CHAMPIONS & DYNASTIES
In 1948, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics under pressure from some of its all-white members, notably – Manhattan College of New York and Indiana State (coached by John Wooden) opened their postseason tournament to Black student-athletes. But, it would be three years later before a Black college would be allowed to participate. Given the climate of the day, the racial attitude preempted the opportunity for inclusion until a persistent group of Black college coaches and administrators teamed with the head of the NAIA – Al O. Duer- made their breakthrough. Milton Katz’s thesis on the “breakthrough” chronicles the movement that set the stage for the new era in collegiate sports.
Here is a summary of the Black college teams that rose to prominence.
1946 North Carolina College Eagles
Head coach John B. McLendon, Jr. led the Screamin’ Eagles to the inaugural 1946 Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Basketball Invitational Tournament Championship which set the stage for the first of many exciting tournaments. Central was matched up against the no. 2 seed, Virginia Union in a hotly contested battle as the Eagles put on a fast paced display that had the crowds cheering wildly, especially after the teams went into double overtime and the Eagles scoring the last eight points to win the inaugural tournament, 64-56.
Black college basketball prowess began a groundswell for acceptance into the national arenas of collegiate competition.
Head coach John B. McLendon, Jr., George Parks, Billy Williams, James Hardy, Aubrey “Stinky” Stanleye, Floyd Brown, Henry “Big Dog” Thomas, Team manager, Edward “Pee Wee” Boyd
1957, 58, 59 Tennessee State A&I Tigers
The first triple double recorded in NAIA history (1957, ’58, ’59) was pulled off by the TIgers who became the first Black college basketball teams to win a national championship. Legendary head coach John B. McLendon, Jr. orchestrated a new concept called the “fast break” that ignited a era of change that saw other Black colleges programs emerge to win titles. The Tigers had an abundance of talent like Dick “Skull” Barnett, John Barnhill, Porter Meriwether and others who went on to play professionally.
NAIA Finals: TSU 92-73 SE Oklahoma
NAIA Finals: TSU 85-73 Western Illinois
MVP: Dick Barnett
NAIA Finals: 97-87 Pacific Lutheran
MVP: Dick Barnett
1961 Grambling State Tigers
These Tigers became the second black college national champions and the first SWAC representative. They were led by Fred Hobdy, a longtime coach and athletic director and future NBA Hall of Famer Willis Reed.
NAIA Finals: GSC 92-73
1962 Prairie View A&M Panthers
The third Black college NAIA champion came the Southwestern Athletic Conference. The Panthers were led by one of the best centers in All-American Zelmo Beaty, who went on to have an outstanding pro career.
Finals: PVSU 65-53 Westminister, PA
1965, 68 Central State (OH) Marauders
The Marauders were the second Black college to become two-time champions. They had an undefeated season (26-0) in 1965 on their way to the national title. They were led by two-time NAIA Tournament Most Valuable Player Ken Wilburn.
2x -Tournament MVP
Finals: 1965- 85-51 Oklahoma Baptist
1968- 51-48 Fairmont State, WV
1970, 71, 72 Kentucky State Thorobreds
In the 1970s, the fabulous Thorobreds enjoyed the luxury of becoming the second Black college teams to have three consecutive NAIA championships. The trilogy was led by All-Americans Travis Grant, the leading scorer; center Elmore Smith, leading rebounder and block shots and dynamic point guard Michael Bernard. Head coach Lucious Mitchell, a disciple of Hall of Fame coach John B. McLendon, Jr., had one of the nation’s highest scoring teams.
2x -Tournament MVP
Finals: 1970- 79-71 Central Washington
1971- 102-82 Eastern Michigan
1972 – 71-62 Wisconsin-Eau Claire
1976 Coppin State Eagles
Head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell led the underdog Coppin State Eagles to the top of the NAIA. The Eagles were led by All-American Joe Pace.
Finals: CSC 96-91 Henderson State
Ron “Fang” Mitchell
1977 Texas Southern Tigers
The Tigers, one of the first entries into the NAIA tourney, finally got their due as they romped over their opponent by 27 points. They were led by center Bennie Swain, a future NBA draft pick by the Boston Celtics.
Finals: TSU 71-44 Campbell College
1967 Winston-Salem State Rams
The Rams became the first to break across the line when they ran away with the NCAA II title. Head coach Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines had a formidable arsenal: Earl Monroe, Bill English, Eugene Smiley, Ernest Brown, David Green, Vaughan Kimbrough, John Nathan, James Reid, Johnny Watkins and Steve Smith. Monroe became a NBA Hall of Fame player and Gaines was inducted into the Hall of Fame as one of the all-time greats.
Earl “The Pearl” Monroe
Finals: WSSU 71 -44 SW Missouri State
Clarence “Bighouse” Gaines
1974 Morgan State Bears
Marvin Webster led the Golden Bears to the title with an outstanding performance in the tournament. He averaged 21 points, 22.4 rebounds and 8 blocks and was named College Division Player of the Year.
1978 Cheyney State Wolves
John Chaney led the Wolves to their only championship on his way to his celebrated coaching career. Andrew Fields was named tournament MVP.
Finals: CSC 47-40 Wisconsin-Green Bay
1980, 92, 05 Virginia Union Panthers
The Panthers enjoyed a marvelous stretch with three championships under head coach Dave Robbins. They were bolstered by talented players like tournament MVPs Keith Valentine (1982), Derrick Johnson (1992) and Antwan Walton (2005).
Finals: 1980 – VUU 80-74 New York Tech
1992 – VUU 100 -75 Bridgeport
2005 – VUU 63-58 Bryant
1982 District of Columbia FireBirds
The FireBirds brought a national championship to the DC area with All-American center Earl Jones and point guard Michael Britt.They were led by flamboyant head coach Wil Jones.
Finals: UDC 73-63 Florida Southern
1989 North Carolina Central Eagles
The Eagles began and ended the list of Black College national champions under head coach Mike Bernard. Miles Clarke was named tournament MVP.
Finals: NCC 73-46 SE Missouri State