Basketball get-together reunites Triplett with former FAMU players
By MarKeith Cromartie
Ajac Triplett knew there was something special about Clemon Johnson the moment he walked onto the basketball court for his first practice.
Johnson, then a lanky kid out of FAMU High School, didn’t just impress his college coach with his prowess at center. Triplett, head coach at FAMU from 1973 to 1979, saw a work ethic that set Johnson apart.
“I can say this without any hesitation, for the four years I had him he was always the first in practice, the last one to leave and the first one on the bus,” Triplett said. “He was just a model student-athlete.”
Johnson became the core of a Triplett team that dominated the SIAC and won multiple conference championships through his six seasons at FAMU.
Four years ago, Triplett decided to reach out to Johnson and several of his other protégés to come back to their alma mater for a reunion. It has grown ever since, with players before and after the Triplett era coming back to celebrate their contribution to the men’s and women’s programs.
This year’s reunion was one of the biggest with the Rattlers’ rivalry game against Bethune-Cookman University as the backdrop. The FAMU women won by five points, while the men lost a heartbreaker by one point.
Triplett themed this year’s reunion “honoring the past and building the future.” Admittedly, it has become much bigger than he first imagined.
“I wanted to see my former players so I got on the phone and contacted the guys that played for me,” he said. “We started this four years ago and since then it has grown tremendously and I think it’s a great thing.”
When they got together this time they participated in a workshop, luncheon and a recognition ceremony.
Up until Johnson, the program hadn’t produced a player who went on to the NBA, although several of them set school records since the first teams were formed in 1930. Johnson, one of Triplett’s prized stars, was selected in the second round of the NBA draft by the Portland Trail Blazers in 1978.
He later went on to play a lengthy career with stops with the Indiana Pacers and the Philadelphia 76ers. He is the only FAMU player to play on a NBA championship team, having won the title with the 76ers.
“To me I had set the standard,” said Johnson, who spent three seasons as head coach at his alma mater. “I wasn’t a superstar but I was a main part of this team that won a championship,” said Johnson.
Of course, he credits Triplett for his success.
“Coach Triplett was the one that guided that growth at Florida A&M University,” Johnson said. “He saw in me what no other school did.
“It’s an honor to me, I speak very highly of those days even now,” said Johnson. “The moments I remember the most are the moments I shared with my Florida A&M teammates.”