) of hard-earned success in which the Toppers won 52 games, re-emerged in the Nation’s Top Ten, and participated in back-to-back NCAA Tournaments. He still holds the all-time WKU records for season (69) and career (198) blocked shots.
After graduating from Western in 1987, Clarence was the third round pick of the NBA’s Utah Jazz but because of injury problems he declined that opportunity and spent the better part of the next decade working and playing professional basketball in Japan. He has recently returned to Bowling Green and Western, and is currently serving on the HAF Board of Directors. Hopefully, the beginning of another long, successful relationship with his beloved alma mater.
This interview was conducted on Friday, January 8, 1999, with a total time of around 90 minutes. For the most part, the entire interview has been transcribed in its entirety, and along with the accompanying photographs, it should give everyone a chance to get to know one of the most popular Hilltoppers ever….and my personal favorite.
HH: Growing up in Alabama, when did you start playing basketball?
CM: Well, actually growing up in Alabama, football being the dominant sport, I had my heart set on playing college football. And to be frank about it, football is probably still my first love. I always enjoyed the sport. Basketball was always something that we kind of did on the side. You always weight train for football even in middle school just waiting for your day to get to the high school level. Basketball was just one of those things that you’d play for fun or to break the monotony. It was just the opposite of Kentucky. Kentucky, you know, is a state where you want to pick up a basketball first. It has a reputation for basketball.
HH: Did you play all four years in high school?
CM: I played in jr. high and high school. We had a very good football team and it was just one of those things….again there were no fouls to be called (LAUGHS). Hitting hard, coming quick off the line…..there was nothing wrong with that, there were no fouls to that. Playing in the rain…..it was just the smell of the air in August. It was 90-some degrees out there, you could just smell it in the air, you’re just itching waiting on that time to come. You’ve been weight training throughout the summer getting yourself ready and you know it won’t be long. And it takes some dedication. There are no shade trees on the football field. You go out there and you’re in the blistering heat all day….you get up early in the morning and practice and then you come back in the afternoon. And in the afternoon it’s going to be hot. But you’re waiting on it, you’re like, “When do we start coach, when do we start, when are we going to get out there coach, when are we going to hit?” (LAUGHS). That was the fun part of school.
HH: Were you more highly recruited in basketball or football?
CM: I think probably basketball. Actually, as I started tapering off my junior year I knew I would have to make some sort of decision as to what I was going to do. Probably the only thing that took me away from football…..I was always a big eater, I just tried my best to gain weight to play football. I never could gain any weight and actually that was the deciding factor. I was like, “Okay, I can’t gain any weight, why don’t I just stick with basketball.” Six-Five, Six-Six, and I’m only weighing around 200 pounds. I’m still growing a little bit but I’m still slim from a football aspect. Guys I played with such as John Hand, who went to the University of Alabama and played a few years in the pros. John was 6′ 9″, and probably about 270 pounds in high school. But I never could gain the weight. So the University of Auburn was wanting me to play football and basketball and the football coaches came to practice and the basketball coaches came to practice. They were both giving me their opinion on which I should do. So, I was still kind of torn in between. Of course the University of Alabama was doing the same thing and they kind of talked about playing both but that didn’t really hit my mind. I knew I was going to have to do one or the other. The whole time I just never gained that weight and that was THE decision making factor. If I could have put on 20 or 30 pounds like some guys can gain over a couple of years, I would have played football, there’d no doubt in my mind.
HH: What led you to Western, Clem??
CM: Yes, no doubt about it. No doubt about it. Education had always been stressed by my mom and there were several universities that came up. At the time you had six visits. Actually, I don’t wish it on any child to be highly recruited. There’s a lot of pressure there at that young age. I could get up in the morning and from 6:00 until the moment I left to go to school if I put the phone on the hook it was going to ring. The moment I answered it and hung it back up it was going to ring. You’re going to get fifty to one hundred letters a day. At first it started out being very exciting. You know, you’re telling your buddies in high school about getting letters from all of these schools. You take it in and show it to them, but after a while it’s like, “Can I have my space now? I’d like my privacy back.” So, it came down to where I wanted to be……distance from home; it came down to where I wanted to be as far as a community; and it came down to where I wanted to be as far as the size of the school. I remember so many guys that went off to play at so and so big school and it was like, “Whatever happened to him?” They kind of got lost in the shuffle. I feel like everything just fell into place, with Coach Haskins being there at Western. Being the size of the school that it was…..I know on my initial visit I was really amazed with some of the things here, but I guess my biggest amazement was when I passed by the football stadium. I came up the road over here and I told Stephon Taylor, “Boy you all have got a nice practice field, that’s alright.” And he said, “Man, that’s not the practice field, that’s where we play college football.” I said, “who plays college football there, that’s too small.” (LAUGHS) Actually, it was the first time coming to Kentucky to visit a school…..Auburn of course had the big stadium and the bubble where you practice inside. University of Alabama was the same and the University of Maryland. None of these schools had small football stadiums. It was like a bat hitting me upside the head, “Hello, you’re in Kentucky now.” (LAUGHS)
HH: So who were your final choices, Western and who else?
