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Furman Flashback: The Big Brown Box

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It's been 20 years since the Paladins closed up shop playing in downtown Greenville, and with the 2015-16 season now having been tied for the most home wins in school history, we look at the past and the Brown Box and the 38 years which the facility was a very real and vibrant home for Furman basketball in a two-part series. I had the pleasure of catching up with one of Furman's all-time greats this past weekend, in Clyde Mayes (1972-75) as he talked about the moments of the past he remembered most, as well as the bright future for Furman basketball under head coach Niko Medved.

Furman's Clyde Mayes Led The Paladins To Three-Straight NCAA Tournament Appearances From 1972-75
Furman's Clyde Mayes Led The Paladins To Three-Straight NCAA Tournament Appearances From 1972-75
Photo Courtesy Furman Athletics


The Family Makes The Home (Part 1)


By John Hooper

Part I: Remembering The Rockin' Brown Box and its 38 years of Furman Basketball History

GREENVILLE, S.C.--There's an old saying we've all heard. It can be said plenty of different ways, but probably the most cliche'd is--"Home is where the heart is."

Furman basketball, like its football team, are emblematic of Greenville and the face of athletics in this ever-changing city. While Clemson dominates the headlines for its athletic accomplishments, it is accepted because plenty of alums and fans alike now reside in the Upstate, and that larger, power five program generates the kind of money that helps make Greenville the bustling city that it is to this day.

While the Tigers dominate the headlines in all mediums in the Upstate, it's Furman who has its roots in Greenville, with the very heartbeat of the program--school and athletic teams alike--in downtown Greenville, S.C., with the school actually having been in downtown Greenville from 1851-1958.

The Tigers have and Paladins have even shared a city this season, with the Tigers playing at the Bon Secours Wellness Arena, where they have yet to lose this season, which is just a few yards away from the empty space where the Brown Box once stood on the corner of East North Street and Church Street.

For basketball, family or religion, the same rule applies, although while Furman's home hardwoods over the years haven't had that majestic, Taj Mahal-feel as some venues appear aesthetically from the outside in the Palmetto State, it's what the team inside it made it--A true home with rabid followers and a team that on its floor, and on any given day, could play with just about anyone. That's what made the Brown Box standout.

Each arena has its own story and its own personality. The games write its chapters, the players are its characters and the arena is the house where the magic sometimes or routinely happens.

When I was I child, I grew up attending games at the old Brown Box, I remembered the smells of popcorn wafting as the last bit of cold air rushed in near around the warmth of a basketball gym with some personality.

The Brown Box was a place where some of my fondest memories would be formed as a college basketball fan, growing up in Greenville, S.C., my first experiences were with Furman basketball and a program established as one that was among the tops in the SoCon.

For 38 years and 39 seasons, the Memorial Auditorium was Furman basketball and it was where Greenville ‘Met at the Net' to see some of the greatest players and teams filter through the Upstate to catch a basketball game. Players like Fred Hetzel and Dick Snyder of Davidson, or Jerry West of West Virginia, Jason Williams of Marshall, Ronnie Carr of Western Carolina, and many others.

The first season I can really remember paying attention to the Paladins on the hardwood was 1988-89, but the season that seems to resonate most with me is that 1990-91 season, which saw Furman tie with both Chattanooga and East Tennessee State for the Southern Conference crown that season.

I attended every home game that season, and I won't forget that season because it's one that failed to see Furman lose on its home floor. Marshall with John Taft, Chattanooga with Derrick Kirce, Appalachian State with Billy Ross and Steve Spurlock, and even No. 10 East Tennessee State with Keith "Mister" Jennings were no match for the Paladins on their home floor. A perfect 13-0 season on the home hardwood would be a big reason why the Paladins would be able to tie for the Southern Conference crown along with East Tennessee State and Chattanooga.

Unfortunately for Furman, the 1990-91 season didn't yield an NCAA Tournament invite, but what the 13-0 record did do was ensure the Paladins would be playing in the postseason, as Furman qualified for the National Invitational Tournament for the first time in its rich basketball tradition, which was a pretty good carrot at the end with all things considered, especially for a school like Furman.

The 13-0 record in the home gym had made that a reality for head coach Butch Estes' team. The Paladins unbeaten season during the 1990-91 season, which featured victories over a tough slate of teams, including always-tough SoCon rivals Appalachian State, Chattanooga and No. 10 East Tennessee State.

The Paladins would play their basketball game at the Brown Box in 1958 against a Jerry West-led West Virginia team 38 years, with the first game in the facility coming against a Jerry West-led West Virginia club, which downed the Paladins 76-67 in the ribbon-cutting game in the facility on Dec. 1, 1958.

