Basketball History 101 (for real!)

Basketball History 101 (for real)

By Fred Whitted

Special to BASN





BASKETBALL HISTORY 101 (for real!)

By Fred Whitted
Over the last two weeks, we have listened to a lot of banter about the great players and coaches from the various schools across the state and nation participating in March Madness. For many, basketball season slipped away with the end of the CIAA Tournament. Our Alma maters are NCAA Division-Two schools and they only make front page if they win it all, like Shaw’s women, did last year.





Such occurrences are few and far between. There was a little media exposure for A&T as they held on to defeat Liberty in the first-out games. This means that they were blessed with an additional check in the mail for moving into the round of 64 by playing an extra game. It also meant their name got some positive love before they made it to the “I told you so” game against Louisville later in the week.

All of that is great, but, that’s not what this is about. There is a lot more missing from March Madness than Black colleges after their first games. No one seems to find anything good to say about the players from HBCUs who made a difference. Even worse, no one shows any love to the coaches who developed the game we know and love today. Players come and go, and, there are so many that it is hard to pick and choose among the greats of various eras. There are coaches who have stood the test of time that the talking heads seem to have forgotten.

There is much talk about those white coaches who won two or three national championships over ten years. There is just as much chatter about those coaches who won the NCAA in the earliest years when it was 90 percent white because of the NCAA’s pandering to southern racism. There is little love shown for the innovations that came from those HBCUs where the game developed while whites chose not to watch, or, watched clandestinely. Because of this, most fans watch games in ignorance as if those coaches standing on the sidelines invented the game, and, developed it from scratch.






For those who do not know, and, for those who could care less, the game you see today was being played in matchbox gyms on HBCU campus 70-plus years ago. We often speak of the Four-Corners Offense and how it was developed at North Carolina Central under the late John McLendon. Just as important is the Fast-Break, which the same gentleman developed at the same time. In his eyes, sharpened at the feet of the inventor of the game, basketball was a game for thoroughbreds, not plow horses. It was to be played up-tempo and on the move.


Look at what Roy Williams reverted to when he started losing. Some will say he went back to his former boss, Dean Smith. While he may have looked back to Coach Smith, but, if you asked the next question-“How did Coach Smith know”-you would find that Coach Smith got it from John McLendon and Harvey Reid. Yes, both of these men are Black.


Like most things, we look for easy answers. Instead, we need to ask more easy questions while we can still get the answers. As John Thompson once said, “I learned a lot from Dean Smith, but, I also talked to coaches like “Big House” Gaines, John McLendon and Bobby Vaughn. Those men know more basketball than I will ever learn.” Thompson and Tubby Smith are products of predominately white schools, but, they are among those who were close enough to know where so much of basketball was developed.









Beyond what so many people think about the history of college basketball, let’s look at a few facts. Yes, Dr. James Naismith invented the game. BUT, it was Coach John McLendon who taught most of America, and the world, how to play the game. Coach McLendon took what he learned as a student of Dr. Naismith and developed his strategies around it. He pressed to disrupt the opposing offense. He used defense to increase offensive opportunities through steals that led to easy scores. When opposing teams got into their half-court set and managed to get a shot, his teams ran the fast break to perfection. They drove the ball down their opponents’ throats.


All of this has been embodied in most of the winning teams among Black coaches at HBCUs as well as the successful coaches in most of the winning coaches at all levels. Their success directly correlates to their ability to play strong defense, to include pressing, and, their ability to rebound and run the court. Most teams who play as the NBA did before the infusion of Black players go home early.


Black coaches have known for a long time that basketball is a game of thoroughbreds rather than plow-horses. Coach Mac taught them that. This was the core of the documentary Black Magic which came out five years ago. Coach Ben Jobe used this to become the first HBCU to defeat a white college in the early years of March Madness. Each of the teams that have won since then outshot and outran their opponents following the McLendon System, as it was known in the 1940s and 1950s.



For those wish to add the New York and Philly factors into the mix, feel free. Remember, Coach McLendon went to the north to bring in players with flair. He went to the Midwest to get shooters. He also drew from players in North Carolina who had been developed during his years in the area.

Through his association with coaches in North Carolina, Coach McLendon improved the level of play across the state with clinics for high school and college coaches. He mentored both “Big House” Gaines and Bobby Vaughn, two of the CIAA’s more successful coaches. Harvey Heartley played for Coach McLendon along with Sam Jones. Both men played at schools in North Carolina in high school.
The genius of Coach McLendon is mentioned less and less. His vision for the CIAA Tournament has been copied by the likes of the ACC and other white conferences. While the CIAA was not the first HBCU championship tournament, he and his friends pushed for a more commercial version of the tournament. They have sold out every venue from their first location in Washington to their current location in Charlotte.

When some of us hear some of the things that people are saying, and, we know they are wrong, we must recognize their errors for what they are. Where Blacks are concerned, ignorance is still being espoused as truth. We cannot sit by idly and let them get away with it. How can we allow the ACC to say they were the first, and, they started it all, when the SIAC (1934) and CIAA (1946) Championship Tournaments preexisted the ACC conference by years!

We must continue to tell our stories. When we fail to tell our own stories, we accept what other say about us, including nothing. Our stories are as valuable as what is espoused when we are omitted. We cannot allow others to set our value, nor, can we allow others to downplay who and what we are to the game of basketball or the game of life. We cannot undervalue ourselves because when we do, others think even less of us. We must take ownership of the McLendons of our world and honor them. They are part of the inheritance that we must leave for our youth. In addition to taking ownership, we must tell them about them so they can know what their real potential truly is.


Editor’s Note: Mr. Whitted is a proud alum of Winston – Salem State University and CEO of  Black Heritage Review – (

He is also the author of “The Black College Sports Encyclopedia” and a contributing co – host (“Professor Fred”) on the Internet radio show “Soul Tree Radio – In the Raw!”




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