CM: Western, Maryland…I really liked Maryland. I liked the atmosphere that Cole Field House had. Lefty Driesell was there at the time. It was a good atmosphere, a very good atmosphere. But as I started walking around campus, it was a huge campus, and I started thinking, I might just kind of get lost in the shuffle here, it was quite a distance from home…about ten hours, and I might just want to jump in the car and drive home some weekends. If I had to do it again, I’d still come to Western. I wouldn’t change my mind whatsoever. Auburn’s a fine institution football-wise and in basketball they had Barkley and Chuck Person….Chuck and I are very good friends. And it was very close to home. But it wasn’t a prime candidate for playing basketball, there were no fans, no fans. You’d go in there and look around…..and they had a very good team but there was no fans, and you’d think, “why not?” and that pushes you away as an athlete. The University of Alabama…..Alabama had good support. UAB was a very fine institution, in fact my high school Paul Carney…..his coach was the assistant at UAB and the coach recruited me there, so there was a good connection there. UAB had a lot to offer in some things that I was looking to do here at Western. A great institution for education, super program, but again that was in Birmingham and it was close to home. I just didn’t want to be that close. Western was just right. It wasn’t too far from home and Coach Haskins was super. The bottom line that got me here out of everything that everyone told me, he looked me right in the eye and he said, “You’re going to get your education. I’m going to care about you as a player but I’ll care more about you as a person.” He told me straight out and I felt so comfortable with that because that’s pretty much the type of person that I am. He told it like it was and he looked me right in the eye and said, “You’re going to school. If you think you’re going to come here and get an easy ride and just play basketball…..no, you’re going to school. This is what it’s all about.” And I said, “Coach, I’ll be coming to Western.” So, that was the second visit I made here. The first one I got a chance to see the campus and I came back again and got a chance to check out a basketball game, and by the way, “You’re going to class.” (LAUGHS) So, that made the biggest impression.
HH: I can’t imagine you in a UAB uniform.
HH: I know Clem always said that coming in here you were already a man. You went through a lot of things….you lost both of your parents at a pretty young age. I guess that caused you to grow up really fast?
CM: It causes you to grow up really fast. A lot of times people would ask me, “How are you doing,” and I’d say, “Oh, not bad for an old man.” I feel like I went through so much as a young person that most people don’t get a chance to go through until they’re 30, 40, or even 50. My dad, my grandmother, my mother, and my uncle……I mean they were right in a row. And I mean I was close to all of them, very close. Months apart……I thought the whole world was coming to an end, I didn’t know what to do, where to turn. But you know, you look back on it and you got a little bit tougher, you grew up a little bit more……I kind of shook my head and thought, “Man, what am I going to do.” I have a younger brother, an older brother, and a sister who were going to a vocational school and they had to leave by 6:00 every morning. So, it was just the four of us in the house and I had to get up and fix breakfast for my younger brother, do a little laundry, you know, sort the bills and take care of the kids. And here I am a junior in high school.
HH: Who was the legal guardian?
CM: My older brother was the legal guardian but he had a family of his own and he lived in a separate house of his own. He was in Canada playing football at the time, he played in the Canadian Football League for ten years, so he was there playing football but he was the legal guardian. So, I didn’t have anyone to sign report cards or anything like that, I came home with doctor’s statements (LAUGHS) I was it. Here I am a junior in high school. There were just some things that when I came to college that I saw the guys doing, I was like, “I’m past that, I’m beyond that stage of doing some of those things, as far as being responsible.” I kind of walked in with responsibility on my shoulders. I was able to give direction and take direction. Coach would give me direction and I’d make sure I would follow it, whatever it may be. So we had a great relationship.
HH: Your first year at Western was the first in the Sun Belt, which was a big step up from the OVC. Do you have a most memorable moment from your freshman year?
CM: The most memorable moment from my freshman year probably has something to do with my relationship to the sport of football and basketball and even playing both of them in pick-up games outside…….Never wanting to lose. That was just never in my aspect of going out and playing. I never wanted to sit down. If I was playing a pick-up game and I just so happened to get put on a team that wasn’t very good and we lost, I wanted to play the very next one, I didn’t want to sit out two or three games to rest. And looking back on it, it was a carry-over even coming to college because I can remember playing here on national television my freshman year….I think it was Virginia Tech. And we ended up winning that ball game and I was the player of the game, and we went in the locker room and all the guys were jumping up and down and all excited about it………my point was, “What is there to get excited about? We’re supposed to do this every night.” (LAUGHS) I never came in with the expectation of losing one game. I had a great junior year in high school, a great senior year in high school, and I came in thinking……I mean to win championships every thing has to fall just right but to have good seasons or great seasons, I never expected anything less. “I don’t plan on losing anymore now guys. I’m not excited about this one. I mean, I’m not going to jump for joy until I get a ring on my finger and we win them all.” And that was just my perspective on it. I had a good friend remind me one time, he said, “Yeah, I saw that as a player in you.” He’s a good friend of mine here in Bowling Green, Donnie Hatcher. Donnie said, “I remember coming down and watching you during the summer of your freshman year when you came up and you were down in the gym. You were playing by yourself and I asked you the question, ‘Why are you playing so hard right now, it’s just you by yourself in the gym?’ I said, “No it isn’t, it’s me and the other guy.” He said, “Who’s winning?” I said, “I am of course.” And he constantly reminds me of that. So it was a carry-over from winning, whether it was one-on-one or playing by myself. Each time was going hard, it was never over, I always expected to win. So coming in, those those things just sort of came with my package.
HH: Of course early in your sophomore year you suffered your knee injury that caused you to be redshirted. Tell me about the injury, do you think that really kept you from achieving your full potential as a player here?
