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It’s time to retire Charlie Scott’s jersey

The newly elected Hall of Famer changed the course of Carolina Basketball in the 60’s.

Loyola v Michigan Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

It was fitting that when the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame announced over the weekend that Charlie Scott would join their ranks, Lefty Driesell would also be inducted. If history had gone the way Lefty wanted, Scott would have been the trailblazer for Davidson instead of UNC.

Unofficial UNC Basketball historian Art Chansky goes into great detail about the path that led Scott to Chapel Hill. The book, Game Changers, was released on the 50th anniversary of Scott’s commitment to UNC, and helps highlight a man who changed the course of Carolina basketball. It’s worth reading at least the excerpt that SI published in that link, because it took a lot of work to get him to Chapel Hill.

Charlie Scott was so important to UNC that he deserves to be given the ultimate honor: retirement in the rafters of the Smith Center.

Now, Scott’s number, 33, is already retired thanks to it being worn by Antawn Jamison. Jamison along with Jack Cobb, George Glammock, Lennie Rosenbluth, Phil Ford, James Worthy, Michael Jordan, and Tyler Hansbrough, got this honor the only way UNC currently allows it: being named National Player of the Year by one of six organizations. There’s no committee that decides to retire a number, no subjectivity from UNC at all. Scott does hang in the rafters as an honored jersey because of his All American status in 1970.

Scott, however, deserves more. This isn’t just about him being in the Hall of Fame, as both Larry Brown and Robert McAdoo are enshrined and are honored in the rafters, but not retired. If you want to have that argument it’s a worthy one to have, but this is about the fact that Charlie Scott played an outsized role in the history of Carolina Basketball. As the first African-American to play on the varsity at UNC, he not only helped solidify Dean Smith’s status as coach of the Tar Heels, he helps Carolina basketball enter the modern age of college basketball.

If you want to have a stats discussion about Scott’s importance, you start at his three years on the Varsity:

Charlie Scott’s Varsity Career

Year Games PPG RPG
Year Games PPG RPG
1967-68 32 17.6 6
1968-69 32 22.3 7.1
1969-70 27 27.1 8.6

Two season as a 20+ points per game scorer, in an era without a three point line, and he was a strong rebounder. He was the leader of Dean Smith’s 1969 Final Four team, as well as the team that made it to the NIT in 1970. Also consider that Scott was the last player under Dean Smith to average 27 points a game. Or 26...25...24...23..and yes, 22. It wasn’t until Hubert Davis in 1992 that someone even came close to putting up Scott’s numbers, and Davis had the benefit of the three point line. That is a better point production than Ford, Worthy, Jordan, Jamison, and Hansbrough ever put up. It’s also worth noting that as a shooting guard, he put up better rebounding numbers than many forwards he was competing against. He’s also a gold medal winner, joining the 1968 team in Mexico City.

Despite this, he couldn’t even get ACC Player of the year thanks to the latent racism that was still in the conference at the time. South Carolina’s John Roche took down the honor in both 1969 and 1970. This is despite the fact that Roche barely scored more than Scott in ‘69, and scored less in ‘70, plus didn’t rebound nearly as well as Scott. This lack of any ACC recognition likely helped keep him from any chance at winning a National Player of the Year, though playing at the same time as Lew Alcindor and Pete Maravich didn’t help, either. It can be argued it’s a fault of the era more than anything that he wasn’t able to be in any NPOY discussion, because his stats are just as good as those who had their numbers retired.

The case for Scott to get this ultimate honor, however, transcends the numbers.

There aren’t many people who get to be called trailblazers, but Scott certainly fits the bill. Chansky details how hard Smith and the team worked to make him feel comfortable during his visit, however it still took a leap of faith for Scott to commit to Carolina at a time with few African Americans on campus and the state still holding on to its old ways. Scott would face obstacles with class over and over, dealing with taunts in southern gyms that would be almost unimaginable today. He stood tall time and time again, representing both himself and the name on the chest with dignity. The one time he publicly vented about the injustice he faced was in 1969 when Roche won ACC POY over him. He almost sat out the NCAA Tournament, but instead lead the Tar Heels to the Final Four with a 32 point performance in the Regional Final.

He also gave a face for future basketball stars in the state to look up to. Phil Ford was eleven when Scott ascended to the varsity squad, and James Worthy was six. Both were North Carolina stars who ended up becoming fans and stayed in state to go to school at UNC. Would that have happened if Scott kept his initial commitment to Davidson? In fact, would Dean have been able to stay as the coach at Carolina had Scott spurned him for Davidson? The Tar Heels very likely don’t make the Final Four in ‘68 and ‘69 without him, and recruiting would be difficult at best.

You can make the argument that had Scott played in a different era with his skillset and numbers, he easily would have won a NPOY to get into that front row. He changed the face of Carolina basketball. He did it with class and dignity. He went on to represent Carolina basketball with a long and productive pro career, winning an NBA title and going into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Put simply: you cannot talk about Carolina Basketball without talking about Charlie Scott. That sounds like someone who should have his jersey retired to me.