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Andy Wittry | NCAA.com | July 19, 2019

The story behind the first known dunk in college basketball history

The best action from above the rim in the 2019 NCAA tourament

Believe it or not, dunking was around long before Zion Williamson.

In fact, dunking — the most efficient, and arguably most exciting shot in basketball — is about 56 years older than Zion himself. In 1944, college basketball saw its first-ever dunk, when Oklahoma A&M's Bob "Foothills" Kurland dunked by accident. Yes, you read that correctly.

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Kurland, one of the first 7-foot centers, is credited with the first dunk in college basketball history when his Oklahoma A&M Aggies, which has since been renamed to Oklahoma State, played Temple.

“The ball happened to be under the basket. I got it up and stuffed it in. That started it, I guess,” the late Kurland told the Orlando Sentinel in 2012. "It was an unintentional accident. It wasn't planned, just a spontaneous play in Philadelphia.

Temple won the game 46-44 – one of Oklahoma A&M's four losses by a combined 10 points that season – but Kurland had made history.

Kurland later noted that the ceremony and style around dunks have come a long way since he first "stuffed it in," referencing the 2011 NBA dunk contest when former Oklahoma star Blake Griffin dunked over a car.

"It evolved, just evolved over time with these guys today. Back then I wasn't trying to jump over an automobile. That wasn't my bag."

There is no footage available fo Kurland's first dunk, but watching the highlight clip below can give you a pretty good idea of how dominant of a player he was.

While perhaps not a household name outside of Oklahoma State circles, Kurland was one of college basketball's first stars, in addition to being the originator of the dunk at the college level. He was a three-time First Team All-American who was named the NCAA Tournament's Most Outstanding Player twice during Oklahoma A&M's back-to-back national championships in 1945-46. The Aggies went 99-22 in his four-year career.

Kurland scored a team-high 22 points in Oklahoma A&M's 49-45 win against NYU in the 1945 national championship game. He helped hold opponents to 33.5 points per game.

 

  Bob Kurland (back row, fourth from left) was named the 1945 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.

An interesting side note is that Kurland's imposing size and skill at the rim helped prompt the NCAA to also add a rule against goaltending. From Oklahoma State's media guide: "It is probable that Kurland had more to do with the rule against goaltending than any player since he was the chief target of the rule." He once blocked 17 shots, including 10 in the first half, against Oklahoma when goaltending was still legal.

That stat line is reminiscent of Patrick Ewing's performance against North Carolina in the 1982 championship, where Ewing was repeatedly called for goaltending in the opening minutes of the game in an effort to intimidate the Tar Heels:

How many players have had a bigger impact on the strategy and rules of basketball than Kurland, who both introduced college basketball to the dunk (which was later banned temporarily) and was so good defensively that goaltending was outlawed?

In 1946, the Sporting News National Player of the Year scored a game-high 23 points in the team's 43-40 win over North Carolina in the national title game. His 19.5 points per game was the nation's highest scoring average and his 58 points against St. Louis in February 1946 is the school's single-game record by 13 points. (For perspective, Oklahoma A&M didn't score at least 58 points on 26 occasions that season.)

The first player to win to Olympic Gold Medals for basketball, Kurland was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

But Kurland wasn't the only dunking pioneer in college basketball.

On Dec. 21, 1984, West Virginia's women's basketball team was facing off against the University of Charleston, when Georgeann Wells caught a pass at midcourt with no defenders in front of her, and dunked. It was the first dunk by a player in NCAA Division I women's basketball.

Wells would go on to score 1,484 points, grab 1,075 rebounds and block 436 shots in her time at West Virginia, but no moment would live up to the dunk. And if you need any more proof as to how impressive of a feat it was, no other player would dunk in women's college basketball for another 10 years.

Sources: Oklahoma State 2017-18 Media Guide, Orlando Sentinel, West Virginia Athletics

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