CM: Unfortunately, I’ve had third degree arthritis, the doctors have told me, in both my knees. That’s something they couldn’t change, it was the weakness of the bone structure. Even as a a freshman, and getting to know more about it, as the doctors informed me more about it, the bursitis sacs that I had were high on my knees. But I was always one of those guys that I was going to win regardless. You know, we’re going to win regardless. If you think I’m going to lose because of this little pain, you can forget that. I remember that injury, it was in practice, the very last……I can remember he said, “Let’s run it one more time and we’re done.” Mike Ballenger had thrown me a long pass and I just extended out to get it and when I did something just snapped. It was the very last play…..and I walked off the floor as a matter of fact, the swelling and everything didn’t occur until the very next day. I went to the doctor and got it diagnosed. We all thought it was just a sprained knee, even the trainers and everyone, until the next morning I’m like, “Hey Doc, I can’t move.” But there are a lot of things, blessings in disguise. I don’t fault the physical body for what it can maintain. I got a chance to be here a fifth year, I got a chance to play with some other very good friends of mine, some very good athletes and we able to continue to build the tradition here at Western. It worked out pretty well actually, it worked out very well. I don’t regret it one bit. It was a lot of hard work in rehabilitating, coming back from it.
HH: But do you think it kept you from reaching your potential?
CM: Oh yeah, most definitely. Because it took so long to get your balance back and your confidence. No matter how hard you worked there was a time factor that body had to grow and do its own healing and it took time, and it was frustrating. But I don’t look back on it as something negative. It was something that turned into something positive.
HH: When you came back the next year it was obvious that you weren’t 100% and that entire season was really characterized by close games that you lost by one, two, and three points. Even Clem tore his knee up that year. What was that season like? I guess it was a pretty tough season to go through wasn’t it?
CM: Oh, it was tough. It was a frustrating year. You feel so helpless. It makes you learn that there are certain things which you can’t control. Whether it’s in life or business….decisions that you just can’t control. You learn that you’ve got to accept it. You don’t want to but there’s no choice but to accept it. Going through that time, losing those games like that, you’re just thinking, “What can I do different?” The only only comfort is when your doctors or your trainers come by and say, “You can’t do anything different, it hasn’t healed 100%. You can’t make it heal any faster. You can’t give yourself 48 hrs.of healing time in one day. You get up at 6:00 in the morning and you go and rehabilitate. What most people don’t realize, I probably played a game before I even stepped on the court. I would ride the stationary bicycle for twenty minutes, I flat-out boogied on a stationary Schwynn Air-Dyne for 20 minutes and then I worked on my weight training program, and then I went to play. That was before the games. I had to do that for rehabilitation. But I had the choice of doing that or letting the muscle shrink down to nothing. Those were just the things that came with it. It was tough.
HH: Probably my favorite memory of that season was the Louisiana Tech game with Karl Malone. You guys pretty much had a war. I know you laid him out at least twice. Tell me a little bit about that matchup.
CM: I never thought, even from high school, I never thought I was a super athlete and by no means do I think that now. But……I’m going to win. I’m not the best, I can’t jump the highest, I can’t run the fastest, I can’t shoot the best, but I’m going to find a way to win. That was my whole concept. And I was like, “I know you’ve got more publicity, you’ve got a little better shot, and by the way, that’s all good, but I’m going to find a way to win. This is my gym, you’re on my playing grounds…..let’s battle. It came down to that. I learned this at an early age…..there are always guys out there with more talent and more skills but not willing to put forth the effort physically or mentally. They’ll cut corners, they don’t want to do it, they’ll lay in bed all day…..they just don’t want to do it. Even now I see it in players today. They may have the talent but they don’t want to put forth the effort. But playing the Louisiana Techs, the Georgetowns, the UNLVs……it doesn’t matter if they have more publicity or if you’re supposed to be a better team. You’re going to have to come and play tonight to beat Clarence. Chuck Person and Auburn came up here to play in the same situation and he was like, “Are you going to stop running, are you going to slow down or anything?” I said, “No, it’s not over.” It goes back to being a man coming into college, I never had that “quit” desire. And it’s like a magnet, you just attract other guys to go hard and want to compete every time. It didn’t matter to me if you came out a high school All-American. Those guys…Tellis, Kannard, Bryan, we’re all best of friends but it was like, “That was high school but now it’s time to prove yourself out here on the court. You guys have to jump on the wagon and grow up and go hard overtime.”
HH: That reminds me of a quote that Coach Diddle made one time where he said, “A pretty good athlete who is a competitor will beat a talented boy who has a faint heart every time. The thing I always looked for first in a player was his fire. We can develop his talents, but only God can give him his fire.”
CM: That’s right, Guys that aren’t going to quit on you. In my case there were times where I went in and had the doctor take fluid out of my knees, at Indiana I came in and put three stitches in my lip, or whatever it was, just give me two aspirin doc and let’s go play. It was just those things that I didn’t allow to be excuses and I wouldn’t allow our team to have those as excuses. It was like, “It’s time for practice guys, get up off the training table and let’s go. Doc, give them two aspirin and let’s get their rear ends out here on the floor. It’s time to warm up and get ready to play.” I think Coach Haskins recognized that and felt that if he could get some more skilled players to along with me that I would bring the heart along.
