If the Garden was Eden, Earl Monroe in the CIAA was heaven
by Lut Williams
Anyone who saw Earl “The Pearl“ Monroe play in the NBA, never really saw him play.THE PEARL: Earl Monroe earned nicknames like “Black Jesus,“ “Black Magic,“ and “The Truth“ during his career at Winston-Salem State.
To do that, you had to see him at Winston-Salem State College (now Winston- Salem State University) in the 1966-67 season.
As much as he was a marvel in the NBA, he was more than that at WSSU.
Just as they say the only person that could hold Michael Jordan to 16 points (per game) was his college coach – North Carolina‘s Dean Smith – for all practical purposes, that is what you could say in the reverse about Earl Monroe.
Only the NBA could hold “The Pearl“ to 24 points per game, his average in 1967 when he won the NBA Rookie of the Year award with the Baltimore Bullets, or 18.8 points per game, his NBA career average.
At Winston-Salem State, he would get held to 34.
That‘s about what he was held to when the Rams lost in the CIAA Tournament semifinals in 1967 to rival North Carolina A&T. A&T put two players on him, George Mack and Carl Hubbard. One played in front of him and one behind him. They didn‘t play zone, they just had two people play Monroe. Besides a loss to High Point to open the season, the 105-82 decision to A&T was the only game Monroe and the 31-2 Rams lost that year.
Under legendary head coach Clarence “Big House“ Gaines and with Monroe as the unquestioned leader, WSSC became the first black college team to win an NCAA championship when they won the Small College Division title, 77-74 over Southwest Missouri State.
Monroe averaged an unbelievable 41.5 points per game that year, numbers hardly ever heard of before or since in college basketball. It was unbelievable until you saw him.
That was the case for the national media who continually downplayed Monroe‘s talent and that of the Rams, continually ranking them below others in the nation until they witnessed them firsthand. Once you saw him however, you were a believer. He‘d drop 40, almost effortlessy, and you‘d believe.
He was relentlessly smooth as silk.
During the national tournament, Monroe put up 49 on #6 Akron in a secondround win. He scored pedestrian totals of 34 in a first-round win (over Baldwin-Wallace), 29 in the quarterfinals (vs. Long Island) and 23 in the semis (over #2 Kentucky Wesleyan).
In the championship game, before a national TV audience, Monroe fhrew in 40, with all the flash and panache in his repertoire. Behind-the-back and between-the-legs dribbles, no-look passes, long-range as well as contested jumpers over taller defenders, he showed it all - and they all believed.
He had so many moves – hesitations, head fakes, shot fakes, spins and reverse spins, hang-in-the-air double-clutches, pull-back jumpers – that you were in awe whenever he had the ball. And the points kept coming.
But Monroe wasn‘t just a scorer. He was a player, as adept at passing the ball and setting up his teammates as he was at dazzling you with his scoring. And he wasn‘t some one-man team as some have asserted. Gaines had other players like Eugene Smiley, the other guard if you can call Monroe a guard, burly 6-7 forward William “Bill“ English and 6-8 center James Reid on the team. But make no mistake, Monroe was the orchestrator.
Admiring 41.5 points per game from a distance is highly questionable. Seeing it in person makes it very real.
Being from Danville, Va., I was relegated to watching Monroe only during the CIAA Tournament or the one time my father ventured down Route 29 to Greensboro, N.C. to catch Earl and the Rams play in the regular season against North Carolina A&T.
Other than that, it was only through word-of-mouth or through reading the box scores of the Rams games, when I could find them, that he and the Rams could be followed.
But I saw enough of him in the Tournament to know the phenom that he was. Those lucky enough to be at Winston-Salem State or on the CIAA circuit were the truly fortunate ones.
When you did see him is when all the nicknames started to make sense.
“The Pearl“ was certainly apropos, perhaps the best nickname in all of sport. But “Black Jesus,“ “Black Magic“ and “The Truth“ are nicknames you come to when you‘ve run out of ways to describe somebody.
And as thrilling as the CI-double A was, and it was indeed thrilling, Monroe brought it to another level. What you were witnessing was a once-in-a-lifetime occurence. There‘s been nobody like him since.
My brother Jerry (eight years older) has always said that another Winston- Salem State great, Cleo Hill, was the greatest player he‘d ever seen (other than Oscar Robertson). And when you look as his numbers – 23.5 ppg., 24.5 ppg., 27.7 ppg. and 26.7 over his four-year career – its easy to see why. Hill, those who saw him say, could shoot hook shots with either hand, had Michael Jordan ups, and was virtually unstoppable.
