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North Carolina

UNC's Scott was vanguard in integrated basketball

Posted February 21, 2011
Updated February 22, 2011

Charlie Scott accepts his place in history, but he had no intention of becoming the first African-American to earn an athletic scholarship at North Carolina.

The year was 1966, a heated time for race relations in the South.

“Coach [Dean] Smith never really talked about integration,” Scott said of his recruitment. “He always talked about me being part of the team.”

Jennings: Charlie Scott's back in Chapel Hill Jennings: Charlie Scott's legacy lives on

The excitement of joining a talented young class at Carolina is what ultimately swayed the Laurinburg native to sign with UNC instead of Davidson, a program that was earning national recognition at that time with coach Lefty Driesell.

When Scott arrived in Chapel Hill, his teammates initially didn’t know how to handle playing with an African-American or how to deal with the taunts Scott would hear during road games.

Scott believed the only way he would be accepted would be to succeed on the court.

“When I played basketball, I never got the opportunity to enjoy it,” he said. “It was more of a relief that I didn’t fail.”

Scott’s Carolina career was far from a failure. He averaged 22.1 points and 7.1 rebounds a game during his three varsity seasons. His Tar Heel teams made two Final Fours and won two ACC Tournaments.

Despite a standout season as a junior in 1969, the media opted to give Player of the Year award to John Roche, a white guard from South Carolina.

The vote angered Smith and was a painful lesson for Scott. “I was extremely hurt,” he said. “Losing the vote wasn’t so stinging as was the wide margin of the votes.”

Scott started making his opponents feel the pain that postseason. In the ACC Tournament championship game against Duke, Scott put on one of the greatest performances in league history, scoring 40 points and making 17 of his 23 shots to earn tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.

In the East Regional Final, Scott scored 32 and made a last-second shot to defeat Davidson, the Driesell-coached team Scott opted not to join, and sent UNC to the Final Four.

Scott became a hero to African-American basketball fans of all teams and all parts of the country, not just North Carolina.

Two players who claim Scott as an idol are Phil Ford and Michael Jordan. Both later starred at UNC. Scott gives Smith the credit for bringing them to Chapel Hill but admits his experience couldn’t have hurt their decision.

“I think they were able to see the response of the white Carolina fans to me and say, ‘Hey, if I go over there and do well, I will be received in the same manner.’”

After a ten-year career in the ABA and NBA, Scott now lives in Atlanta and works as a consultant for various basketball organizations. But you can still find him every so often back in Chapel Hill watching his son, Shaun, on the UNC junior varsity squad.

Shaun, a sophomore, embraces his father’s legacy. “Even my friends on campus who didn’t know my dad, they find out about it and come and tell me about it,” he said. “It makes me smile and feel good inside.”

What would make his father smile is seeing Shaun on the UNC varsity team. “As a dad, that would make me as proud as I can be.”

Donning Carolina blue isn’t a requirement in the Scott household. His younger son, Shannon, was named to the McDonald’s All-America team and will play for Ohio State next season.

35 Comments

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  • raybachmann Feb 23, 11:23 p.m.

    Congrats. to Tyler Zeller. He has matched Charles Scott's Academic All-American status in 1970.

  • rsds6869 Feb 23, 10:42 p.m.

    Zeller is breaking the color barrier this year at unc.

  • raybachmann Feb 23, 9:16 a.m.

    UNC 70--------You are absolutely correct.

    It is not like the ACC was overwhelmed with minority players before Scott. He was the 1st minority BB star in the league and UNC's first minority scholarship BB player. Willie Cooper preceded him playing freshman ball at UNC-----don't recall him ever playing at the Varsity level.

    I was in school at UNC at the time and remember it well.

  • unc70 Feb 22, 4:22 p.m.

    Sorry if my frustration with certain other posters enter my reply to you.

    The other players you mention like Charlie Davis were all a year or two behind Scott, and even a couple of years made a world of difference at that time.

    Scott was the first black player to be a star in the ACC; Claiborne and the guys at MD just were not at the same level. And a star two years on a FF team, having won the ACC tourney along the way. That gets a lot of coverage.

    Charlie Davis was a great player and is not as well known for many reasons, in part from following Scott and being overshadowed by Thompson.