HH: I know a lot of people said that if Tellis and Kannard had your heart and your desire they would have been a lot better than they actually were over the years.
CM: Again, they were very skilled athletes, very skilled athletes, and we were all close and became closer. We grew as we played more and more over the summer. It’s hard for freshmen coming in……I remember Tellis when we were playing pick-up ball and that’s when his shoulder popped out, he reached over my back to get the ball….. I had the ball and I jerked it like that (demonstrates) because it was my ball and he wasn’t going to take it, it was a pick-up game, and it popped his shoulder out of place. He was a freshman and he was wanting to go home, he was wanting to go to another school. Coach Haskins told me, “Be easy on him a little bit.” I said coach, “If he doesn’t want to play send him home.” My attitude was that we come to play every pick-up game, we come to play hard and whatever it takes to get him repaired then get him repaired and let’s play. Coach was a whole lot older and more mature and understood that you had to massage it, he was a little bit younger……I was thinking everybody should be on my level, everybody’s going to come in and be ready to play and play hard. But it was good, the development and growth that we had over the years. Bryan Asbery and I, our junior year, Coach Haskins had divided us into teams and had us playing for a little championship right there before the season started, and it came down to our teams winning. And I mean, it was going to be two bulls in a ring and neither one of us was backing down. It was over a call…….the gym was warming up, the roof was coming off…..the coaches couldn’t be on the floor, they weren’t there. We were the last two teams and we were both undefeated and that call was the point difference needed to win the game. And neither one of us was backing down over the call. It went out as a tie and EVERYBODY on the sidelines, guys that weren’t even on the team came off the sidelines and got in between us because it was fixing to get real ugly. Bryan had really come along and gotten that attitude, which I really liked, because I knew he could back me up at the center position. When he went in he knew not to take any crap, forget about being a little shorter, don’t take any crap from nobody out there. He had really developed that attitude and we were fixing to go at it. But there were certain drills that coach wouldn’t let Bryan and I participate in. He’d roll the ball out there on the floor and have guys diving for loose balls, and man I just foamed at the mouth for that drill to come up. I’d knock the fire out of you to get that ball (LAUGHS) You roll that ball out there I guarantee you I’ll get it. Coach said, “Clarence, you and Bryan get out of this drill, you’re going to kill somebody.” We didn’t care anything about the ball, we were going to knock the crap out of the other guy (LAUGHS). But those guys did alright, they came a long way.
HH: Well, the next year things really began to come together and we got back to the national level and the UAB rivalry really began to heat up especially after the “Mars Bars” game. Tell me a little bit about that rivalry, especially your rivalry with Jerome Mincy.
CM: I don’t know that it was such as a rivalry with Jerome. Again, I took every game personally and being in the Sun Belt Conference it was a big challenge to us…….
HH: You broke his jaw right?
CM: I broke his nose. It didn’t take much for me to have an attitude to start playing normally. Usually coach had to come in there and say, “everybody else get excited except Clarence, Clarence you don’t need to get excited, you’re fine, don’t get excited.” (LAUGHS) Bryan was the same way. I mean, just the wrong word or the wrong look, I could change your mind real fast.
HH: Isn’t Bryan an elementary school teacher now?
CM: I don’t know what Bryan does now……I mean we were mild until we got on the floor. That was no problem, I’m the nicest guy in the world, I love kids. Until someone tries to take my basketball, then we’re going to boogie. (LAUGHS) Jerome….I had told the referee that he was putting his hands on me patting me like this. And I didn’t allow anybody but my own teammates to put their hands on me. I told Coach Dave Farrar, an assistant coach at the time, “Coach, I’m being as nice as I can. You need to talk to the referees and ask him to get his hands off of me. If he puts his hands on me one more time I’m going to be ejected.” Coach said not to do anything silly, he said whenever we walk out the door go up to the referee and tell him. So, I asked the referee to tell Jerome to keep his hands off of me, he wasn’t my teammate. I said, “I’m going to drop him.” He said, “I’ll take care of it. Don’t worry about it.” But lo and behold, I bet it wouldn’t two minutes into the second half that I got a rebound and here he come standing right up behind me putting his hands on me again. In my mind I was like, “You might do that with Kannard and Tellis but you’re picking on the wrong one. I just took my elbow and came straight across his nose and he flew back about fifteen feet and was spitting a mouth full of blood on Coach Bartow. The referee threw a technical and I walked over to the sideline….
HH: Did you get ejected?
CM: No, I didn’t get ejected. Coach Farrar just kind of smiled. I said, “I gave him fair warning.” (LAUGHS) They were like, ” I think he got the point.” UAB was a great rivalry, it was great for the fans. The UAB game, you could write it down, everybody even in the summertime was, “When’s the UAB game, when’s the UAB game.” (LAUGHS)
HH: That’s the kind of rivalry we haven’t had since then, we miss that.