Monroe was 6-3 or so and probably never dunked in his life. What he did didn‘t require much jumping ability, only a flair for the dramatic and the acrobatics of a virutoso.
The NBA saw it and believed, as did the Baltimore Bullets who made him the second pick in the first round of the NBA Draft behind Div. I Player of the Year, Jimmy Walker of Providence. But Monroe was second to none. He weaved and twirled his way to an outstanding 12-year NBA career including an eight-year stint with the New York Knicks.
I understand he‘s one of the players featured in an upcoming ESPN 30 for 30 documentary, When The Garden Was Eden. If the New York Knicks‘ NBA championship teams made Madison Square Garden Eden, Monroe made the CIAA heaven.
Albany is new #1 in SIAC East; Tuskegee first in west
ATLANTA, Ga- James “Iron Mike” White’s blue and gold elevens of Albany State University left Atlanta late Saturday with more than playing homecoming spoilers to Morehouse with a 31-14 victory or besting the Marooners 27 of the 34 years they’ve been playing. They also took the 180 mile bus trip back to Dougherty County the number one team in the SIAC’s eastern division. White’s response to all that when approached by INSIDE just outside the visiting team’s locker room at Morehouse’s Bertram T Harvey Stadium? “Well,” smiled the dean of SIAC head coaches. “We still got to play them all and we got Clark-AU next week.”
Last Saturday before a crowd of 11,234 (an understatement, especially if the number of people outside Harvey Stadium are also counted which would easily double the number of fans actually on the campus) ASU took advantage of too many Morehouse turnovers to take a 27-7 lead in the series that started in 1980.Morehouse's Homecoming CrowdWhite
Unfortunately, the huge crowd and all the frolicking that came with it was hardly reflected on the gridiron. The Marooners couldn’t seem to find consistent offense and wound up penetrating into Albany State’s red zone only twice and converting once. Meanwhile, ASU penetrated Morehouse’s red zone 10 times and scored five times as a result. “I thought we had a slow start but we got it going in the second quarter,” White said to INSIDE. “I thought defensively we played good but there were some breakdowns which allowed Morehouse to complete some long passes on us. Overall, though, we did pretty well.”
Morehouse game highlights were few and far between. One bright spot that was missed by many fans who had turned their attention away from the game in the second half to a tumbling exhibition by the cheerleaders along the sidelines was a possible record- setting 77 yard punt by junior Temitayo Agoro in the fourth period (74 yards of it was in the air). The Tigers did find a sliver of offense late in the fourth which allowed them to score once more before the game ended. Sophomore Justin Tarver had a good outing, throwing for 173 yards and two touchdowns. ASU’s senior QB Frank Rivers led the Ram offense with 240 passing yards and one passing and one rushing score. The loss forces Morehouse to lose ground in the race for the eastern division crown of the SIAC. They have now dropped to third behind Albany State and Fort Valley. INSIDE attempted to get comment from Morehouse head coach Rich Freeman . An assistant told us he was in the training room and would join us in a few minutes. He never came out. “I think he’s angry, “said INSIDE photog Patsy Collier-Lamar. “ Can you blame him?”
At the same time on the same day and just a few blocks north of Morehouse’s stadium, Clark-AU couldn’t overcome a 20-3 halftime lead by Benedict and wound up losing 20-10. The Panthers did have one opportunity to score again late in the fourth period. With a 1st and goal at the Benedict one, the Panthers fumbled. Benedict recovered and then ran out the remaining 2:53 of the final quarter. CAU running back Montavious Taylor, a product from Atlanta’s GW Carver high shool, had his third 100-plus yard rushing game and accounted for the Panther’s lone touchdown.
ELSEWHERE IN THE CONFERENCE: What was thought by me and everybody else to be a major showdown in the SIAC’s western division turned out to be a dud.. Tuskegee had a big first half, led Stillman 42-13 and wound up stomping them 61-19. They also claimed first place in the SIAC west. ‘Skegee was led by quarterback Kevin Lacey’s 188 yard passing and 2 touchdown performance and the three touchdowns of running back Hoderick Rowe…….Miles defeated Kentucky State 19-13. The Bears defense sacked KSU quarterback Adam Robinson five times. They took a 19-0 halftime lead at the break and never gave it up …….Paine finally broke a six game losing streak and won their first football homecoming since 1963, 38-14 over Edward Waters. EWC led 14-7 at the half but the Lions had a big 24 point fourth quarter which handed them the lead…..Fort Valley used their defense , led by senior Levon Furr’s 12 tackles and junior Stephon Harper’s 11 to defeat visiting Limestone College of South Carolina 24-19….
