‘That Old Rattler Spirit’

Former-Florida-A&M-basketball-star-turned-head-coach Clemon Johnson has promised winning seasons for the university’s men’s team. FAMU picked Johnson, a 1978 graduate, in the hopes of turning around both the team’s records and dismal attendance at the games.

Last season, only a few dozen fans attended each game. Rattlers’ basketball finished 12-20 last season.

FAMU’s Athletics department hopes to re-ignite interest in campus basketball. Calling Johnson – at 6’10” – a “gentle giant,” department head Derek Horne said he believes the former Indiana Pacer has the will to turn Florida A&M’s basketball program around.

“We want to fill this place like we used to fill this place,” Horne told reporters, students and others who attended a pep rally in honor of Johnson’s return Tuesday. “[Johnson] has a desire to win.”

The university has stacked a great deal of expectation onto this giant’s shoulders: They want him to lead the team to its fifth Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship and they want him to fill seats at the Alfred Lawson Teaching Gymnasium, the site for FAMU basketball. Johnson said he plans to reverse the team’s losing record as early as next season.

FAMU President James H. Ammons praised Johnson’s achievements here and his professional career. “We wanted someone who would come back and ignite that old rattler spirit,” Ammons said. “I think together we can do great things on the courts here at Al Lawson Center.”

Johnson played in the NBA for several years after graduating from FAMU. He retired early to take on teaching and coaching jobs throughout the country.

FAMU drafted him from his stint in Alaska. A man with an aura of surety, Johnson guaranteed wins, but said he needed support from fans to ensure that the men’s basketball program gets the attention it deserves.

“As I said before I’m prepared for it, we need you to grab a friend, and come join us in the Al Lawson Center to support your rattlers,” Johnson said.