"They Call Me Big House," The Clarence E. Gaines Story, With Clint Johnson To Hit Book Stores"

Title: They Call Me Big House

Author: Clarence E. Gaines with Clint Johnson

Price: $21.95 trade hardcover

Clint Johnson is the author of seven previous books. He lives in Winston-Salem, NC.

The coach they call Big House won 828 college basketball games, 12 conference championships, and one national championship, but he would rather talk about his Winston-Salem State University teams' high graduation rates.

He won more games than any other African-American coach, more games than all but four other college coaches, and nurtured talents such as NBA hall-of-famer Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, but he is more proud of the educations 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 coach Clarence Gaines's autobiography, They Call Me Big House, written with Clint Johnson.

College teammates and coaches started calling the 6'5" Gaines Big House because, as one of them said, "the only thing I've seen as big as you is a house." His admirers still call him Big House because few can measure up to his influence.

"No single person has been better for basketball or meant more to the sport than Big House Gaines," said Texas Tech coach Bob Knight, one of the few with more career wins than Gaines. "Very simply, Big House Gaines is very special."

Though Gaines displays an impressive memory of individual games and almost every player who suited up for him, relatively little of They Call Me Big House takes place on the court. Gaines's autobiography is as much a look at a crucial period in history as it is a study of X's and O's.

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 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."

Gaines believes that his players' skill on the court played a role in integrating the town they played in. Billy Packer, then a star guard for Wake Forest, convinced his white teammates that they could improve their game by informally (and illegally) scrimmaging Gaines's players. Before Winston-Salem was officially desegregated, Gaines's teams drew white fans across the color line.

"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."

Clarence "Big House" Gaines was born in Paducah, KY, in 1923. He was an All-American football player at Morgan State College (later University) in Baltimore, MD. From 1946 to 1993, he was the head basketball coach at Winston-Salem State University (formerly Winston-Salem Teachers College), where he won the NCAA Division II championship in 1967. When he retired, he was the winningest active coach in college basketball. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.