Thus far we have the first half of the Top Ten rankings of HBCU basketball players as follows: 10. Rick Mahorn, 9. Charles Oakley, 8. Anthony Mason, 7. Avery Johnson and 6. Earl Lloyd. As is the nature of ranking systems, there are sometimes anomalies that fall outside predetermined parameters. In this situation playground legend Pee Wee Kirkland (Norfolk State), and the late great Earl “the Goat” Manigault (Johnathan C. Smith) need to be noted.
Neither Kirkland or Manigault remained on their respective campuses long but both had NBA talent. Manigault’s bunnies were so legendary that some still whisper of his amazing feats; including scoring a NYC high school record 57 points in a game as a junior at Ben Franklin High and snatching coins from the top of the backboard. A high-riser of legendary repute, his double dunk has yet to be replicated. Kareem Abdul Jabbar, who competed against him in high school, once said he was the best player he ever saw. He would never play in the NBA for a myriad of reasons.
Pee Wee Kirkland, a scoring dynamo who played a few years at Norfolk State alongside Bobby Dandridge, was drafted by the Chicago Bulls in the 7th round but, as legend has it, would leave the Bulls during the preseason in favor of street money. He found himself in jail by 1971 on drug charges. Manigault would develop a heroin addiction that would haunt him for the rest of his days. Neither would play an NBA game. That would disqualify them from placement on this list, but they were both extraordinary.
Now, onward and upward with our Top Five Greatest HBCU Basketball Players of All-Time!
5. PF/C Ben Wallace, Virginia Union University
Similar to a number of players on this list, Ben Wallace went undrafted out of Virginia Union and was signed as a free agent by the Washington Bullets in 1996. He just might be the greatest undrafted free agent in the history of the NBA and is easily the best defensive player to ever go undrafted. For certain!
Four Defensive Player of the Year awards, a four-time NBA All-Star, five-time All-NBA Secord or Third Team, six-time NBA All-Defensive, a blocked shots title in '02, rebounding titles in 2002 and 2003, on top of being named a NABC First Team All-American while leading the Panthers to the Division II Final Four are good enough to land Big Ben at number 5. Wallace won an NBA Championship with the Detroit Pistons in 2004.
4. SF/SG Bob "Bobby D" Dandridge, Norfolk State University
A proper barometer of how good Dandridge was is the fact that the amazing Pee Wee Kirkland was not “The Man” on that team. Bobby D was a slender scoring machine cast in the same mold as some of the best small forwards in the game. He was a smooth shooter who hung in the air with a hint of perpetuity.
You never knew when he was coming down. He could pass and rebound with the best at his position. A certified winner, Dandridge is a two-time NBA Champion with four All-Star appearances, an All-NBA Second Team nod in '79, NBA All-Rookie First Team and he recently had his number retired by the Milwaukee Bucks in 2015. Dandridge’s career averages are 18.5 points, 6.8 rebounds and 3 assists per game over a 13-year career. He’s universally regarded as one of the best forwards of the 70s.
3. SG Earl "The Pearl" Monroe, Winston-Salem State University
Earl “The Pearl” Monroe is one of the first players with a creative “street” style of play to be successful in the NBA. He attended Winston-Salem State under the tutelage of coaching icon Clarence “Big House” Gaines. He would average 41.5 points per game as a senior while leading the Rams to a NCAA Division II Basketball National Championship. He was also earned collegiate player of the year honors as well. His spin move, which bewilderd and amazed defenders, and has no equal in any era.
He was picked with the second overall pick by the Baltimore Bullets in the 1967 draft and averaged 24.3 points per game, including a 56-point outing against the Los Angeles Lakers. He was traded to the New York Knicks during the 71-72 season. It would take a season, but the Knicks would eventually breakthrough as The Pearl teamed with Walt “Clyde” Frazier to form one of the most formidable guard tandems in NBA history. They were referred to as the Rolls Royce Backcourt. The four-time NBA All-Star and NBA champion is also a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary All-Time team. The Pearl is in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
2. C/PF Willis Reed, Grambling State University
Willis Reed is one of the most beloved New York Knicks ever. While at Grambling, Reed averaged 26 points and 21 rebounds per game. He led them to an NAIA crown and three SWAC championships. He was taken by the New York Knicks in the 2nd round of the 1964 NBA draft. He scored 46 points against the Los Angeles Lakers during his rookie season and averaged 19.5 points and 14.7 rebounds while being named NBA Rookie of the Year.
He was one of the only players who would go toe-to-toe with Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and give just as much as he got. Often, he gave much more. He’s a two-time NBA champion, two-time Finals MVP, NBA MVP (1970), seven-time NBA All-Star, five-time All-NBA selection and NBA All-Defense selection in 1970. He was fierce defensively, active on the boards and possessed a feathery soft shooting touch out to 18 feet. He is in the Basketball Hall of Fame and is a member of the NBA’s 50th Anniversary team.
1. SG Sam Jones, North Carolina Central University
They called Sam Jones “The Shooter” for a very good reason, he could scorch you if given even a sliver of daylight. Drafted out of North Carolina Central with the eighth overall pick in 1957, Jones went on to become a sniping, slashing scorer that gave opponents big time fits.
He led the Boston Celtics in scoring on three different occasions, 19.7 in 1962, 25.9 in 1965 and 23.5 in 1966 and had four consecutive seasons of averaging 20 points or more. He is a ten-time NBA Champion, five-time NBA All-Star, three-time All-NBA Second team.
Sam Jones is one of the greatest winners in NBA history and a deservedly ranked number one on our list. His bankshot was a thing of beauty.