CM: Oh, we miss it greatly. I truly think it’s going to come back here. You’re going to have to have to recruit guys who have heart and athletes that can play the game…….there are a lot of games that basically come down to who’s mentally stronger, I mean you’re going to get tired, you’re going to get fatigued, especially when you’re playing back-to-back games, tournament games. It comes down to not always the best athletes but some good athletes that are very mentally tough. The best teams don’t always necessarily win. You know, you can look at the regular season and they may win a game because they’re better athletes and they have some time to rest. All of a sudden you come to a tournament when you don’t get that rest time in between and the guy’s athletic ability goes out the door because, “Basically, I don’t want to play tonight coach. It’s not that he can shut me down, I just don’t have the mental capability to want to step up and play.” While the other guy is like, “We’re going to win tonight and the next night.” He’s not the best athlete, he’s just going to come to win and battle every night. There are several of those players that I really respect…..Bill Lambeer, Charles Barkley is another one, Dennis Rodman, they come to play every night, they’re not the best athletes but they’re the guys who are just going to physically battle every night. That’s all I ever pictured myself as being……as in the mode of one of those guys. That was my mentality, not the high-flying, super dunks, the great fall-away jump shots…….just the guy in the middle who gets the job done.
HH: Well, that year you finally made it back to the NCAA and beat Nebraska the first round and then we faced kentucky in the second round. How important was that game to Clem and to the team also?
CM: That was a very good season for us. That is a game that no doubt we were the better team, no doubt a game that we should have won…….I can’t blame that on…….if anyone takes the blame for it, I personally take the blame for it. Kenny Walker went 12 for 12 I think in that game. Probably identifying it a little differently mentally, I probably could have done a few things differently as a player. I probably got out of focus right there in the first two or three minutes. He failed to box me off and I caught a ball of the rim and made a nice follow-through dunk……the referee said I pushed him off ……Walker kind of laughed about it and knew that he had got away with one. On the other end, going back and playing them on defense, whenever I was guarding him the ref would say, “Keep your hands off of him, give him room.” It was like, “Well, you guys aren’t supposed to win this game.” We didn’t play a bad ballgame, and it wasn’t over until the end. Personally, I know Eddie Sutton cam into that one thinking, “Man, I hope we don’t have to play Western.” You know, you can get beat by any other team outside the state, but you really don’t want to get beat by Western, because by the way we’re supposed to be kentucky.” Even when I talk to some of them guys now they’re like, “You guys were the better team. Yeah, there were some things we got away with.” So what can you do to change it? We knew we were the better team. There was no doubt. kentucky knew it very well. What do you do, do we get the “W” back? No. We all went to our buses talking about it.
HH: They shot about twice the number of free throws that we did and the shots that Walker was throwing up were bouncing three feet up off the rim and falling through. It was just ridiculous.
CM: It was unreal. He had to have that game to win. But they walked away knowing……they’re a whole lot better…….the referees kind of kept some things, they didn’t let us do some things we wanted. It wasn’t because they shut us down, that wasn’t the case whatsoever. I think it was a very, very well-coached ball game, especially by our side.It wasn’t that we weren’t prepared, it was just some things that you couldn’t control.
HH: Was Clem really more intense for that game?
CM: No. No. That’s one thing I can say about coach, he was just as intense playing any team. I mean he had filled us in on the history of it and the history of his life through it and everything, but we were wanting to win the game because it was a chance for us to continue to advance in the NCAA Tournament, not necessarily because it was kentucky. We didn’t care who the team was. We felt in those early stages that we weren’t coming across teams that were as good as we were. We were going to advance out there a whole lot further than where we went in that bracket. Probably that year, and my senior year, we should have probably went on to the Sweet Sixteen. My senior year, playing Syracuse at Syracuse…….better ballclub? No. Syracuse wasn’t a better ballclub. Sherman Douglas, Rony Seikaly, Derrick Coleman……I mean they were there but they weren’t as mature as they later became. I mean, Rony is going to score his points but Rony also wasn’t mentally tough. But I saw that coming in, you bump Rony at the time and he’d cry like a baby. But playing Syracuse at Syracuse……I mean, we didn’t feel like we were at a disadvantage until some things started to happen and it was like, “Come on guys, come on.” Again, there were things you couldn’t control and there was absolutely no reason we shouldn’t have won that ballgame. You may try to say, “Well, they were a much better team than Western was at the time.” No, they weren’t either. They were not a better ballclub.
HH: Of course after your junior year Clem left for Minnesota. Tell me about that. How did the team take it and how much did it hurt Clem to leave you guys and leave Western?
CM: Oh, I think on the inside it hurt him tremendously. I think when you get a ballclub…….he couldn’t wait for the season. There was no doubt that if we were healthy we were going to go further than the second round. We’re going to go a whole lot further and it didn’t even matter who we were going to be playing against, we were a better ballclub. We were all coming back as seniors. We lost Billy Gordon but Brett McNeal was coming up taking the two-guard position and I know he and the assistant coaches had great visions saying, “Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about it that we won’t be a top ten ballclub throughout the whole season.” It had to affect him tremendously to have built a ballclub like that here at his alma mater……..and we talk about it now and he’s like, “Yeah, I wish I could have stayed around with you guys.” As players, we never thought he would have left but he did. That’s how it happened.
HH: Well, Murray Arnold took over for Clem. What did you think about Coach Arnold? Did the team really like him at all?
CM: By the time we were seniors we were mature enough…….to kind of change some things that we had learned. Obviously, it was very, very different. There are many positive things that I can say about Coach Murray. From the outside you may look at him and think that he doesn’t know what he’s doing but he’s very knowledgeable of the game. I do have a great deal of respect for him. Again you have a guy who was an assistant coach of the Bulls and he wasn’t there because of his good looks, he knew the game of basketball. There were some conditioning things that he did a little bit different but overall the things that he did…….we had a lot of freedom to play, then again I’m not saying that we would not have had that freedom playing under Coach Haskins, we were all seniors, but we pretty much knew how to approach the away games, the tournament games, the home games…..so those things came natural to us all. Coach Haskins was the guy that got you mentally focused on the ballgame…….Coach Arnold was the guy that got you statistically focused on the game and what’s going to actually happen, and he could pretty much tell you at what point in time it would happen. Looking back on it, he was pretty much right about it. He was very high on statistics.
