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Top Five CIAA Basketball Programs of All-Time

Black College Sports Review

Top Five CIAA Basketball Programs of All-Time

It’s black history month, and to celebrate, HBCU Gameday will be higlighting the milestones of student-athletes, coaches and teams from HBCUs. Check out our list of the top five programs in CIAA basketball history.

5. North Carolina A&T

Conference Championships: 5 (’58, ’59, ’62, ’64, ’67)
Runner Up: 2
Notable Players: Joe Howell, Al Attles, Cal Irvin (coach)

How does a program that hasn’t been in the CIAA in 45 years make the list? Despite its long absence, A&T still has more titles than every current CIAA school other than WSSU or Virginia Union. Cal Irvin and his crew managed to score five championships in a ten-year span despite having to contend with several high-scoring Norfolk State teams and Big House Gaines’ star-ladden Winston-Salem State teams.

4. North Carolina Central

Conference Tournament Titles: 2 (’46, ’50)
Runner Up: 4
Notable Names: Harold Hunter, Sam Jones, Willie Jennette, Levelle Moton, John McLendon

There are several programs with more CIAA Tournament Championships (Elizabeth City State, Johnson C. Smith) as North Carolina Central won during its two stints in the conference. Heck, rival A&T has three more CIAA Tournament Titles, and they left the conference for good in the early 1970s.  But NCCU finds its place on this list for its pre-tournament greatness under John McLendon and the 1989 national championship team as well as some of the league’s most decorated players, such as Harold Hunter and Sam Jones.

3. Norfolk State
Conference Tournament Titles: 12 (’65, ’68, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75, ’76, ’78, ’84, ’86, ’90, ’96)
Runner Up: 11
Notable Players: Hook Shot Grant, Pee Wee Kirkland, Bobby Dandridge, Ray Epps, Eugene Cunningham, Ralph Tally

While the rest of the basketball world may have never heard of Norfolk State before its 2012 upset of Missouri in the NCAA Tournament, the Spartans were feared long before Kyle O’Quinn and Company appeared on the scene. Norfolk State burned through the CIAA like a comet, appearing in 23 CIAA Championship Games from 1965 through 1996, winning a dozen of them. They jumped on the scene with Ernie Fears’ high-scoring teams of the 1960s, featuring future NBA All-Star Bobby Dandridge and a high-scoring cast of characters. They owned the 1970s, winning six championships in the decade, and helped Virginia dominate the conference from 1982 to 1996.

2.  Winston-Salem State

Conference Tournament Titles: 11 (’53, ’57, ’60, ’61, ’63, ’66, ’70, ’77, ’99, ‘2000, ’12)
Runner Up: 8
National Titles: 1 (’67)
Notable Names: Jake DeFares, Cleo Hill, Earl Monroe, Carlos Terry, Earl Williams, Larry Patterson, Reggie Gaines, Clarence Gaines (coach)

When Clarence “Big House” Gaines arrived at Winston-Salem in 1945, the small teacher’s college was far from a college basketball power. Twenty-two years later, it became the first black college to win an NCAA championship. During an era where only the top teams in the CIAA teams made the tournament, Gaines won eight championships, and led his team to the Division II and NAIA playoffs several times. He had a knack for finding talented guards, including the legendary Cleo Hill and fellow Hall of Famer Earl “The Pearl” Monroe.

1. Virginia Union

Conference Tournament Titles: 16 (’51, 52, ’54, ’55, ’79, ’80, ’85, ’87, ’89, ’92, ’93, ’94, ’98, ’04, ’05, ’06)
Runner Up: 8
National Titles: 3 (’80, ’92, ’05)
Notable Players: Wiley “Soupy” Campbell, Mike Davis, Charles Oakley, A.J. English, Terry Davis, Jamie Waller, Ben Wallace, Dave Robbins (coach)

As many great players and teams have come through this program, picking Virginia Union here was a no-brainer. VUU has the most conference championships and most national championships in conference history. Union was a power in the CIAA from the “Dream Team” era of the late 1930s through the mid-1950s. Then Dave Robbins showed up, and put the program at the forefront of small college basketball for nearly 30 years. Simply put, Virginia Union is the standard in the CIAA.



  1. Maria James

    February 12, 2016 at 5:53 pm

    Yessss!!! VUU is my alma mater – I was there from 1999-2003! Awesome years.

  2. Unknown

    February 12, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Go Panthers, I was the statistician for 4 years, I know!!!

  3. Allen Johnson

    June 10, 2016 at 1:26 am

    Virginia Union is the standard! Drops the mic and leaves the stage!!-Allen J

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