Once upon a time, historically black college and universities were the place to look for the biggest, fastest and most skilled basketball players. Today that number has dwindled considerably due to the changed landscape of college basketball.
The societal and financial dynamics have severely changed, leading the very best high school players to largely forgo offers from these once great bastions of athletics to take up residency at schools competing in the major Division I conferences
But back in the day, it was totally different. We’ve compiled a list of the very best ballers ever to suit up for HBCU’s. In today’s Part I, we examine #10 through #6.
Honorable Mention: PG Darrell Armstrong, Fayetteville State University
Going undrafted out of the Fayetteville State, Armstrong, who hailed from Gastonia, North Carolina, would scratch, scrape and claw his way into the NBA. Armstrong was all energy, heart and competitive fire.
And if you werent careful, you might just get dunked on. Those attributes would make him a fan favorite with the Orlando Magic where he would win the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award and the Most Improved Player Award in the same season.
His best season was a 16-point, seven-assist and 5-rebound per game campaign with the Orlando Magic during the 2000-2001 season. Armstrong played in the NBA Finals with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006.
10. C/PF Rick Mahorn, Hampton University
At 6′ 10″ and weighing 240 pounds, Rick Mahorn, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, was perfectly suited for his duty as a rebounder, post defender and all-around intimidator for such teams as the Washington Bullets, Detroit Pistons and the Philadelphia 76ers.
He was known to throw his weight around, sneer at opponents and make even the most high-flying, rim-rocker regret coming to the hole. He was a three-time NAIA Champion and All-American before Hampton made the jump to Division I basketball.
He won an NBA title with the Detroit Pistons in 1989 before being selected by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the expansion draft and subsequently traded to the Sixers to form a bruising frontcourt with Charles Barkley.
Mahorn won two WNBA Champions as an assistant coach with the Detroit Shock. He is currently a color commentator in for the Detroit Pistons.
9. PF Charles Oakley, Virginia Union University
Charles Oakley, a native of Cleveland, Ohio, is one of the best bruisers in NBA history. When it came to crashing into a pile of players for a rebound, he left opponents battered and bewildered. He was drafted by the Chicago Bulls with the 9th overall pick out of Virginia Union and would eventually be traded after three seasons alongside Michael Jordan to become an enforcer for the New York Knicks.
His job description was as follows; foul hard, foul harder, grab rebounds and dominate on the boards, protect teammates and get into the heads of the other team.
Nobody did that quite like Charles Oakley. Initially just a rebounder and enforcer, Oakley would develop a consistent midrange jump shot in the latter half of his career. He would average a very respectable nine points and nine rebounds over the course of an astounding 19-year career.
He made the NBA All-Rookie First Team (1986), NBA All-Defensive First Team (1994), and All-Defensive Second Team (1998). His best statistical season was a 14.6 point and 11.9 rebound campaign with the Knicks.
8. SF/PF Anthony Mason, Tennessee State University
At 6-foot-7 and weighing 250 pounds, Mason, a native of Queens, New York, was a prototypical specimen of an NBA power forward. But his game was anything but typical.
Mason averaged 28 points, 10 rebounds and three assists per game as a senior at Tennessee State. His was an arduous journey toward stardom that saw him taken in the 3rd round of the NBA draft with the 53rd overall pick by the Portland Trailblazers, who cut him.
He would play overseas and in the CBA before finding a home with the New York Knicks. His versatility, for a man of his size and muscular build, as a ball-handler, facilitator, passer, rebounder, defender and scorer, was exceptional.
A favorite among Knicks fans at Madison Square Garden, “Mase In Your Face” was a NBA All-Star in 2001, All-NBA Third Team in 1997, NBA All-Defense Second Team the same year and NBA Sixth Man of the Year in 1995.
His best statistical year was in 1997, when he averaged 16 points, 11 rebounds and nearly six assists per game for the Charlotte Hornets.
Anthony Mason died of a massive heart attack on February 28, 2015. He was 48 years old.
7. PG Avery Johnson, Southern University
Johnson, a New Orleans native who attended high school sports powerhouse St. Augustine’s, led the NCAA in assists with 13 per game while a senior at Southern. He went undrafted and bounced around the league during his first few years before eventually finding a home with the San Antonio Spurs.
Grit, toughness and floor leaderships were earmarks of his game. A favorite moment of mine was when then NBA All-Star Damon Stoudemire downplayed Johnsons ability prior to a playoff matchup between the Spurs and the Portland Trailblazers. AJ would let his play do the talking and would not only lock Stoudemire up, but would score a critical basket down the stretch that sent Portland packing from the 1999 NBA playoffs. He held Damon to three points on 1-12 shooting in an embarrassing Game 3 blowout win.
Avery’s best statistical season was in the 1995-96 season when he averaged 13 points and nine assists per game. He was an integral part of a Spurs team that won an NBA Championship over the New York Knicks in 2000.
He was NBA Coach of the Year with the Dallas Mavericks in 2006 and is currently the head coach of the University of Alabama Mens Basketball team.
6. SG/SF Earl Lloyd, West Virginia State University
Earl Lloyds impact on the National Basketball Association cannot be understated. A native of Alexandria, Virginia, he was drafted out of West Virginia State University in the 9th round of the 1950 NBA Draft by the Washington Capitols.
Lloyd, often called the Jackie Robinson of the NBA, became the first African-American to play in the league. Nat Sweetwater Clifton was drafted by the New York Knocks just days later.
When the Capitols folded, Lloyd was drafted into the Army and fought in the Korean War before returning stateside to play for the Syracuse Nationals for six seasons, He played an additional two seasons with the Detroit Pistons before retiring in 1961.
Lloyd averaged eight points, six rebounds and one assist per game for his career, but was known primarily as a defensive specialist.
Elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2003 for contributions to the game, Lloyd was named Player of the Decade for the 1940s and to the NAIA Silver and Golden Anniversary Teams.
Lloyd died on February 28, 2015 at the age of 86.
Check out Part II of our list here, detailing the Top 5 to ever grace the hardwood, regardless of their school of origin.