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  • Budd Bailey

Braves New World: Clyde Mayes

(Budd Bailey and Greg D. Tranter have written a book called "Buffalo Braves From A to Z," published by St. Johann Press. Early in the writing process, they wrote good-sized biographies of all 71 men who played a regular-season game for the Braves during their time in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978. Publishers weren't so enthusiastic about all of that material, so most (59) of the biographies were shortened to about 500 words. However, the authors hated to waste all of that material ... so they are presenting it here. It will appear three times a week. A bibliography is available upon request.)

Clyde Mayes’ stay in Buffalo was one of the shortest in team history. He was on the roster for 20 days, and had the chance to play in all of two games. Western New Yorkers never had the chance to get to know him, but he remains one of the great names in his college’s basketball history. Clyde’s career also had a long second act overseas.

Clyde Clauthen Mayes, Jr. was born on March 17, 1953, in Greenville, South Carolina, to Edna Mae Bowling Mayes and Clyde C. Mayes Sr. Clyde had three sisters - Patricia, Ruth and Jessica. Mayes grew up in Greenville, which is located about an hour south of Charlotte, North Carolina, on the western end of South Carolina. In sports Greenville is best known as the home of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson of “Black Sox fame.” He was one of the greatest baseball players of all-time with a career .356 batting average. There is a museum and statue located in town honoring Jackson.

Mayes began his high school studies at Beck High School, an all-black school, in Greenville. As a sophomore he helped lead the Panthers to the state 3A championship in 1969, scoring 23 points in the 88-64 victory over Butler High School in the title game. The Panthers finished the season with a 29-0 record.

During his junior year he was transferred to Wade Hampton where he graduated in 1971. At that time Greenville was forced to integrate the schools and had to send several hundred black students to all-white schools. Mayes was one of those African American students required to transfer to Wade Hampton (an all-white school). Clyde arrived near the end of the basketball regular season. He left a Beck High School team that was 18-1 and joined the Generals who were 12-7. As Mayes recalled later, “There was total shock and anger. Officials were breaking up a great (Beck) team that had won the year before … there was a lot of that.” Mayes and four other black players joined the Generals. Ultimately Mayes showed his leadership and said, “You take it for what it is and make the best of the situation. Wade Hampton had a decent team, and after we met the players and coaches, I thought we can have something here.”

At the first practice with the integrated team, Mayes walked into the gym with his fellow black players where his new white teammates were waiting. As reporter Bob Gillespie described it, “Mayes, always outgoing as well as a good student and player, strolled over, plopped down between two Wade Hampton players and smiled. With that simple gesture, the stage was set for what would be an amazing season.”

Mayes led Wade Hampton to the Region II 4-A high school basketball championship with a 74-60 upset victory over top-seeded Parker. Clyde had a sensational game with 28 points and 31 rebounds. The following week he scored 20 points and grabbed 14 rebounds in the Generals’ 60-46 win over Edmunds High School of Sumter for Wade Hampton’s first ever state 4-A high school championship. Mayes was selected as the top 4-A basketball player in the state following the season.

The Generals repeated as state champions in 1971 as Mayes led Wade Hampton to the title with a 61-53 victory over Dreher High School, which was led by future NBA star Alex English. As The Greenville News reported, “Mayes, in an all-out battle with Alexander English of Dreher High, fired in 21 points to pace the Generals to a 61-53 triumph over the Blue Devils. But much of Mayes’ efforts were not seen in the scoring totals. He blocked no less than a half dozen Dreher shots and grabbed key rebounds when they were needed.”

At the conclusion of his senior season he was named to the Parade Magazine All-American High School basketball team. He also played in the South Carolina high school North-South All-Star game on August 3. He led the North to victory pouring in 18 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. Mayes also played football at Beck High School and in his senior year at Wade Hampton. He played wide receiver and safety and was named honorable mention on the Region II All Star team as a senior.

Mayes had 434 offers to play college basketball, but chose to stay home at Furman University. He was ruled ineligible for his freshman year on September 23. He did not meet the minimum 1.6 grade-point average which was based on the student’s high school rank and his scores on the SAT test, but stuck around to improve his grades and play for the team as a sophomore.

