The 1999 Florida A&M men’s basketball team started the season off losing its first 10 games. However, the way the team finished that season is what makes them memorable.
The ’99 Rattlers went on to claim their first MEAC Championship, securing a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Rattlers slipped into the MEAC Tournament as the seventh seed with a 12-18 record. To keep team morale, then-men’s head basketball coach Mickey Clayton told his team every tournament has a Cinderella team. The Rattlers were severely shorthanded due to injuries, leaving them with only nine players eligible to play.
No one expected the team to win, but once the Rattlers made it to the semifinals in the MEAC Tournament, the Marching “100” went up to join the team. Prior to that, the team had no visible support from fans or FAMU.
To make things worse, Clayton almost missed his flight to Richmond, Va., for the MEAC Tournament because he got in a car accident on the way to the airport.
Clayton Jenkins, a former walk-on for the men’s basketball team, was a key contributor for FAMU. Jenkins described the MEAC Tournament run as a great feeling from start to finish.
“The one thing that made it feel like home was having the band there,” Jenkins said.
In the second round of the MEAC Tournament against Coppin State, Travis Grant had a huge first half. Once the half was over, Grant went to Monroe Pippins and told him that he was done carrying the team and that it was time for Pippins to take over.
Pippins took the game over in the second half, finishing the game with 23 points. Grant finished with 18 points in an 80-69 win over Coppin State.
The ’99 team was the first FAMU men’s basketball team to reach the NCAA Tournament.
FAMU began to receive a lot of publicity, and people wanted to know how the team made it into the NCAA Tournament. The Rattlers were even featured on ESPN specials.
During the MEAC Championship game, Clayton’s brother, Craig Clayton, was released from a mental asylum. He held up a sign that read “We Want Duke” in the game was nationally televised game.
When Coach Clayton appeared on the “John Thompson Show” on ESPN Radio, Thompson said that Clayton sold the idea to the team that when you go to the dance – a reference to the NCAA Tournament – it is a new day, and everybody has the same chance to win the tournament.
FAMU had to play an undefeated Duke team consisting of future NBA players Elton Brand, Shane Battier and Corey Maggette in the Round of 64, the first round of the tournament
Derrick Magee was a valuable member of the ’99 team and is the associate athletic director and chief business officer for the University of Cincinnati.
“They were stacked,” Magee said.
At one point, the Rattlers were down by four points against Duke. Head coach Mike Krzyzewski called a timeout and raised his finger to his guys. After that, FAMU was held scoreless for seven minutes.
Even though the game was not close, the Duke fans were so appreciative of the effort the Rattlers gave that they stood up and joined the FAMU fans in a standing ovation for the team. The Rattlers lost 99-58. Duke advanced past the Final Four but lost to the University of Connecticut 77-74 in the national championship game.
Clayton said the worst part about winning the MEAC Tournament was that when they came back, it was spring break so no one was there to celebrate.