HH: Do you think if Clem had stayed you would have been more successful?
CM: Oh, yeah. Most definitely. For the reason being…….if Murray had been the coach our junior year we would have been more successful our senior year also. Whoever our coach was the junior year, because they would have gotten the chance to go through and be a part of the tournament, being part of seeing what we were going to do……the coaching staff would have had great expectations for us the next year as far as saying, “Yeah, we’re going to change this just a little bit because this is what’s going to put us over the edge and advance us a little bit further.” So I guess, actually the biggest negative…..if Coach Haskins would have left our junior year it would have been better or if he would have stayed for two years, it would have been better. If Coach Arnold would have came our junior year it would have been better. You know, what I’m saying is the person that had us our junior year, whether it was Coach Arnold or Clem, we would have done better. The coaches that are on top now put good ballclubs together and they go through it a few times……that’s how they understand what to do a little bit different in that situation. With everything that Coach Haskins and his staff had learned the previous year, I guarantee you the next year we would have gone a whole further. Coach Arnold did a good job, I can’t fault him one bit. He did a super job in letting us play up to our potential and not trying to change a whole lot. We were a group of seniors that pretty much knew where to go and what to do, so he really didn’t have to come in and change a whole lot but he did have to guide us through the season and prepare us and everything. He didn’t have a cakewalk by any means, he had a lot to accomplishment. He still had to motivate us to go out and play hard every night and to set our own individual goals and accomplish them.
HH: Wasn’t there some dissension on the team late in the year?
CM: The dissension on the team late in the year was one of those things that I take full responsibility for. But that year wasn’t all bad because I met my wife that year (LAUGHS). I was in the hospital…..being hard-headed again, like my sophomore year, I just continued to physically endure, endure, endure……..and what happened, I had some back spasms starting to occur and basically all I had to do is stop and give myself about two or three days of nice easy rest, you know, too hard-headed. But I couldn’t do it, I had to go. Well, my back muscles said, ‘yes you are going to do it.’ I remember going out before one game and taking my aspirin and my back just tightened up on both sides. The muscles said, ‘we’re just not going to let you bend, move, and perform like you normally do.’ It had all been leading to that and that’s when they went down to UAB, while I was in the hospital, and right there at the end some things were starting to build. Basically because I strongly feel that I was the leader of the team…..probably not the best athlete, but there wasn’t a guy on the team when I spoke that didn’t sit down and listen because if they didn’t I would sit them down and they WOULD listen. They knew that from day one. Well, I wasn’t there at the UAB game and I heard some things that went on there. They KNOW I would have went ballistic, the thought would have never crossed their mind if I had been there. It would have NEVER approached their mind.
HH: What happened?
CM: It was just some things I understand that occurred on the bus where Coach Arnold had wanted to eat at one place and the guys wanted to eat somewhere else, “Well, we’re not going to eat here.” The bottom line……I would have said, “Coach Arnold, you’ve got it. You want to stop where? Yes sir coach, that’s where we’ll be eating. Get off the bus, we’re eating here right now.” That’s all that would have been said about it. We would have eaten there and everybody would have smiled and been very happy about it. It didn’t happen and things kind of built. Like I said, I was in the hospital then. When I came back those things had started building….things had been done that couldn’t be changed.
HH: Did that hurt the team as far as their performance late in the year?
CM: I don’t necessarily think it hurt as far as performance. It was just probably overall not being focused on what we should be doing. Our whole objective for being there was to be student athletes, not so much worrying about who we are in the spotlight but instead what we want to sit down and accomplish as a team. And that kind of got out of focus…..again, because there was no one there to keep it in focus. So I came back and ended up playing in the tournament. I think we would have won the UAB game…….we would have won the rest of the games if only I had been a little bit smarter and had taken my rest then to look at it in the long run and not in the short span because I didn’t want to lose a ballgame. The tournament was coming up and the UAB game, a road game, which was an important one, and the tournament was coming up after that. I didn’t have the best of tournaments because again, I was still nursing a back spasm, but we probably would have won the Sun Belt Tournament that year. UAB was our final game that year. We would have won the Sun Belt Tournament, there’s no doubt in my mind.
HH: That season started out so great with the Preseason NIT. We got ranked as high as #5 in Sports Illustrated and I think #9 AP. Tell me a little bit about the UNLV loss and the louisville and Central Michigan losses.
CM: They were big losses to us but we were seniors and we knew how to adjust to them and adapt to them. We realized that even top team were going to lose some big ones and win some big ones. The UNLV loss was a big loss, we had that game won. We were one rebound away from winning it. Each one of us took personal responsibility for that game. We walked away feeling we should have won it……..not something that someone took away from us but something that we didn’t do on our own behalf. The louisville game……
HH: That killed me. We were much better than they were.
CM: Much, much better. That game wasn’t even a high-scoring ballgame, we really didn’t get in the groove. We were too excited, too keyed up for it. Then we played against Dan Majerle…….
HH: He was really unknown then.