    BTW 1970 State ACCT win over SC probably united nearly everyone else against SC.

  • heffneriv Feb 22, 2:46 p.m.

    unc70, as I said in my first post, "...if I'm not mistaken..." which typically indicates that one may not be positive of their fact(s). You need to check your condescension.

    "But then came the 1970-71 season, producing the first Black ACC Player of the Year. His name? Charlie Davis of Wake Forest."

    http://bleacherreport.com/articles/117908-black-history-moment-in-acc-basketball

    My argument is not that Scott deserves NO credit. My argument is that it appears that the media, among others, would like you to think that Scott broke the barrier and that he deserves ALL the credit for establishing black players in the ACC. Meanwhile, not only did other conference schools have black players, NC schools had black players that were producing at a high level (see above). So, I ask, why have all ACC Fans in our area heard of Scott, yet probably haven't heard of Davis?

  • unc70 Feb 22, 2:08 p.m.

    heffneriv, Scott deserves the credit he receives. You need to recheck your histories.

    MD had two varsity BB players in 65-66. C.B. Claiborne, a close friend of Scott in college, played at Duke from 67-69. The first black player at WF was about the same time (can't remember name at the moment), and Charlie Davis of WF in 1971 was first black ACC POY.

    In 1970, Scott was the ACC Athlete of the Year although Roche was the ACC Basketball POY. Race was a significant part of the reason Scott was never POY. Resentment of UNC played a part, too. Larry Miller had been POY twice, UNC had 3 of previous 4 POY winners (with Cunningham), Carolina was FF three years in a row (back when only the ACCT champ went to the NCAA).

    Racism was high among fans of most schools. Even at Duke which had Claiborne on its roster, the abuse was very high -- I was there and witnessed it.

  • Dreamchaser Feb 22, 11:55 a.m.

    Roche was POY in 1969 and 1970.

    1969 Stats

    Roche 23.6 PPG, 47.1% FG, 81.4% FT, 2.6 RPG (Assists... View More

    — Posted by kennywalters

    Can I have a link to those stats Kenny? I was trying to find some on Roche but came up with very little.

  • raybachmann Feb 22, 11:17 a.m.

    2 outstanding players--------A little like the Heisman situation in 1956----Paul Hornung and Jim Brown. Hornung won the Heisman over Jim Brown.

  • kennywalters Feb 22, 11:02 a.m.

    Roche was POY in 1969 and 1970.

    1969 Stats

    Roche 23.6 PPG, 47.1% FG, 81.4% FT, 2.6 RPG (Assists were not an official stat until 83-84)

    Scott 22.3 PPG, 50.3% FG, 70.2% FT, 7.1 RPG

    1970 Stats

    Roche 22.3 PPG, 47.3% FG, 82.9% FT, 2.5 RPG

    Scott 27.1 PPG, 46.0% FG, 78.6% FT, 8.6 RPG

    Yeah, Roche was much better by a wide margin (this is sarcasm in case you can't figure that out). To this day, there is no legitimate excuse for the margin of Roche's "victory" as ACC POY in 1970. He was not a significantly better player than Charlie Scott if a better player at all. He was however lily white in an era where Charlie Scott was invading good ol' southern basketball with his blackness. This was almost as bad as Don Haskins whuppin up on the almighty Adolph Rupp with 5 black starters in the NCAA championship.

  • Objective Scientist Feb 22, 10:48 a.m.

    I saw both Scott and Roche play their entire collegiate years. I'd be willing to bet, if using... View More

    — Posted by Objective Scientist

    Dumb comment!!!!

    — Posted by itisabeautifulday999

    It is easy to make a comment like "Dumb comment!!!!" - it does not take much to utter... View More

    — Posted by Objective Scientist

    You are talking RACE!In the time period 4OUT OF 5 NBA MVP were BLACK!R O C H E WAS BETTER THAN... View More

    — Posted by itisabeautifulday999

    Well... Mr. or Mrs. or Ms. "itisabeautifulday999". You did not answer my question, but you definitely showed YOUR "true colors"! No more responses by me to you b/c it is obvious that you are incapable of a civilized, intelligent discussion on this topic... and likely on many/most/all topics.

    Have a "beautiful day"!

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