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Heroes of the Hardwood
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Heroes of the Hardwood

Just in time for March Madness, we’re spotlighting the 10 greatest basketball players in our area's history.

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1. Chris Paul: West Forsyth / Wake Forest (1999–2005)

CP3 might be the most recognizable player on this list since he is both the youngest and most visible in the NBA. In his ninth year in the league, Paul remains an elite player with the L.A. Clippers, despite a recent shoulder injury.

Born in Lewisville, Paul played two years of varsity ball at West Forsyth and made the McDonald’s All-American team as a senior. The apex of his prep career came in 2002 when he scored 61 points to honor his late grandfather, who was killed at age 61. Paul went on to star at Wake Forest, leading the Deacs to the NCAA tournament twice and the first No. 1 ranking (nationally) in school history. He was named a consensus All-American his sophomore year before declaring for the 2005 NBA draft. His jersey now hangs in the Joel Coliseum rafters.

2. Earl “The Pearl” Monroe: Winston-Salem State (1963–1967)

Earl Monroe had a litany of great nicknames: “The Pearl,” “Jesus,” even “Thomas Edison” since he invented so many moves. Needless to say, he had an unbelievable run at WSSU. He averaged more than 40 points per game his senior year, leading the Rams to a divisional college championship. He went on to have a long career in the pros and won a championship with the Knicks as part of “The Rolls Royce Backcourt” with Walt Frazier. The Washington Wizards retired his jersey in 2007, and the NBA named him one of the “50 greatest players in 50 years of the NBA.” Monroe said of himself in New York Magazine, “You know, I watch the games and even now I never see anyone who reminds me of me, the way I played.”

3. Cleo Hill: Winston-Salem State (1957–1961)

Many believe Cleo Hill—sometimes called the “Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan”—could have been an all-time great had he been born 20 years later. He led the Rams to back-to-back CIAA titles in 1960 and 1961, scoring nearly 2,500 points in his four-year career. He was drafted eighth overall in the 1961 NBA Draft, making him only the fifth African-American from a historically black college to be drafted in the first round. Supposed racism marred his only season in the NBA, when his coach quit after being ordered to limit Hill’s minutes. He bounced around semi-pro ball before becoming a coach in his native New Jersey. While he denies racism ever played a role in his NBA struggles, others would disagree. In fact, his story inspired the 2008 ESPN documentary “Black Magic,” which profiled basketball players during the Civil Rights era.

4. Dickie Hemric: Wake Forest (1951–1955)

Raised just outside of Winston-Salem in Yadkin County, Dickie Hemric was arguably the ACC's first legend. When Wake Forest helped found the ACC in 1954 (two years before coming to Winston-Salem), it was Hemric who played the role of pacesetter. He set records for points, rebounds, free-throw attempts, and free throws made—but no one expected records set in the first two seasons of the ACC to stand. They lasted. In fact, his ACC scoring record remained the standard until Duke’s J.J. Redick topped it in 2006.Hemric still owns the Division I collegiate record for free-throw attempts in a career. He also owns the ACC record for rebounds in a career, and no player has ever come within 250 rebounds of that. For 60 years, Hemric has been a Wake Forest and ACC legend. Every now and again, his name will come up when a record falls, because that’s what Hemric did: He set the standard for the greatest conference in basketball history.

5. Tim Duncan: Wake Forest (1993–1997)

Tim Duncan’s legacy of consistency defies logic. Now in his 17th NBA season, the 6-11 center is still averaging 15 points and 10 rebounds a game. In a four-year career at Wake Forest, Duncan could have been the first pick in any one of the 1995–1997 NBA drafts, but he remained at WFU to finish college. He won two ACC titles, improving his numbers and his game every year. He also scored over 2,000 points and grabbed over 1,500 rebounds, one of only 10 players to do that in the post-1973 era. Duncan has since carved out a hall-of-fame career with the San Antonio Spurs—a perenial contender—while becoming one of history’s most decorated big men with three championship rings. His jersey will hang from San Antonio’s rafters soon enough, but for now his steady hand still guides the ship.