CM: Yeah, but Coach Arnold told us he was a very good player and that he was going to score. But you’re learning from it, you’re learning that each one you have to take seriously. And you look at those three losses right there……..three that we very easily could have won and been undefeated all the way through. But those ballgames again, were played very hard, played against some very good talent, and someone had to lose and we ended up coming up short in those ballgames, but we learned from them.
HH: I know it sort of killed a lot of the momentum after we lost back-to-back to louisville and Central Michigan….
CM: Yeah, because they were played on back-to-back nights.
HH: I guess you were really too keyed up for louisville and the next night you weren’t keyed up enough.
CM: Exactly right. Again, that’s where I talk about if the same coach was there our junior year as our senior year…..I guarantee you, I GUARANTEE you, no doubt in my mind we would have won all three of those ballgames. Either one of those coaches, I can’t fault either one of those coaches……it would have just been approached so differently. Coach Haskins would have known exactly what to do. It would have been SMOOTH sailing. No doubt in my mind.
HH: Did the 3-point shot that year really hurt that team? That was the first year the 3-point rule went into effect and we were built around our inside power. Do you think that really kept us from going as far as we should have?
CM: No, I think it made every team in college basketball adjust and it broadened the prospective of the game because now you’ve got to defend inside and outside. We were built around the power inside……pounding, pounding, pounding……push, push, push, but on the other side of the court we had Brett McNeal who turned out to be a very exceptional ball player here. He was a very good shooter for us. It helped UNLV out a whole lot…..Armon Gilliam who’s played in the NBA for years……who personally I don’t have a lot of respect for. I think he was the biggest cry-baby out there, but that’s just my personal opinion………”Stop pushing, stop pushing.” I was like, “Are you going to play or are you going to cry all day long?” I honestly wanted to buy the guy some diapers and a bottle.
HH: That first half was one of my favorite games to watch. You guys just dominated them on the inside. You beat the crap out of them.
CM: Again, they came in, “Western who? What are they going to do?” Again, we probably could have done a few things differently At the particular time remember that even a 3-pointer was two shots at the free throw line. So if nothing else, if you felt like they were in a groove and started making some, foul him. They started cutting the lead and all of a sudden the point spread started to change. So that would have been the one thing I would have done differently…..the next time they rotated, rotated, rotated, foul him on the jump shot and put him on the line.
HH: Talk a little about the Sun Belt Championship against UAB at Diddle Arena. That was a huge loss that probably knocked our seeding down a whole lot also. Was that maybe the toughest loss, to lose to UAB at home in the Sun Belt Conference Championship since they were really our biggest rival?
CM: I can’t say that. I can’t say that was the toughest loss.
HH: That killed me.
CM: (LAUGHS) But you look at UNLV, louisville, and Central Michigan…..they’re all big. We would have loved to have beaten louisville here that year. That one was probably more of a letdown on our behalf than UAB. See, even if you lose in the Sun Belt Tournament you could have taken the UNLV-NIT at the beginning, taken the louisville, taken the Central Michigan game……you’d have been in better shape.
HH: If we would have beaten UNLV or louisville we would have probably stayed in the Top Ten all year.
CM: Yeah, yeah. See what I’m saying, that’s where your ranking came into play, on those two right there. It wasn’t the UAB game there at the end. Those two were definitely the key ballgames.
HH: What have you done after leaving Western in 1987? I know you played professionally in Japan for years and worked for a company there?
CM: Yes I did. Of course I was drafted the second pick by Utah in ’87. I went there and two physicians there told me, “Clarence, your career won’t be very long.” Dr. Goodwin, here in BG, for several years had told me the same thing. That was a big hurt inside. I made the team but I couldn’t pass my physical……I couldn’t pass my physical. Frank Layden, the Utah coach, came over and talked to me and he said, “Listen to me Clarence. I know you’re going to be a very good player. You’re in that tough, tough mold and that’s what it takes in the NBA. But listen, I’ve seen a lot of guys come and go, with a lot of athletic ability who aren’t nearly as tough. You’re going to make it because you’re tough but let me tell you something…….” See, the option was given, if I had surgery every year I could play for the team. But I asked the doctors, “What is it going to cost me physically?” They said that by the age of 35 I would probably be walking with a walking cane. Well, I said, “You can count that one out.” So, Frank said, “Clarence, Let me tell you. The NBA is short at best. Very few guys have come in here and played eight, nine, ten, eleven years….it’s short at best. It’s your decision, but I’m telling you it’s short at best.” I just sat there and listened to that thought, and again, the girl I ended up marrying, I called her up and told her about the situation. I told her I didn’t think I wanted to do it because one day we might want to have some kids and I want to able to walk around and play with them. So I asked the doctors if they had any advice for me and they said to find a place where I didn’t have to play as often as I would in the NBA, because in the NBA you’re going to practice and play every day. Just find a place where you can play as little as possible. So in Japan, counting preseason and everything, we’d only play about 50 games a year. Actually about 30-35 regular season games. You still practice every day but it’s not going against super athletes and the physical pounding that you would take here. I loved it there and I still do. I worked for Panasonic over there. It was different because you had to go to work every day and then you came out in the afternoon and you practiced. I worked for them a while, even here in the United States. One of my best friends over there was a tough-nosed Japanese player and we won seven championships together. He didn’t have the greatest athletic ability but he was just tough-nosed and wasn’t going to back down.
HH: So you worked with them until recently. Did you really just want to get back close to Western?
