5 HBCU Basketball Greats That Became Unforgettable NBA Icons

Top 5 HBCU basketball players of all time

Historically Black Colleges & Universities have given us a lot of great HBCU basketball players across the sports world. However, in basketball, things have differed a bit from time to time. There have been a ton of HBCU basketball players that have entered the NBA Draft, but many ended up becoming great players yet they were not initially assumed to be.

A great example of this is Robert Covington, who went to Tennessee State, a notable HBCU. Coming out for the NBA Draft, he had spent 4 years at the school and left with a degree in Exercise Science. He entered the NBA undrafted and landed initially with the Houston Rockets organization, as well as their G-League or D-League team as it was called then. He eventually landed with the Philadelphia 76ers and managed to put up around 14 points a game immediately.

He proved himself to be a reliable shooter, capable of knocking down 3-pointers with ease. Yet by 2017, Covington was now considered a terrific defender and was blocking shots and coming away with steals more often. In fact, he managed to become so good as a defender that he landed on the NBA All-Defensive First-Team in 2018. Yet Covington is just one success story of HBCU ballers succeeding in the NBA.

Top 5 HBCU Basketball Players of all-time






People did not originally believe in Ben Wallace when he came out of Virginia Union. He went undrafted in the 1996 NBA Draft, but eventually, he landed with the Washington Bullets. They transferred to the Wizards name shortly after and Wallace was a useful bench player until 1999 for them, Yet he knew he could be much more than that.

After spending a year with Orlando, he managed to sign with the Detroit Pistons in 2000 and remained there until 2006. While he was an undersized Center at 6 foot-9 inches, Ben was able to defend any big man that came up to him. This included some of the bigger Western Conference players like Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming.

He was such a good defender that throughout his time with Detroit, he was a feared defender inside. Ben was so amazing that he landed on the NBA All-Defensive First-Team 5 times and won the NBA Defensive Player of the Year award 4 times. This is an NBA record he shares with the great block master himself, Dikembe Mutombo.

He averaged 2 blocks a game or more with Detroit, even having 3 straight seasons of 3 blocks or more per game. Wallace also led the league in rebounds twice in consecutive seasons, 2003 & 2004. With the Pistons, he managed to make the NBA Finals twice, winning the NBA Championship in the 2004 season. He’s a future NBA Hall of Famer without a doubt after he barely missed the cut in 2019.

Most claim that Ben Wallace is the greatest undrafted player in the history of the NBA. This is not too hard to believe, due to his immense success. He’s surely one of the greatest HBCU ballers ever.




Charles Oakley is rarely appreciated for all he did while playing in the NBA. He also attended Virginia Union but unlike Wallace, Oakley was selected in an NBA Draft. In fact, he was taken with a top 10 pick and played right away. He initially began his journey with the Chicago Bulls before ending up in his most notable location, New York. There he played with the Knicks alongside Patrick Ewing.

Oakley was mostly known for being a ferocious defender who made people pee their pants before reaching him inside. However, he was actually drafted by Chicago to help protect Michael Jordan, a young player at the time who was dealing with some cheap shots from teams in the league. This was especially troubling from the Bad Boy Pistons. When Oakley came in, he could be a barrier to protect MJ and allow him to do more.

Charles could score relatively well but he never averaged more than 15 points a game during any regular season. Yet he did put up 20 points per game during the 1987 Playoff period with Chicago.

He averaged 10 rebounds per game or more from 1986 to 1995. His best year was in 1986 when he averaged around 13 rebounds a game. While Oakley did land on some great teams throughout the 1980s and 1990s, he sadly never won an NBA Championship. His 12,205 rebounds were around the Top 10 mark when he retired. However, this is still good for the 22nd-most in NBA History.


* 1964 2ND ROUND PICK AT #8



* 1970 NBA MVP


Willis Reed was taken in the second round in the 1964 NBA Draft. Keep in mind, of course, that there were not nearly as many teams back then as there are today. He was taken #8 overall in the second round, The investment the New York Knicks made into him paid off, as he spent his entire career with the team.

