Charlie Scott ’ 70 rarely met his equal on the court. But his role as a pioneer in the game forced him to do some soul searching.
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March 12, 1969: A higher calling
By the time Roy Williams was a Carolina
freshman, the Heels had been to two Final
Scott had emerged as the first great African-American player at a
predominantly white university in the South. He was a U.S. Olympian
as a sophomore in 1968, choosing to participate in the Americans’ suc-
cessful quest for a gold medal despite a boycott by many prominent
black basketball players. He made All-American as a junior and would
repeat as a senior, when he also made academic All-American.
Assuming the mantle of leadership following the departure of
star Larry Miller ’ 68, Scott led the Tar Heels in scoring in 1968-69
and continued to play great defense. When the Heels trailed Duke
in the ACC Tournament finals, he poured in 40 points, an enduring record for the championship contest, scoring 28 in the second
half on 12 of 13 shooting.
“It was one of the finest halves I’ve ever seen any player put
together,” said Vic Bubas, Duke’s coach. “He just took the thing as
an individual challenge.”
Scott’s achievements occurred despite enduring repeated racial
taunts and the vilest of insults on the road in the ACC. Assistant
Coach Bill Guthridge made a point of entering and exiting basket-
ball courts at Scott’s side. He also physically confronted verbally
abusive spectators at South Carolina and N.C. State during the reg-
ular season. “I think you have to really salute Charles Scott for han-
dling things the way he did,” Guthridge says. “It was just tough
getting those taunts and hearing those words.”
Scott also grappled with his role as a prominent black athlete on
a campus with only 100 African-Americans among 15,000 students.
Unrest was rife at universities across the country, Carolina included,
and black students sought to enlist Scott and freshman teammate Bill
Chamberlain ’ 72 as spokesmen for their causes. The players largely
demurred, but their minimal involvement made headlines. Scott
issued a statement denying he had threatened to quit the team unless
the demands of the Black Student Movement were met.
“Charlie Scott is no trained seal,” wrote a sympathetic Mel Der-
rick in The Charlotte Observer. “Neither is he a wild-eyed black
racist preaching hate and revolt. He’s a sensitive 20-year-old with the
weight of the ages on his shoulders. He’s also a man in the middle.”
When all-conference voting was announced, it was apparent
Scott had engendered animosity among some of the ACC’s white
media voters. A valid argument could be made that the league’s
player of the year award was earned by South Carolina’s John
Roche, the top scorer on the conference’s most surprising team.
But Roche won by a decisive 56-39 margin, and Scott was entirely
absent from five ballots for the All-ACC squad. “It was transpar-
ently racist,” Dean Smith wrote in his book, A Coach’s Life.
So, as Scott consulted with Lotz on the eve of Carolina’s
NCAA opener against Duquesne at Maryland’s Cole Field House,
the player discussed boycotting the tournament as a means of
expressing his displeasure with the media. “I thought it was a slight
on me as a black man,” Scott says. “That was the first time I felt
what I did on the court didn’t matter.”
Not playing would force writers to confront the issue, his rea-
soning went. But Lotz convinced Scott to relent. “The biggest
thing he said,” Scott recalls of Lotz’s advice, “he understood how I
felt, he didn’t disagree with my opinion of what had happened, but
I would be hurting the team.”
Scott decided to play, helping the Heels advance to the Final
Four — including his heroic play and winning shot against Davidson
in the regional. No other ACC school before or since has finished in
first place, won the league tournament and reached the Final Four in
three consecutive seasons, as UNC did from 1967 through 1969.