Mayes made his college debut in a 112-90 win over William & Mary on November 25. Clyde contributed 16 points and 10 rebounds in the victory. He had a solid season, averaging 15.2 points and 11.1 rebounds in 29 games as Furman finished second in the Southern Conference regular season but captured the league’s tournament title. Clyde starred in the tournament as he led Furman to a 99-81 upset win over top-seeded Davidson in the championship game. He scored 24 points and snared 15 rebounds. He was selected the tournament’s most outstanding player as Furman earned its second Southern Conference tournament title in school history. From there it was on to the NCAA tournament, where the Paladins lost a heartbreaking 83-82 decision to No. 13 Syracuse. Mayes chipped in 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Mayes improved during his junior season, leading the Paladins (22-9) to the Southern Conference regular season and tournament titles. Clyde led the team in both scoring (17.3 ppg) and rebounding (13.0 rbg). One of his highlights of the season was in February when Furman played No. 4 North Carolina and No. 2 and eventual national champion North Carolina State on back-to-back nights. Though Furman lost both games, Mayes proved he belonged with the best players in college basketball. He scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds vs. the Tar Heels who featured future stars like Bobby Jones, Walter Davis and Mitch Kupchak. He then poured in 25 points and snared 19 rebounds against David Thompson, Tom Burleson and the Wolfpack.

Mayes again led the Paladins to the Southern Conference tournament title with a 21-point and 13-rebound effort in a 62-60 win over Richmond. Then March Madness set in at Furman as the Paladins stunned No. 10 South Carolina, 75-67, in a first-round game of the NCAA tournament. Mayes led the way with the Paladins with 21 points and 16 rebounds, five blocks and three steals. “I never wanted to win a game more in my life,” Mayes said after the game. “I wanted them to know that we have a good ball club too.” He had been heavily recruited by the Gamecocks but chose Furman instead. As The Greenville News reported, “The game Mayes played was a breathing definition of the word ‘inspired.’” In the next round, Furman lost to No. 13 Pittsburgh, 81-78. Mayes was held to 12 points. Despite another loss in the consolation round, Furman had its best season in 21 years. Mayes was voted the Southern Conference Player of the Year.

The 6-8, 225-pound Mayes upped his game even further in his senior season of 1974-75. He teamed with senior Fessor Leonard and junior Craig Lynch as the Paladins won the Southern Conference regular season title with a perfect 12-0 record. After a loss to North Carolina State, All-American David Thompson said, “Clyde Mayes is a super player. He is going to make some professional team one super forward. He is the best big man we have faced all season.” Furman ran through the Southern Conference tournament again, taking the title with a 66-55 win over William & Mary. Mayes contributed 10 points and 11 rebounds in the victory.

Furman lost to Boston College, 82-76, in the NCAA tournament to finish 22-7. Mayes had 28 points and 19 rebounds in his last college game. He ended his senior season with a 21.1 per game scoring average and 13.3 rebounds per game. His final career stats were 1,589 points in 89 games for a career points per game average of 17.9 and he grabbed 1,118 rebounds, a 12.6 per game average. He was named Southern Conference Player of the Year for the second consecutive year and was selected as a third-team Associated Press All-American. “He was a great player to coach,” Williams said about Mayes. “He was one of those rare players who come along now and then, who had the ability to take charge of a game. Clyde had a great attitude, he was a great leader, and he was so physically strong. At times, teams just couldn’t stop him inside. It’s not too tough to win games with a player like that. He was one of those players so gifted that all you had to do was put a few good players around him.”

Mayes was honored by Furman University on May 6. He was named the team’s MVP for the past season and his jersey No. 34 was retired by the school. The day was also proclaimed “Clyde Mayes Day” in Greenville. Mayor Max Heller read a proclamation which read, “Clyde Mayes is a Greenvillian, an outstanding member of the community who is known not only for his greatness as a basketball player, but for his concern and leadership of young people, and this is an inspiration for them. Clyde Mayes has made great personal sacrifices to achieve his goals, and has had a distinguished career in basketball. … Clyde Mayes chose a hometown school, Furman University, in which to complete his formal education, and has achieved national recognition for his skill, unselfishness and teamwork, setting an example for every young player by always putting his team first.” Mayes graduated from Furman with a degree in Religion.

