The Chapel Hill News

June 24, 2001

Scott blazed honorable trail at UNC

Author: Anthony Jeffries; Staff Writer

Edition: Final
Page: B1

CHAPEL HILL -- Slim and trim at age 52, Charlie Scott looks as if he could still play in the National Basketball Association.

"I eat at Subway," said Scott, laughing.

But the former University of North Carolina All-American no longer picks up a basketball.

His involvement with the sport today amounts to working with Champion and other companies in sports marketing and watching his sons in youth-basketball leagues in Atlanta.

Scott and his family have resided there for 12 years.

Even though he last played in the NBA in 1980, Scott left an indelible imprint in basketball that is still felt in this era of three-point shots and early draft entrants.

All one has to do is watch a game and look at the number of African-American players.

When Scott earned a basketball scholarship at UNC in 1966, he became a pioneer for black athletes, even though the impact would not be seen until years later.

He was the first black to receive an athletic scholarship at Carolina, and was one of a handful of black athletes to sign at a Southern school.

Scott opened the doors for Phil Ford, Walter Davis, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, Jerry Stackhouse, Antawn Jamison, Vince Carter and other acclaimed Tar Heel stars.

"To look at the history of North Carolina, and all the players who have come out of there, it is very gratifying to know that I had an instrumental part in the black athlete in the ACC," Scott said. "Very few times do people get an opportunity in life to make an impact.

"I have a legacy that my kids can be proud of."

Judging from a guest appearance at the Blue Heaven Museum recently, Scott is still popular even though he has not worn a UNC jersey in more than 30 years.

Scott signed autographs and talked to fans who still remember when he scored 40 points in an ACC championship victory over Duke and hit the game-winning shot against Davidson to advance to the Final Four in 1969.

His list of accomplishments include being a two-time first-team All-American and three-time All-ACC selection during his three-year career from 1967-1970.

Scott averaged 22.1 points, including a league-high 27.1 points as a senior, during that period and helped lead the Tar Heels to two straight ACC championships and Final Four berths in 1968 and 1969.

He also captured a gold medal as a member of the United States team at the 1968 Olympics.

Scott played at Carolina during one of the most successful eras in program history. The Tar Heels won three straight ACC titles and appeared in three consecutive Final Fours from 1967-69 to set the platform for Dean Smith's remarkable coaching career.

Other UNC standouts during that three-year run were Rusty Clark, Larry Miller, Bob Lewis, Bill Bunting and Dick Grubar.

Scott left a legacy at UNC for his tremendous athletic skills and for breaking the color barrier. But as Scott admitted, being the first black scholarship athlete at UNC was "paved with a price."

"At that time, no matter how comfortable I felt with my teammates, they still had to deal with the fact that they never had been around black people, either," Scott said. "I still couldn't go anywhere with their friends because their friends were still brought up in a South that was very separate.

"There was a lot of loneliness on my part and a lot of times I questioned myself why I was here."

Scott adjusted because of the support of his teammates, alumni and Smith. He and Grubar became close friends and teammates Eddie Fogler, the former South Carolina coach, and Jim Delany helped him adjust.

Former UNC assistant John Lotz, who recently died, also eased Scott's transition.

Then there was Coach Smith.

"Coach Smith took me to a restaurant where they never had blacks eating there before," Scott said. "It was Coach Smith's way of doing everything. He did it not trying to prove a point, but he felt like it was one of the best restaurants, and he wanted me to go and eat with him.

"He believed racism should not be involved with anything."

Scott couldn't help but be anxious.

"I was apprehensive," Scott said, "but being the first black you are apprehensive about everything you were doing at that point and time. This was back in the 1960s, where Jim Crow was very strong.

"The comfort zone was in the players and the coaching staff and the reception from the alumni who I met that were very, very cordial to me.

"I just finished talking to another guy who told me of a young man named Claudius Claiborne who had gone to Duke at the same time," Scott said. "Claudius told him it was probably the worst mistake he ever made in his life. I can look at my career and say it was one of the greatest choices I've ever made in my life."

Scott came close to not attending UNC, though.

Former Maryland coach Lefty Driesell, now the Georgia State coach, first recruited Scott at Davidson College and almost had the New York native.

But Scott's high-school coach at Laurinburg (N.C.) Institute talked his star pupil into looking at other schools before signing.

Once Scott met Smith and his future teammates, he spurned Davidson for North Carolina.

"My high-school coach used to bring me to the games," Scott said. "Deep in his heart, I think he wanted me to go to the University of North Carolina. The more I came up, the more I became enthralled with the school.

"Coach Smith was important, but the biggest thing was when I went out with the players on the freshman team who would be the players I would play with (on the varsity team). I gained a friendship and a comfort zone with those guys, and I felt like I would have an opportunity where we would build a program.

"Duke was already in the top four," Scott said, "and Davidson was already there. At that time Carolina was not one of the top schools in the country. Great tradition had been here, and we would try to start it up again."

The difficult part was breaking the news to Driesell, who was the only reason Scott was interested in Davidson.

"To be honest, I didn't get a hold of him," Scott said. "I talked to his wife. It was a very hard thing to do, but my high-school coach told me my choice had to be selfish. If Lefty wasn't at Davidson, would I have been interested in the school? And the truth of the matter is no.

"I would have come to Carolina, and that is what I based my decision on. I see Lefty, who is a good friend, in Atlanta, and he makes it a point to tell me if I had come to his school, he might have been the Dean Smith of the South."

Driesell must have thought about the 1969 East Regional final when he made the statement.

Scott connected on 10 of 14 field- goal attempts in the second half, including a 20-footer with three seconds left to eliminate Driesell's team.

After Purdue ousted UNC in the NCAA semifinals, Scott went on to a professional career with five teams. He won an American Basketball Association rookie-of-the-year award and a NBA title with the Boston Celtics.

He was a three-time NBA All-Star selection and a two-time All-ABA team pick.

But around here, Scott is more remembered as the guy who set the standard in more ways than one.

"When blacks turned on their TV at that point and time, they only had one person to cheer for," Scott said. "So I had to really stand up for a lot of people.

"I was really grateful to hold a torch that they were able to associate themselves with."

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