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Tar Heel Olympians: Charlie Scott wins gold in ‘68

A UNC pioneer won gold with the US basketball team back in 1968.

University of North Carolina Tar Heels Photo by North Carolina/Collegiate Images via Getty Images

This summer, athletes from all over the world will compete in the Olympic games. (Hopefully. Please chill, COVID.) We already know that two a couple Tar Heels will be there on the US and other women’s soccer teams, and there’s sure to be others to officially make it by the games kick off.

In honor of the games, throughout the whole of the summer leading up to them, we’ll be digging into the history books to profile some Tar Heels of the past who competed at the Olympics.

Charlie Scott is a bona fide North Carolina Tar Heels legend. When Dean Smith recruited him to come to UNC, he became the first black scholarship athlete in school history. He is complete deserving of his status as a pioneer.

Beyond that, he could really play basketball.

After not playing varsity his freshman season as was the rule at the time, Scott made his UNC debut in the 1967-68 season. He would be named an All-ACC player after averaging 17.6 points and 6.0 rebounds. That would be the “worst” season he had in Chapel Hill. His next two years were even better, averaging 22.3 and 27.1 points respectively. He springboarded from there to a 12-year pro career in the ABA and NBA, where he won a NBA title in 1976.

However before all of his pro career back when he was still at UNC, his first season propelled him to become the second ever Tar Heel basketball player to win an Olympic medal.

Four years after Larry Brown won gold in the ‘64 Olympics, Scott was included on the US squad for the 1968 Mexico City games. Until the 1992 Dream Team, US Olympic basketball rosters were famously college players. Well, sort of.

In the 1960s, there were still amateur teams that played in a level above college, and several of the players on the 1968 team had already left the college ranks. Several played for the Akron Wingfoots, which was a team Brown was on when he was selected in ‘64. That meant that Scott was actually the second youngest player on the ‘68 roster.

Henry Iba’s US team actually went into the ‘68 tournament as underdogs. Between several big names opting against playing and a less than stellar tour of Europe before the tournament, the US looked vulnerable coming into the Olympics. That turned out not to be the case.

The US went a perfect 7-0 in their eight-team group. That included a 13-point win over a Yugoslavia team that people thought could contend with the US. The only truly close call came against Puerto Rico, as the US eventually won by five.

Scott and the US were in control for the entire game in the semifinal against Brazil, setting up what was expected to be a blockbuster Gold Medal Game against the Soviet Union. With the US’s aforementioned earlier struggles, the Soviets were considered perhaps the favorites for the gold.

Except that matchup never came to pass. Yugoslavia upset the Soviet Union in the other semifinal, setting up a rematch for the gold. The US again ended up winning fairly easily, sealing a seventh consecutive gold medal.

As for Scott, he was one of only six US players to appear in all nine games the team played in the tournament. He was the team’s fourth-leading scorer, averaging eight points per game, while shooting 51% from the floor. The gold medal, along with him being an all-American ensured that his name is in the rafters as an honored player.