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Wayne Cavadi | | January 28, 2020

The CIAA tournament is a gold mine of college basketball history

The CIAA celebrates 75 years of memorable moments and iconic student-athletes

The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association will host its DII men’s and women’s basketball tournaments the weekend of Feb. 25-29, 2020, in Charlotte, N.C. It is the 75th anniversary of the first CIAA basketball tournament and three-quarters of a century later, some of college basketball’s most memorable moments and iconic student-athletes and coaches still fill the record books.

RANKINGS: Northwest Missouri State tops the DII men's Power 10 | Drury atop the women's

Let’s take a look at the history of the conference.

The CIAA: A history rich in college basketball

The CIAA was founded in 1912 on the campus of Hampton in Virginia, making it the oldest African-American athletic conference in the country. While the schools have changed over the years, the love for basketball has not. It is reported that the CIAA tournament was once the third-highest attended college basketball tournament among every division of NCAA basketball

The tournament, however, took some time to come to fruition. H.C. Perrin of Shaw was the first to recommend a tournament in 1941, but it took six years for it to become a reality. That was when Talmadge Hill of Morgan State, John McLendon of North Carolina College (now NC Central), John Burr of Howard and Harry Jefferson of Virginia State took their $500 budget to Washington DC’s Turner’s Arena. When the eight teams convened on March 6, 1946, for the first-ever CIAA men’s basketball tournament they quickly learned they were watching something special.

It’s reported 3,000-plus fans poured into Turner’s Arena for that first tournament. Sounds like a lot for a debut, right? Well, consider this: the arena sat 2,000.

The CIAA Joe Turner's Arena in Washington, DC was the site for the first CIAA basketball tournament.Joe Turner's Arena in Washington, DC was the site for the first CIAA basketball tournament.

NC Central went on to become the first CIAA men’s basketball champion. By 1975 the women’s tournament was added. Norfolk State won that first championship and AnnMarie Gilbert has run the CIAA of late, leading her Virginia Union Panthers to three of the last four titles.

Iconic names and memorable games: A look at the CIAA tournament

NC Central and Virginia Union set the tone for the legendary tournament the CIAA has become in that first championship game. NC Central, the No. 5 seed, took down No. 2 Virginia Union in upset fashion 64-56… in three overtimes. How’s that for a memorable debut?

The virtual who's-who of CIAA basketball wouldn't be complete without some coaches and players not merely on the DII college basketball level, but in the basketball world. 

The CIAA Gaines and Monroe led Winston-Salem to the 1967 DII basketball title.Clarence "Big House" Gaines and Earl Monroe led Winston-Salem to the 1967 title.

Take the 1967 Winston-Salem men’s basketball team, for example. Legendary head coach Clarence “Big House” Gaines led his Rams to the national title, marking the first HBCU team to capture the championship at the College Division level, defeating Missouri State in a 77-74 thriller. That team was led by a senior named Earl Monroe. He scored 1,329 points that season — an absurd 41.5 points per game — that still stands as the DII men’s basketball single-season record over five decades later. Both Gaines and Monroe went on to be enshrined in the Naismith Hall of Fame, with “The Pearl” considered one of the greatest to ever lace up the high-tops in NBA history.

HISTORIC RAMS: Earl Monroe on what the '67 championship meant 50 years later

Before Earl Lloyd became a Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer, he was a standout player for West Virginia State. He was part of the 30-0 team to capture the 1948 CIAA championship and was later named the CIAA player of the decade for the 1940s. But it was the trail he blazed next for which he will be forever remembered. On Oct. 31, 1951, Lloyd stepped on the court for the Washington Capitols. That made Lloyd the first African-American to suit up for an NBA game, and he eventually became a national champion in 1955. He would later become the first African-American assistant coach in NBA history.

Of course, when it comes to coaching, John B. McLendon wrote the book, and that's why the CIAA Hall of Fame dons his name. He was the first coach in history to win three-straight championships, leading North Carolina College to the title from 1957-59. He then was the first African-American professional head basketball coach, heading up the Cleveland Pipers in the NIBL. He learned at Kansas under Dr. James Naismith. But as an advocate for civil rights, his legacy reaches further than any on-court records or accolades as a true innovator of the game for more than 60 years.

The CIAA John B. McLendon, Jr. poses in front of Dr. James Naismith.CIAA basketball icon John B. McLendon, Jr. poses in front of his college mentor, Dr. James Naismith.

Remember Mr. Clutch, Sam Jones? Jones was a key part of 10 Boston Celtics titles, averaging 18.8 points per game over 12 postseasons. Before all that, he was a three-time all-CIAA player who scored 1,745 points for NC Central, still second-most in school history. Charles Oakley was the DII men's basketball player of the year in 1985 for Virginia Union when he led the division with 17.3 rebounds per game before becoming the ninth overall pick in the legendary 1985 NBA draft, the first of the lottery era. Speaking of Virginia Union, Ben Wallace played one year with the Panthers, averaging 13.4 points and 10.0 rebounds per game in helping Virginia Union to the DII men's basketball championship semifinals.

The list is endless — we haven't even mentioned Cleo Hill, Ronald Murray, or legendary Harlem Globetrotter Fred "Curly" Neal — but they all share one thing in common. They set an example for generations to come and made the CIAA a launching pad for successful student-athletes, whether it was on the court or off of it. 

How about on the women’s side? Virginia Union wasted little time establishing its dominance, taking home the 1983 DII women’s basketball national title, just the second in the sport’s history. Five years later, fellow CIAA Hampton would claim its first national title. On that team was Jacqie McWilliams, who not only served as the Director for the Division I men’s and women’s basketball tournament but became the first African-American woman named commissioner of the CIAA. Shaw was the most recent CIAA women's team to win the NCAA DII national championship, defeating Ashland 88-82 in 2012.

The CIAA Shaw celebrates the 2012 DII women's basketball championship.Shaw celebrates the 2012 DII women's basketball championship.

You can't forget Kammy Brown. Brown was the first CIAA women's basketball tournament Most Outstanding Player, an award she would capture once again just two years later. Lisa Rice of Norfolk State would one-up her shortly after, winning the tournament's MOP award three times (1992, '93, and '95), a feat that has never been matched again. 

You'll still see LaKisha Phifer-Patterson's name all over the NCAA record books. One of the greatest shot blockers of all-time, her 20 blocks in a game is still the NCAA record for any division, men's or women's. Phifer-Patterson's career 7.01 bocks-per-game average is still tops in all of women's college basketball and she was the single-season (219) and career (533) record holder for over a decade. 

The traditional continues to grow. Just last season, Virginia Union's Shareka McNeill tied the CIAA women's tournament record with an amazing 59-point performance. It was on a night that her opponent scored 57. McNeill was leading DII women's basketball in scoring with 32.1 points per game before getting injured halfway through December. 

The 2020 CIAA basketball tournament: Schedule, scores

Both the CIAA men's and women's tournament will be held in Charlotte, North Carolina. The games will be played Feb. 25 and 26 at the Bojangles' Coliseum and then Feb. 27-29 a the Spectrum Center. As soon as the matchups and schedule becomes available, we will post the information, but you can keep up at the official site for the CIAA basketball tournament by tapping or clicking here

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