Furman wouldn't have long to wait for Furman's first win on the home floor, as the Paladins posted an 84-68 win Dec. 4, 1958. The 1958-59 season was of course the a few seasons removed from the likes of Frank Selvy, Darrell Floyd and Nield Gordon had already been drafted into the NBA. Alley had a crop of new stars to showcase Greenville in the late 1950s and to the public playing inside a new venue in downtown Greenville. On the horizon were

The Paladins would play five more seasons inside the Brown Box, with the final game coming against Davidson in the 1995-96 season, which saw the Paladins post an 88-79 loss to the Wildcats in the final game in the facility.

The first time basketball would be enjoyed in the facility would be on Dec. 4, 1958, and over the 39 seasons enjoyed in the facility, the Paladins would win 336 basketball games, while posting 228 losses in 524 basketball games played in the facility. It was a remarkable run that saw wins over the likes of Villanova, No. 5 Davidson, No. 10 East Tennessee State.

As most arenas, the facility has seen the best and worst of Paladin basketball. Few will forget a team like the 1979-80 team, which won a program record 23 games in a season. But one of the worst teams to ever play in the facility came just five years later during the Jene Davis era, as the Paladins manufactured just a 7-21 overall record and a 4-12 league mark. It was one of the rare seasons in which the Paladins would see a losing campaign inside the historic facility, posting just a 5-10 mark in the friendly confines.

It was a heartbreaking way to end 39 seasons in a venue that has seen so many monumental victories, including wins over the likes of a Lefty Driesell club, in 1964, which came to the Memorial Auditorium ranked No. 5 in the country, and led by Southern Conference legends such as Fred Hetzel, who was one of the greatest basketball players in the history of the Southern Conference.

Hetzel was an All-American, and finished out his career as Davidson's all-time leader in points (2,032) and rebounds (1,111).

Truly one of the league's all-time greats not only in the Southern Conference, but one of the greats in the histor y of the sport. I was having lunch one afternoon with former Southern Conference SID and former Southern Conference SID intern and assistant media relations direction Jonathan Caskey.

We were talking hoops at Applebees in Spartanburg back in the fall of 2005, and Shutt, who is now at Wake Forest and one of the best sports information specialist I have ever had the pleasure of meeting, told both Jonathan and I that Hetzel, Furman's Frank Selvy and Jerry West were a special kinds of talents, and perhaps the best to have ever played in the Southern Conference up to that point. But Hetzel was the only one that he had really seen in his prime when his interest peaking in the industry. Shutt now serves as the Assistant Athletic Director for Media Relations at Wake Forest.

Of course, it would be only a matter of time before Stephen Curry would challenge those claims, but it took over three decades to have a player considered in that type caliber, although an argument could certainly be made the same for former ETSU guard Keith "Mister" Jennings at ETSU. The ‘64 win by the Paladins over the Wildcats came exactly

The Paladins would prevail, 70-55, over the fifth-ranked Wildcats. It was the exact same score of Furman's win over Chattanooga in Timmons Arena on Jan. 9, which is arguably the best win the 18 years of the facility. The win over the fifth-ranked Davidson Wildcats was a strange coincidence in that it happened exactly 10 years to the day following Furman's Frank Selvy dropping 100 on Newberry at Textile Hall in a decade to the day earlier.

THE EARLY YEARS AT THE BOX:

Despite what was an outstanding win over the Wildcats at the Brown Box, head coach Lyles Alley's Paladins had managed just an 11-15 overall mark in 1963-64, but enroads were being made and a foundation of future success laid brick-by-brick through the struggles of the 1960s for Furman basketball. Furman sported just two winning seasons during the 1960s, and Davidson, under the direction of Driesell, were always the class of the SoCon.

One thing that was always a guarantee, however, was that the Paladins would play well on their home floor. During the 1963-64 season, for example, the Paladins had put together a decent homecourt record that season, posting what was a 6-3 mark on the home floor, including that big win over No. 5 Davidson.

The dates Feb. 11 and Feb. 13 have become significant milestone moments in the history of Furman basketball, and two of those monumental moments for a program that has won four Southern Conference regular-season titles and six Southern Conference Tournament crowns.

THE 1970S--A DECADE DEFINED BY CLYDE MAYES AND THE PALADIN BIGS (All Six NCAA Tournament Trips from 1970-80)

Eight short years later following the win over No. 5 Davidson, and the Paladins were enjoying another one of their greatest moments on the college basketball hardwood--a Southern Conference Tournament, which the Brown Box hosted and the Paladins won.

