BASN Book Reviews: They Call Me Big House

By Tony McClean
Updated: November 15, 2004

Clarence “Big House” Gaines

NEW HAVEN, Ct. — Before I began working at BASN, I was lucky enough to work at radio station WSNC, the sports radio home for the Rams of Winston-Salem State University.

During that time, I hosted several halftime shows for WSSU’s football and basketball teams. One of my most fondest memories was having a sit down with one of basketball’s most legendary figures.

Clarence “Big House” Gaines won 828 college basketball games (fifth best all-time), 12 CIAA championships, and a Division II National Championship all while coaching such players as Cleo Hill and Earl Monroe.

In “They Call Me Big House”, Gaines along with Winston-Salem native Clint Johnson talks of his life and times. It’s a story of how a kid from Paducah, Kentucky rose up and became one of the greatest coaches in the history of college basketball.

He won more games than any other African-American coaches and nurtured the talents of several, but Gaines says he’s most proud of the education his players received and the careers they built away from the basketball court.

Winning games, building character, and crossing over the divide between black and white are the dominant themes of Gaines’ autobiography.

Gaines also talks about how he was influenced by the plight of Jackie Robinson and how it helped him realize that he could as his folks stressed “be someone”.

Gaines recounts growing up and beginning his coaching career in the segregated South, where black colleges were so strapped for cash that he and opposing coach John McLendon (another Hall of Fame CIAA coach) made recruiting trips together to save money.

“When we headed to my territory . . . John would sit beside me and not say a word,” Gaines writes. “When we got back in the car and drove on, the roles were reversed. No coaches today would trust the others not to steal their prized prospects.”

One other famous individual that Gaines coached was a sprinter by the name of Eugene Walcott. We now know him as the leader of the Nation of Islam, Minister Louis Farrakhan.

The book also includes several anecdotes from Coach Gaines and how in many ways, the game of basketball is still the same as they day began coaching for then Winston-Salem Teachers College.

” I came along at just the right time in history to witness and to play a small part in the crossing over of black sports talent,” Gaines writes. “What I experienced . . . was an awakening on the part of white people that the time had come to let black people compete on equal terms.”

When Gaines retired, he was the winningest active coach in college basketball. He was later inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.

If you’re a fan of basketball or sports in general, this will be a great history lesson for you.