6. Muggsy Bogues: Wake Forest (1983–1987)

Though diminutive, Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues loomed large over North Carolina basketball. His excellent vision, quick hands, and pesky defense made him a valuable commodity at Wake. In fact, the legendary Dean Smith once said, “If you don’t see Muggsy, hold the ball high in the air because he’s going to take it away from you.” He was picked by the Charlotte Hornets in the 1988 expansion draft, where he played 10 seasons and became a household name. His star power was only boosted by cameo appearances on “Saturday Night Live,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and the 1996 hit “Space Jam.” He is currently the Hornets’ career leader in minutes played (19,768), assists (5,557), and steals (1,067). But, of course, he’s most remembered for his height—or lack thereof. Standing only 5-3, Bogues remains the shortest player in NBA history.

7. Randolph Childress: Wake Forest (1991–1995)

Randolph Childress’ heroic performance in the 1995 ACC Tournament will forever be linked to Wake basketball, as he averaged 35 points and 7 assists per game en route to the title. He was also responsible for “the shot”—a running jumper as time expired in overtime—which propelled Wake over UNC for the ACC title. He also won ACC Male Athlete of the Year in 1995. While knee injuries derailed his NBA career, he’s now back at Wake as an assistant under Coach Jeff Bzdelik.

8. Josh Howard: Glenn / Wake Forest (1994–2003)

After an All-State career at Glenn High School, the versatile Howard went on to star at Wake for four years. He was named ACC Player of the Year in 2003 before being drafted 29th overall by the Dallas Mavericks. Known for his tenacious defense, Howard earned an NBA All-Star nod during the 2006-2007 season. While a series of ACL injuries would ultimately derail his NBA career, he continues to make his mark locally through the Josh Howard Foundation, which supports underprivileged families.                                           

9. Rodney Rogers: Wake Forest (1990–1993)

Originally from Durham, the 6-foot-7 Rogers was said to be one of the ACC’s most brutally athletic players, netting him the nickname “The Durham Bull.” He averaged over 19 points per game at Wake, winning ACC Player of the Year in 1993. He had a journeyman’s NBA career due to his rare strength and freakish athleticism. Tragically, a dirt bike crash in 2008 would leave him paralyzed from the shoulders down. He now leads the Rodney Rogers Foundation, which raises funds for those with spinal cord injuries.

10. Len Chappell: Wake Forest (1959–1962)

Named one of the 50 greatest ACC players of all time, the sharp-shooting Chappell earned ACC Player of the Year honors in 1961 and 1962. He also led the Deacs to their only Final Four appearance in school history (1962). Chappell owned the record for most points in the ACC Tournament until J.J. Redick took that record in 2006. He spent nine years in the NBA, earning an All-Star bid in the process.

COACH: Clarence “Big House” Gaines: Winston-Salem State (1946–1993)

Simply put, Clarence Gaines put Winston-Salem State basketball on the map. He retired after 47 years as the second-winningest coach in NCAA basketball history with 828 victories. His seminal moment came in 1967 when he led the Rams to the Division II championship. With that, Winston-Salem State became the first basketball team from a historically black college to win an NCAA title. Gaines passed away in 2005 due to complications suffered during a stroke. He is now institutionalized as a great basketball mind with the Clarence Gaines Award, established in 2011, given to the best Division II basketball coach. The home arena for the Rams—the C.E. Gaines Center—is also named in his honor.

BROADCASTER: Stephen A. Smith: Winston-Salem State (1987–1991)

Before becoming one of ESPN’s most polarizing voices, Stephen A. Smith was a scholarship basketball player at WSSU. (One can only assume he yelled the loudest when demanding the ball.) After a knee injury derailed his hoops career, he found a niche writing for the school newspaper and the Winston-Salem Journal. He went on to become a columnist with the Philadelphia Inquirer before landing at ESPN.

 

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Jack DeFares: Winston-Salem State (1954-1957)

Theodore “Ted” Blunt: Winston-Salem State (1962-1965)

Charlie Davis: Wake Forest (1968-1971)

Skip Brown: Wake Forest (1973-1977)

Hubert Davis: UNC (1988-1992) **Born in Winston-Salem**

Rusty LaRue: Wake Forest (1993-1996)

COACH Dave Odom: Wake Forest (1989-2001)

 

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