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Feb. 27, 2012
If you think of University of Miami basketball figures from a couple of generations back, you start with Rick Barry. That's universally understood. Just don't go too long before you get to Ron Godfrey.
Godfrey arrived in Coral Gables more than a half-century ago as an acclaimed high school player and helped the program to its first NCAA Tournament bid as a junior. A decade later, he was a young head coach in a tough spot, and his alma mater has never forgotten his work. Inducted into the school's Hall of Fame in 1998, he's an ACC Legend in 2012.
"I have a pretty good life," he said from his Coral Springs, Fla., home.
In his high school days, Godfrey was a contemporary of three Ohio kids who went on to fairly distinguished careers in the sport: Jerry Lucas (Middletown), Bob Knight (Orrville) and John Havlicek (Bridgeport.) Godfrey and Havlicek were both born in Martins Ferry, a steel-producing town on the West Viginia border.
Godfrey's father worked for the Wheeling Pittsburgh Steel Corporation and wanted his son to see life beyond the steel mills. So while the more famous Ohio triumvirate assembled at Ohio State, Godfrey made a geographically different choice, ultimately selecting Miami over Georgia Tech and Duke.
And his reputation as a peer of the three Buckeyes worked its way to south Florida.
"The first time we went to practice," teammate Dick Hickox said, "we knew Ron Godfrey could flat-out play."
Over his career, Godfrey averaged 17.5 points a game and was a key factor in a Hurricanes' first. The 1959-60 team made the NCAA Tournament, and that was no easy task. Miami lacked conference affiliation, an on-campus venue for home games and even a full-time athletics department facility for practice. The Canes practiced in the university's armory.
They overcame all those obstacles and, in an era before Bracketology, learned of their postseason gig when coach Bruce Hale beckoned them to his office. They were 23-4 and rewarded for it.
"We were all ecstatic," Godfrey recalled. "We played to go to the NIT or the NCAAs, and we just figured if we were good enough, one of them would invite us."
The Canes went 20-7 the following season, and after graduation, Godfrey fielded an offer from Hale to stick around and serve as his assistant coach. He hasn't left the area since.
Hale did depart, however, heading to the new and highly experimental territory of the ABA in 1967. Godfrey, not yet out of his 20s, was promoted to the top job.
The Canes still lacked the amenities of their opponents, and they were trying to make a go of it in what was becoming a pro town and a football town. They played home games at the Miami Beach Convention Hall North, on which they once shared the marquee with Tarzan Tyler and The Great Beauregard. You remember them, right? Pro wrestling legends.
Season ticket-holders numbered 100. Even in the Barry days, they never got more than 150 fans to sign up.
Shortly before practice was set to convene in 1970, the university announced its intention to disband the team after the season. Godfrey was in California attending a wedding at the time. His players vowed to boycott, a threat on which they didn't follow through.
History, therefore, recalls Godfrey as the coach who was on board when the plug was pulled. If fair, history should also note that there wasn't a causal link between the coach and the end. His first two teams had winning seasons. After the third year, which resulted in a losing record, the bad news came.
Godfrey kept the team together and managed to coax nine wins out of a group of players who knew they'd soon have no basketball home. The Hurricanes went out with dignity.
Current Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton is widely credited with the program's renaissance after its restoration in the mid-1980s, and the future looks bright with Jim Larranaga on board.
Godfrey, for his part, fondly remembers his playing days and is appreciative of the Legend status because it shines a light on an otherwise overlooked era in the school's history.
"We were like a big family. It was hard to describe. We played together. We ate together. Went to the movies together. There wasn't one (singular) star."