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Feb. 23, 2010
The 2010 ACC Basketball Legends class is a group of 12 former standout players - one from each ACC school - who will be honored during the 2010 ACC Men's Basketball Tournament. TheACC.com will feature two members of the ACC Legends Class each week during the six weeks prior to the tournament.
The annual ACC Legends Brunch will be held on Saturday, March 13 beginning at 10 a.m. Hosted by television personalities Tim Brant and Mike Hogewood, the ACC Men's Basketball Legends Brunch will be held in the in the Guilford Ballroom of the Sheraton Four Seasons Hotel.
At 5-foot-7, Otto Petty didn't really establish a precedent. Smallish basketball players weren't plentiful in the early 1970s, and they'll probably never be. But in most other ways, the point guard from Louisville, Ky. and Florida State University was a trail-blazer - even if he required more steps to make his mark than the taller guys.
Petty helped bring championship-caliber basketball to Tallahassee two decades before the school joined the ACC and four years before Bobby Bowden arrived as head football coach. He racked up impressive assist totals when the NCAA didn't officially chart such things and he was a prominent African-American student on a campus that had a short history of racial diversity.
Retired and living in his hometown these days, Petty is FSU's emissary among the 2010 ACC Legends and undeniably a man ahead of his time.
"My high school coach always told me that I knew the game really well and that I played with a lot of heart," Petty said. "Size is one thing, but I played with my heart."
Petty fielded recruiting interest from the Louisville Cardinals and Western Kentucky, but he did his homework and figured he'd have a hard time cracking either of those lineups. Although an independent, FSU offered a chance to see and achieve something new.
The institution of that era differs considerably from the one known to the ACC. It was only a generation removed from identity as the Florida State College for Women. The football stadium was half as big as it is now. And as for basketball? The Noles played in Tully Gym, a 2,500-seat gymnasium with a ceiling that threatened to stop the path of any full-court pass or shot.
The Seminoles' first African-American football player didn't arrive until 1968, and the campus was one of the region's few cauldrons of political protest. "The Berkeley of the South," some called it.
"You still had racial things going on there, but the fans were good to us," Petty said.
The team was perhaps the first predominantly black squad at an almost entirely white institution in the South. Coach Hugh Durham, a Louisville native like Petty, undertook a borderline radical strategy for the era by pursuing anybody who could play. Swing man Ron King joined Petty in the trek from Kentucky to Florida, and Reggie Royals, Rowland Garrett and Lawrence McCray gave FSU a frontcourt that was as big and strong as any.
Petty was a compelling presence who created passing lanes for himself by outsmarting opponents and communicating well with his teammates. His pass-first mentality maximized the skills of those around him, and it was actually recognized.
We take the assist for granted today. It's a common statistic that can be awarded rather liberally. That wasn't necessarily the deal in Petty's day. The NCAA kept track of it in 1951 and '52, but it halted the practice and didn't resume until 1984. Individual schools were free to record assists, however, and Petty kept the Seminole stat crew busy.
Petty averaged 7.3 feeds a game, a figure eclipsed by only three ACC players before or since. His 227 assists in 1971-72 would have likely placed him in the Top 10 nationally for that season.
Not that he's complaining, mind you. That season turned out to be pretty good for Florida State, which navigated the often unforgiving waters of independence to get into the NCAA tournament.
"We tried to get in a conference, but they never let us in," Petty said. FSU played only 12 of its 29 regular-season games at home. Travels took the Seminoles to Hawaii, Oregon, Alabama, Texas and Ohio as coach Hugh Durham's group fought to impress the people putting together the postseason bracket.
"Final Four? No, but we figured we were good enough to get into the tournament," Petty said. "Everything fell into place for us." That included an upset of behemoth Kentucky in the quarterfinals in Dayton, Ohio, and a trip to the Final Four that marked the university's first major appearance on the national sporting landscape.
To that point, the football team had won only two bowl games, and one of those was a decision over Wofford College in the Cigar Bowl, a nondescript contest in Tampa that lasted only 10 years. In the spring of 1972, Bowden was the 43-year-old head coach at West Virginia and still four years short of beginning the tenure that would make him king of Tallahassee.
In the national semifinals, Petty delivered six assists and 10 points as the Seminoles upended future ACC rival North Carolina 79-75 for the right to play mighty UCLA. The Bruins, who had already won five straight NCAA titles, secured No. 6 in their own backyard, the Los Angeles Sports Arena, when they held off the Seminoles, 81-76.
"It was the first time the team went that far, and it really meant as lot to us that we did it," Petty said.
In all, Petty's FSU teams went 62-23. They didn't get into the ACC just yet, but they did put their school on the map.
Petty talked briefly with the ABA's Kentucky Colonels about playing, but management wanted him to go overseas and hone his skills for a couple of seasons first. He declined and returned to Louisville to become a coach and middle school science teacher. The school district named him Teacher of the Year in 1975-76.
Petty's son Darren will accompany him to the ACC Legends events at the tournament, an event he never had the chance to see as a player.