Taken from notable HBCU, Grambling State, it was uncertain what Willis could bring to the table in the 1960s. This was a time of extreme racial divide in the United States. He played throughout the Civil Rights era, at an all-black college in the state of Louisiana. Talk about extreme! However, Reed did not let his NBA opportunity pass him by.

When he landed in New York, he immediately became an asset and put up around 20 points per game in his rookie season. Barring the 1965-1966 season, Reed managed to average 20 points per game or more from 1965 to 1971! During this period, he became an NBA All-Star 7 years straight. The 1969-1970 season proved to be his best as he won the 1970 NBA MVP award and wrapped up that season with an NBA Championship.

The NBA Finals that year against the Los Angeles Lakers was a time when Reed truly made his mark on NBA history. He ended up with a torn muscle in Game 6 and was unlikely for Game 7. However, he shocked fans when he walked onto the court for the seventh and final game of the 1970 NBA Finals.

He was able to get the initial first few baskets before being pulled from the game. After the win, back in the locker room, Sportscaster Howard Cosell told Reed on national television: “You exemplify the very best that the human spirit can offer.” Sadly, he never truly could recover from his injuries.

The 1971-1972 season only saw Reed play 19 games. Reed did win another championship before calling it quits later. Reed then jumped into coaching and was eventually named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982.





Sam Jones was part of the infamous Boston Celtics teams that seemed to only know how to win NBA Championships from the 1950s into the 1960s.

Jones along with Bill Russell and the Celtics squad was unstoppable. Jones was part of 10 NBA Championship teams with Boston after coming out of the HBCU’s North Carolina Central. It took him a few years to acclimate to the NBA level, but after he was used to it, he was just as unstoppable as any other top player in the league.

From 1961 to 1968, Sam Jones averaged at least 18 points per game yet he had 6 seasons within that period where he put up 20 points per game. That only continued from the regular season into the playoffs. This allowed him to become a 5-time NBA All-Star. He ended his NBA career with 13,411 points, which was enough for some top marks at the time.

Jones landed in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1984. However, perhaps his biggest history-making moment came in 1969 while he was still playing. The state of North Carolina added him to their Sports Hall of Fame. This was at the tail-end of the Civil Rights era, still in a southern state. Sam was the very first African-American male or female, to be named to the state’s Hall of Fame.





Known as Earl “The Pearl” Monroe during his playing days, Earl is still the highest selected of HBCU ballers in an NBA Draft. He went #2 overall in the 1967 class, taken by the Baltimore Bullets. He played there until 1971 and then decided to play for the New York Knicks from 1971 to the end of his career in 1980.

His initial Baltimore days were amazing. Monroe put up 21 points per game or more in every season he played with the organization. Sadly, his last year there he only played 3 games before an injury caused him to miss time. He missed the entire regular season but came back in the playoffs. While not completely back to form, he showed signs of his previous abilities.

Yet he wanted out of Baltimore, which at the time was rumored to be due to several different reasons. From disliking the city to racial issues he dealt with there. He demanded a trade and finally ended up with the Knicks. Now playing alongside Walt Frazier, they were collectively known as the “Rolls Royce Backcourt.”

He did struggle to adjust after the trade but things worked out well for Monroe and the Knicks. He sadly struggled with nagging injuries throughout his career, but you’d never know it by his play. Monroe was good enough to help the Knicks make it to the NBA Finals a few times. Finally, the team won in 1973 to become NBA Champions.

The Winston-Salem State graduate was a 2-time All-American in college but his NBA career truly made him into a legend. Although, he was added to the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association Hall of Fame in 1977 to honor him for his college career.

However, he was also added to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1990, becoming one of the most deserving to ever be inducted after all he did. Since his NBA career has concluded, he has had roughly 50 surgeries. Proving the game can take a toll on the human body. The Pearl also proved that through hard work, you can achieve anything. You just have to keep fighting.


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