Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Smaller Stage, but Fire Still Burns for Durham

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Smaller Stage, but Fire Still Burns for Durham

Article excerpt

Byline: Gene Frenette, Times-Union sports writer

The atmosphere was hardly befitting a Division I basketball legend reaching such a lofty milestone. Then again, Hugh Durham didn't come out of a two-year retirement in 1997 for accolades or sellout crowds.

Jacksonville University's coach came back to get rid of that emptiness inside.

As much as he enjoyed spending time raising quarter horses on his Georgia farm and chasing that white ball, it didn't replace the feeling of engaging and preparing for war on the hardwood.

"I had plenty to do physically," said Durham. "But by the time you unwind and play a lot of golf, there was no mental challenge. I'm basically a competitor and there was no competition in my life."

Last night, it didn't matter that Durham's 600th victory came against Atlantic Sun doormat Gardner-Webb. Or that, paid attendance (1,163) figures aside, there were actually less bodies in the Swisher Gym seats for this historic occasion than JU's 65-year-old coach has in career wins.

Not that Durham wouldn't have loved a packed house, raucous fans and ESPN cameras, but the essential ingredients for a fulfilling existence were there -- a ball, a team to coach and an opponent.

For someone who has already taken previously struggling programs Florida State and Georgia to a Final Four, nothing has changed except the surroundings. Though JU's 87-75 win over the Bulldogs (2-15) was played in a half-empty gym, Durham craves the action no less than he did decades ago when the stakes and crowds were a lot higher.

"It's the same for him," said Malinda Durham, the coach's wife and a Jacksonville native. "This could have been in the backyard. It wasn't so much the 600th win. It's the fact it was a win."

This season, wins haven't come as easily for JU (9-10 overall, 4-3 A-Sun) as many anticipated for an all-senior starting lineup. …

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