XTRA POINTS: Morehouse’s homecoming last weekend was bittersweet to many who took time from all the fun to pay homage to former grad and great friend Gary BusseyBussey. Three years ago, Bussey left homecoming and went to his lady friend’s home in Clayton County where he was stabbed to death by her son, identified as Chinua Plez. Over the weekend, a judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole. Police said robbery was the motive. A TV news account also suggested that Plez had help robbing Bussey and may have further questions for his mother……Visit Paine College’s web site www.paine.edu and their football media guide. You will read and see some historic pictures of Paine’s football program prior to 1963 when football was dropped. One shows fans seemingly tearing down the goal posts after beating Livingstone 8-6 in 1962 for their first win in nine years. Forty nine years later, football returned to the Augusta Georgia campus and last week, the team won their first game, defeating Edward Waters. All they need now is one more win to break their 1962 record. GO LIONS!!!!!!
THIS WEEK’S GAMES AND PICKS
Tuskegee over Kentucky State (Tuskegee homecoming)
Teams with new coaches making the most noise; Stat stuffers setting the pace on offense and defense
by Lut Williams Just past the midway point of the 2014 black college football season, here are some of the midseason awards.
MOST SURPRISING TEAM - Grambling State and new coach Broderick Fobbs. Its quite ironic that the legendary Grambling program under the direction of first-year head coach Broderick Fobbs is the unquestioned winner of this award. The Tigers are 4-3 overall, 4-0 in the SWAC, the only undefeated team in the league and winners of four straight after losing its first three. They have played two teams ranked No. 1 in the BCSP Top Ten, Bethune-Cookman (a 36-23 loss after leading in the fourth quarter) and Alcorn State (a 28-21 win last week). They are up to No. 3 in the latest BCSP Top Ten.
But there‘s a fitting story here.
Grambling entered the 2014 football season as the only SWAC West Division program not under NCAA sanctions for poor Academic Progress Rates (APR). The other teams in the division – Texas Southern, Southern, Arkansas-Pine Bluff and Prairie View A&M – are all barred from NCAA postseason play and other team activities because of the APR issues.
Under ordinary circumstances, the G-Men would have been declared the division champs and earned a spot in the leagues championship game this December before the season started. But there‘s nothing ordinary about the SWAC.
The Ivy League and the SWAC are the only Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conferences that don‘t participate in NCAA postseason play. So that NCAA sanction meant little. And whatever importance it had was virtually wiped out last basketball season when the SWAC decided to allow an APR-saddled Southern program to participate in the league‘s postseason tournament though, even if it won the tournament, it would not have been allowed to advance to the NCAA Big Dance.
Ditto for this year‘s football championship. Despite the sanctions, all four teams are eligible for the SWAC title. But that was hardly Grambling‘s main problem. The legendary program had sunk to its lowest point in history with administrative and coaching differences that saw the G-Men go through three head coaches and forfeit a game because of a player revolt last season and win just two of its last 21 games includuing just one of 17 SWAC games over the past two seasons.
Everyone (including me) and particularly the SWAC coaches had the Tigers finishing at the bottom of the West Division standings, garnering less votes than any other league team. The G-Men had no players (zero) on the first or second team preseason all-SWAC team.
The 40-year old Fobbs, a Grambling product, says he‘s following the lead of his mentor, legendary coach Eddie Robinson, who coached Fobbs and his father, Lee Fobbs, the former head coach at North Carolina A&T who now is the school‘s director of athletic operations.
“Everything that we do comes from Coach Robinson,“ said Fobbs. “Everything that comes out of my mouth or quotes deal with Coach Robinson and the way we go about doing things is the way he went about doing them. Yes, its a new age way of doing things and coaching the game but there‘s some basic things that he stood for that I won‘t get away from.“ Well, Fobbs‘s interviews are peppered with quips like ‘playing with juice‘, or ‘scratch where it itches‘ that may have originated with Robinson. Whatever it is, it‘s working so far.