It was not uncommon in those days of Southern Conference hoops to see teams host the tournament in their own gyms, and it was a different time both in the transitioning SoCon, as well as the college basketball's mid-major league's in general, as most higher seeds hosted tournament, or the regular-season champion at a central venue of the conference champion.

The 1972 season was once such season occurrence, which would see the Paladins host the postseason conference tournament on their home floor. Furman, along with The Citadel, VMI and Davidson of course, were the three charter members of the league that most would not recognize today.

The 1972 tournament will be remembered for its great games, and its litany of future NBA talents, such as Furman's Roy Simpson, Clyde Mayes, and Russ Hunt among the notable names for the Paladins. At other programs, there were some star-studded names suiting up as well to come in later decades as well, like Jason Williams (Marshall, 1993-95), Johnny Taylor (1994-97) and Keith"Mister" Jennings (1987-91) being a trio of of the many talents I witnessed play there, as all three would go on to NBA careers.

Furman was unique, however, as most of its Southern Conference competitors during the 1970s up through the 1990s had on-campus facilities. The Cam-Henderson Center at Marshall, The Ramsey Center at Western Carolina, Varsity Gym at Appalachian State were a few of those programs. In the early 1970s, East Carolina was on its way out of the league, leaving following the 1975 season.

Richmond and William & Mary, who were also member institutions also decided to bolt during period of transition for the SoCon, not unlike what it has recently experienced in modern the last few years, with East Tennessee State and VMI returning to the league, while Mercer became the newest SoCon member.

The Paladins would play their first of three Southern Conference Championship games on their home floor, which was their off-campus venue, as the Memorial Auditorium would come to life when the Paladins entered the tournament as the No. 2 overall seed, during the 1971-72 season under the direction of Joe Williams.

The Paladins had won gone 15-10 during the regular-season, and entered the tournament as the defending Southern Conference Tournament champions in Asheville, downing Richmond, 68-61, in the title game in Charlotte to claim the program's first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament. A seminal moment in the history of the program, but in 1971-72, there was the unique opportunity to do it on its home floor.

The Paladins made easy work of their first two opponents in the tournament, taking down both VMI (126-80) William and Mary (93-74) and to make it to the Southern Conference title game, facing East Carolina in the Southern Conference title game.

Earlier in the season, the Paladins beat the same Pirates club, stomping ECU 108-74 on the strength of a 45-point effort from Simpson, so confidence was high heading into the title game. That 45-point effort would stand as the highest point total in a game by a Paladin until Stephen Croone posted 40 points as a sophomore during the 2013-14 campaign in an 86-83 win over Liberty.

In front of a capacity crowd at the Memorial Auditorium, the game needed an extra session after being tied 66-66. But in the extra session, the Paladins would find that East Carolina was a couple of points better, as the Pirates were able to pick up 77-75 win in one of the more forgettable memories at the Brown Box.

It was a heartbreaking loss, but it would be the prelude to a title in one of the oldest cities in the southeast a year later, as the loss to East Carolina would help spark the greatest three-year run in Paladin basketball history.

I had the great opportunity to visit with one of the legends of all the legends on-hand at Furman last Saturday, as I got the opportunity to speak with former Paladin star and Hall-of-Famer Clyde Mayes (1972-75).Mayes helped the Paladins to unprecedented success in the early-mid 1970s, and it was his first season at Furman that would see Mayes help lead Furman to the first of what would become three of the four Southern Conference Tournament titles the Paladins would win. Mayes was on the first of those three, which came at the Memorial Auditorium a year following the loss to East Carolina.

With the tournament back in Greenville, and with sophomore Clyde Mayes part of the team, it would be a perfect mix for what would lead to Furman's first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. Mayes, who in his three seasons for the Paladins, went a perfect 3-for-3 in leading the Paladins to NCAA Tournament appearances and starring on some of the best teams to ever play in the Big Brown Box, as well as leading some of the best Paladin teams in the history. Mayes said that there were many moments, which he enjoyed during his career, but one there were two that stand out.

"Two of my fondest memories at the Brown Box were wins over Clemson in the Poinsettia Classic and Davidson in the Southern Conference title game, and often we would play in front of sellout crowds, and when we played their, nearly every game we were playing there was a lot of noise," Mayes said.

The win over Clemson came during the early portion of the regular-season in Mayes' first campaign with the Paladins on Dec. 6, 1972, as Furman downed the Tigers, 83-69, before a rowdy crowd at the Brown Box. The Paladins' pressing style defense would bother the Tigers from the outset of the contest, allowing the Paladins to take a 41-33 lead into the halftime locker room. When Fessor "Moose" Leonard found himself in foul trouble after scoring 16 of his 18 points in the first two periods.