In each of Mayes’ three seasons, Furman won 20 or more games for the first time in school history. Mayes was also cited by the Southern Conference as the Athlete of the Year. In the 2009 book, ESPN College Basketball Encyclopedia: The Complete History of the Men’s Game, the 1974-75 Furman team was named the best in the program’s history. And in 2010 Mayes was named one of the five best men’s basketball players in the Southern Conference for the 1970’s by The Charlotte Observer.

Mayes was chosen by the Milwaukee Bucks on May 29, 1975 in the NBA Draft with the fourth pick in the second round, No. 22 overall. Upon drafting him Bucks General Manager Wayne Embry said, “We feel Clyde will give us the muscle and rebounding strength he demonstrated in college. Our scouting reports ranked him among the top three forwards in the country.” Mayes signed with the Bucks on June 12. It had been speculated that the Indiana Pacers were going to select Mayes with their No. 1 pick, but the Bucks signed him prior to the ABA draft. “I wanted to play in the NBA. The Bucks are a fine team and have national exposure,” Mayes said.

Clyde joined a Bucks team that had Junior Bridgeman and Bob Dandridge at forward and had selected UCLA’s David Meyers with the second overall pick in the 1975 draft. It seemed a little strange that the Bucks would pick Mayes after having selected Meyers. Clyde found it hard to get consistent playing time. For his rookie season he was ninth on the team in minutes played, averaging 14.6 in 65 games. He scored 284 points (4.4 ppg) and snared 263 rebounds (4.0 rbg).

Mayes did have a few highlights during the season. On December 3 with Dandridge hurt, Clyde received his most extensive playing time to that point with 22 minutes. He responded with 15 points and six rebounds in sparking the Bucks to a 114-92 win over Portland. “Clyde played his best game, a good sign because he is a young kid,” Milwaukee coach Larry Costello said after the game. Mayes also scored 17 points in a late December game versus the Celtics and had his career high of 19 points on February 7 in a 114-106 victory over Detroit. The problem for Clyde was the opportunities were few and far between.

Milwaukee won the NBA Midwest Division in spite of a dismal 38-44 record. The Bucks were ousted by the Detroit Pistons, two games to one, in the first round of the playoffs. Mayes played in all three games, playing 41 minutes while scoring five points and snaring six rebounds. His time in Milwaukee did not last long. He was waived prior to the start of the 1976-77 season on October 20. He lost his job to rookie Alex English, who would go on to a Hall of Fame career.

Mayes bounced around the league in 1976-77, playing for three different teams - the Indiana Pacers, Buffalo Braves and Portland Trailblazers - but never lasting more than 20 days with any of them. He played in two games for the Braves on November 19 and 20, in blowout losses to Seattle and Golden State. He scored two points in his brief Braves’ career. Following the season he decided to continue his professional basketball career overseas. He ended his NBA career after 74 games with a 4.4 points per game average and a 3.8 rebound average.

Clyde played 12 seasons for teams in Italy, France and Spain. In his first season with Mecap he averaged 23 points and 14 rebounds per game. Mayes was named to the 1983-84 LEGA All-Star team while playing for Binova Bergamo. He continued playing abroad, hoping for another shot at the NBA. During several summers he participated in NBA team tryout camps, but nothing ever came of it. Mayes played his last game on November 20, 1988, and returned to Greenville for good.

Mayes was an assistant coach for the Greenville Spinners of the Global Basketball Association during the 1991-92 season, working under Joe Williams. He even played in three games. He then was head coach for the Spinners for the 1992-93 season until the league folded on December 20, 1992. The Spinners were tied for first place with a 9-5 record when the league disbanded. Mayes also tried his hand at broadcasting, covering Furman basketball games. Since his retirement as a player he has participated in several basketball clinics across Greenville and surrounding communities, helping kids with their basketball skills.

He spent several years working as the GED Coordinator for the Upstate Circle of Friends, helping kids get their high school diplomas. As of 2020, Mayes was working security for a Greenville hospital.

Mayes was enshrined in the Furman University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1983. He was also enshrined in the South Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame in 2013.

(Follow Budd on via @WDX2BB)

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