CM: Yeah, I really wanted to get back close to Western. I have great ties here. Western is very important to me and I felt that I would benefit myself, the university, and the community better by getting back. You’ll find very few out there with the prospective that I have. I could continue to live somewhere else and be successful but I wanted to come back here and make the community stronger. I want my kids to grow up here. I’m blessed to be here. I thank God for another day, every day. If I can do something to change or affect the lives of young college athletes here today…….I mean, I’m still a very strict disciplinarian. I’ve been taught that way all my life. Coach Haskins and I stay in constant contact. I really respect the things that he has done. I respect the things that Coach Felton has started to do here with his structured discipline. I think Western has a great future ahead of them. Whether it’s coaching basketball or being affiliated with the university however I can be, I hope to give some support to the young guys and strengthen the ties that bind this university together. We have great tradition here and I was fortunate enough to be a part of that. And I’d like to see that tradition carry on. But the only way it’s going to continue on….you look at the guys…..I see Johnny Dawkins over there on the bench at Duke……those guys know what it takes to be a winner. They bring in freshman and they talk to them. They talk to them about winning. The coach doesn’t necessarily have to do all of the talking, he may say, “Hey, go and talk to this guy. Sit down and fill him in.” And that makes a difference sometimes in hearing it from the coach and hearing it from a guy who’s been through it and played it. So again, I hope to make that difference here at Western.
HH: Would you commit yourself to stay at Western forever?
CM: Oh yes. Some people say Bowling Green is boring. I’ve never had a problem finding anything to do here in BG. I find plenty to do. I’m here at the university, I’ve got my job…..the thing about it is, Bowling Green is growing and it’s continuing to grow…..to me it’s the ideal place. There are several places in the world I could live but to me BG is the ideal place.
HH: I believe that the biggest problem with Western today is that there are not enough true “Westerners” here anymore.
CM: I know. I know. I totally agree. When I came to Western….Clem came and recruited me, and he said, “You’re going to get your education.” I said, “Alright. I guarantee you this. You come out of the OVC and I’ll be at Western. You can write it down.” I knew he had heard that commitment from several guys and he knew that Alabama and several other schools were hot on my trail, that was no secret. I shook his hand and said, “You said I’m going to get my education. Are you going to assure me of that?” He said, “You’re going to class. You’re going to get up and go get your education. That’s a given, you’re going to do that.” I said, “Yes sir. You go into the Sun Belt and I’ll be at Western. You can write that down.” He tells me now, “Man, I was nervous all the way up until you put your name on the dotted line.” I said, “I told you. I put my hand in your hand and I said this is what we’re going to do.” I’m a very committed person. I’m very committed to Western and that’s why I’ve come back to Western. That’s why I came to Western and stayed at Western. I mean, we had tough times and I’d think, “Man, I could transfer, or if I had only gone there.” But we’re in the fight, we’re going to be stronger and we’re going to come out on top, and that’s what happened. I’m back here now because we’re in the fight right now of building this program back up. I can’t wait to be a part of what is going on here. As an HAF member here…..we’re going to be back on top. We’re going to put some things in perspective. Right now I’m listening and I’m understanding, getting an idea of the problems that are going on. But also in my mind I’m thinking of solutions that will help put us back on top. This is the ideal setting. You look at our university……..you’re talking about fan support, the size of our gym, and everything that is right here. This is the place, THIS is the place of the growing future right here at Western Kentucky University. We will never be the size of the huge state schools but if you’re talking about a medium school where you’re not going to get lost, that has the academics that you’re looking for, the atmosphere…….Western Kentucky University is the place to be. No doubt in my mind……to wave the Red Towel…….to have the fan support, the community base, to where you are able to go out here and work and not be lost, and feel right at home. There’s no place like it. This is the place to be. Without a doubt in my mind. And I’ll assure that to any recruit out there.
HH: Do you like what Coach Felton is doing?
CM: I think Coach Felton is doing a wonderful job. I hope he keeps his head up, keeps his confidence…..I hope he understands it’s not going to happen overnight. I hope he cares less about what the fans have to say. I hope he has all the commitment and faith in himself in what he can do. This is his first year, he’s learning. Don’t think for a moment that Clem’s not still learning, that Bobby’s (Jones) not still learning. Every coach out there is still learning. If you stop learning it’s time to leave. Coach Felton is a super, super coach here, and it doesn’t have to be proven in his ability to coach guys up and down the floor but what he’s doing with them off the floor and what he’s doing and what he’s building here in the community. There’s no doubt in my mind that Western is going to be back on the cutting edge of great success….being in your Top 25. It’s not going to be a Top 40 or Top 50 ballclub, it’s going to be back to a Top 25 ballclub because we’ve got the community base support, number one. We’ve got the coaching staff here at Western here to do it and we’ve got the support from the alumni and the university. And I can’t say enough about the president and the support we’re getting from him in what we’re doing here as a whole. I tip my hat to him every time and say “thank-you” for the support. And that’s what it takes to be where we want to be as a university, to be successful. And it builds character…..the students wanting to be here. It builds character for us getting television coverage, it build character for us being in the Top 25, and it’s just a matter of time. We’re going to be there….no doubt in my mind. Not one ounce of doubt.
HH: That’s the way I feel. I know it’s coming back.
CM: It’s coming. I can’t wait to be a part of it…….I can’t wait to be a part of it.