OTHER SURPRISING TEAMS (What do the top three below and Fobbs have in common?) – North Carolina Central - (3-3, 2-0 MEAC) Under new head coach Jerry Mack - Eagles are tied for the lead in MEAC. – Morgan State - (3-3, 2-1 MEAC) Under new head coach Lee Hull - The Bears have lost three games by a total of seven points. – Virginia Union - (5-1, 3-0 CIAA N) Under new head coach Mark James - The Panthers sit atop the CIAA North. – Texas Southern - (5-1, 3-1 SWAC W) Under Darrell Asberrry - Tigers were the last team in the SWAC to lose.
MOST DISAPPOINTING TEAM - Tennessee State Coming off a second-place Ohio Valley Conference finish and first FCS playoff berth since 1999, the Tigers under Rod Reed, who finished on top of the final Black College Sports Page ranking last year, were expected to challenge for the conference title and another postseason spot. Instead, the Tigers are 4-3 overall, tied for fifth in the OVC at just 1-2 and fell out of the FCS Top 25 this week for the first time this season. They have lost back-to-back seven-point OVC games to Southeast Missouri (28-21) and Jacksonville State (27-20) after losing to Alabama State (27-21) early in the season. And they still have games left with Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky, teams ahead of them in the standings, and with Murray State, one of two teams tied with them at 1-2.
OTHER DISAPPOINTING TEAMS – J. C. Smith - (1-5, 0-3 CIAA S) Under Steven Aycock - The Golden Bulls have scored four TDs in six games and only 39 total points (6.5 ppg.). They are giving up 33.2 ppg. – Howard (1-6, 0-4 MEAC) Under Gary Harrell - With the return of Harrell to the sidelines and with senior QB Greg McGhee, the MEAC offensive player of the year last season, at the controls, the Bison were supposed to challenge for MEAC honors. So far, they have yet to win a conference game.
BEST PLAYER - Jalen Hendricks, Jr., WR, Livingstone The 6-2, 205 (Nashville, NC) wide receiver for Livingstone leads black colleges in every receiving category and is among the top six in the nation (Div. II) in receptions per game (6th, 8.3), receiving yards per game (4th, 131.8 ypg.) receiving yards (4th, 791 yds.) and receiving TDs (2nd, 10). Hendricks was a 3-sport athlete at Nash Central HS, where he played in the same conference as Todd Gurley and would have been the offensive player of the year there if not for the now all-American RB from Georgia.
OTHER TOP PLAYERS Herb Walker, Jr., RB, Morgan State - The top black college rusher is third in the nation (FCS) in rushing yards per game (152.5 ypg.), 4th in rushing yards (915 yards), tied for 13th in rushing TDs (8) and 7th in rushing yards per carry (7.3 ypc.). After rushing for 9 yards in the Bears opening game, Walker has five straight games of 100+ rushing yards including two over 200 yards (271, 180, 141, 111 and 203). Recently joined Cyrus on Walter Payton Award (Best FCS Offensive Player) Watch List. Malcolm Cyrus, Sr., RB, Alabama State - Cyrus is just behind Walker in rushing yards (912), rushing yards per carry (17th, 6.29) and rushing yards per game (130.3 ypg.). Christopher Robinson, Sr., DE, Morgan State - Robinson leads all black college performers and the FCS in sacks with 11 total in six games. Tarik Cohen, So., N. C. A&T - Cohen is ninth in rushing yards (767), tied with Walker with 8 rushing TDs but is ahead of him averaging 7.3 yards per carry (5th). His 127.8 rushing yards per game average is 10th nationally in the FCS.
HOLMES COOKING Also keep your eye on the situation at Florida A&M where second-year head coach Earl “The Hitman“ Holmes is reportedly on the hotseat.
The once-mighty Rattlers are winless at 0-5 headed into Saturday‘s home date against also-winless Savannah State (0-5). It‘s the first time a Rattler team and head coach have begun the season 0-5 in school history. And, under Holmes, the Rattlers have lost seven straight home games. Ratter fans started chirping on social media about the need for a coaching change after a 48-3 drubbing at the hands of Coastal Carolina on Sept. 20. And that chatter grew louder with a 27-7 loss to Tennessee State a week later and even louder after last week‘s 24-9 loss to Morgan State, its first in conference play. Losing to Savannah State, the conference doormat at 1-23 since becoming a regular MEAC member in 2011, would likely make the noise unbearable.