In just his third game with the varsity team, the 6-9 Mayes would shine, posting 10 points and grabbing 13 rebounds to help the Paladins to one of their several milestone wins at the Brown Box during his storied three years suiting up for the Paladins.

Just a few weeks later, Mayes and the Paladins would welcome Clemson and Texas to the Brown Box for the annual Poinsettia Classic. In the first game against the Longhorns, the tournament favorite Paladins were once again hitting on all cylinders, as the 4-2 Paladins got 18 first-half points in from seven-footer Fessor Leonard, helping the Paladins to take a seemingly comfortable 53-39 lead into the halftime break. However, Furman would have to hold off a rally by the Longhorns in the second half to eventually come away with the 101-95 win.

The second half would see the Longhorns trim what was as much as a 21-point lead to just three by virtue of a tenacious press, which forced Furman to turn the ball over. Sixteen of Furman's 22 miscues came in the second half alone. Leonard finished with a game-high 30 points for the Paladins. Mayes joined Leonard, much like he had done in the early-season win over Clemson, posting 19 points, and Roy Simpson also added 19 for the Paladins.

Furman would end up facing Clemson in the title game, as the Tigers had made relatively easy work of Pepperdine, downing the Waves, 80-65. Furman would meet and beat Clemson for the second time in a four-week span, downing the Tigers 70-59 in front of another boisterous crowd at the Box, with a little silverware at stake this time around.

In the win over the Tigers, it the Moose was loose once again, posting 20 points, while tournament MVP Roy Simpson added 16 as Furman won its second-straight against the Tigers. Since those consecutive wins over Clemson in the same season, Furman has won only one other time in the past 43 years. That win would come during the 1978-79 season--a 64-58 decision--in a game also played at the Brown Box.

Later in the season, Davidson came to Greenville for a key Southern Conference battle at the Brown Box,
as the game featured a pair of SoCon unbeatens, however, it would be the Paladins which would protect the home floor, downing the Wildcats 102-94, taking full command of the Southern Conference lead in the standings.

The Paladins punched their second and third NCAA Tournament bids in Richmond in the two ensuing campaigns, with wins over Davidson (99-81) in the ‘73 title game, and a 62-60 win over Richmond in ‘74. Mayes would be the named the ‘74 tournament Most Valuable Player after scoring 24 points in the win over the Spiders. The 1972-73 and ‘73-74 seasons saw the Paladins sting together a pair of 20-win seasons, winning 22 in ‘72-73 and 20 in ‘73-74.

The first time the Paladins would get a chance to return in front of the home folks and get a chance to punch a ticket to the NCAA Tournament at the Brown Box would be three years after the heartbreaking to the Pirates.

The win over 1975 Davidson, like the 1964 victory over Lefty Driesell's fifth-ranked Wildcat club, the win that came some 11 years later, as Furman would punch its first-ever ticket to the NCAA Tournament with a 66-55 win over William & Mary, which remains one of a handful of teams not to ever have qualified for the NCAA Tournament in its rich history, and Furman would be one those teams that would prevent that progression.

It was Mayes that was solid in the title win over the Tribe, producing a double-double with 10 points and 11 boards, as he was one of three Paladins in double figures. The Paladins would lose in their first-round matchup Boston College, but Mayes would finish out his career as one of the top players in Furman history, completing his career or still ranks in the top 10 in his career in several major categories, including career points (1,589 pts, 9th), rebounds (12.6 RPG/3rd), and field goal percentage (53.2%/10th).

That would have likely included blocks, too, but back then stats were just beginning to be kept in that category. As a senior, he blocked 69 shots which still ranks second in program history for a single-season

Fast-forwarding to the modern era, Mayes noted he liked what Niko Medved and the current Paladins were doing on the hardwood.

"I really like what Niko Medved has done with this program. The crowds are great, the atmosphere is great, and the style of play is great. You know the style is a lot like today's modern NBA game in college, and with the new changes that have sped up the game, the game is more like it should be and more exciting for the fans," Mayes said."

"This program is on the right track, and it's very enjoyable and exciting to see the fans returning to see Furman play and this become a real homecourt advantage like it was when we played back at the Brown Box."

"Stephen Croone is a great player. One of the best to ever play in this building, and it's really nice to see the excitement return for Paladin basketball, with him leading the way," Mayes added.

In Part Two Of The Look Back at the Brown Box, I will be taking a look at the final two decades of Furman basketball inside the facility. This three-part series will end by taking a look back at the 2015-16 season at Timmons Arena, which saw the Paladins produce a remarkable school-record tying 13 home wins in the process.