55 years ago this season, Henry Logan became a pioneer at Western Carolina in the old Carolinas Conference
By Richard Walker
History is emphatic when it considers Western Carolina basketball star Henry Logan a pioneer.
Not only was Logan the first African-American to play college basketball in an previously all-white conference in the South, but his playing style foreshadowed some of the greatest players in the history of the sport he played.
And Logan’s impact continues to be felt.
Not only did every league in the South integrate their athletic teams within 10 years of Logan’s historic freshman year of 1964-65 but longtime basketball observers consider Logan’s high-jumping playing style the direct line to future in-state basketball greats like Boiling Springs’ David Thompson and Wilmington’s Michael Jordan.
“He was absolutely stunning as a player,” Dave Odom told The Gaston Gazette in 2004. “You know, people talk about Thompson and Jordan and all these great players. And they were all great players. But none were better than Henry Logan. None.”
Odom, the former Wake Forest’s head basketball coach who coached another all-time great in Tim Duncan, can be considered an expert on such matters since he was a guard at Conference Carolinas rival Guilford College who played against Logan. Later, as a high school and college basketball coach, Odom either saw or recruited the top players in North Carolina, among them Thompson of Crest High School and Jordan of Wilmington Laney; Thompson and Jordan are now Naismith Basketball Hall of Famers considered the best players in college and pro basketball, respectively.
Logan, a 6-foot, 180-pounder known for his extraordinary leaping ability, first gained fame playing football, basketball and baseball at Asheville’s old Stephens-Lee High School. A quarterback talented enough to garner a scholarship offer for that sport from UCLA, Logan led the Bears to the 1962 state championship of the North Carolina Athletic Conference (for African-American students) in 1962 and to a runner-up finish in 1964.
The 1962 title came in a year in which a Greensboro Dudley team feature future NBA All-Star Lew Hudson failed to qualify for the eight-team state tournament field at North Carolina A&T.
Gastonia’s Leonard Hamilton, now a championship-winning coach at Florida State, played against Logan in each sport at old Highland High School.
“It was obvious to me that he was a special talent when I saw him play,” Hamilton told The Gaston Gazette in 2004. “I saw him throw a no-hitter against us in baseball, score six touchdowns against us in football and score 38 points against us in basketball.”
But while Logan received scholarship offers from many national schools where the color line had already been broken, he and Stephens-Lee teammate Herbert Moore chose to stay closer to home and set history at Western Carolina.
At the time, Western Carolina was a member of what was then called the Carolinas Conference (now Conference Carolinas) and comprised of North Carolina schools Appalachian State, Atlantic Christian (now named Barton), Catawba, Elon, Guilford, High Point, Lenoir-Rhyne and Pfeiffer and South Carolina school Newberry.
Asheville Citizen-Times sports editor Bob Terrell, who is credited with helping Western Carolina coach Jim Gudger recruit Logan to his program, chronicled the historic start of Logan’s college basketball career with a Nov. 25, 1964 newspaper headline reading “Henry Logan makes college debut with WCC tonight” across the top of that day’s sports page.
The story called Logan “the fabled Negro basketball player from Asheville’s Stephens-Lee High School” and after he scored 27 points in his college debut in an 88-68 Catamounts’ win at Piedmont College in Demorest, Ga., Associated Press reports called Logan a “sensational Negro freshman.”
By season’s end, curiosity and Logan’s wondrous talents combined to make his first year a box office success.
In a Feb. 21, 1965 Asheville Citizen-Times column with the headline “Legend of Logan,” Terrell wrote that Logan had “proved forever to North Carolinians that pigmentation of the skin has nothing to do with athletic abilities or with spectator entertainment” and added that Gudger’s decision “to break the color barrier in previously all-white Tar Heel basketball must stand as the most momentous move in the state’s college athletic circles in 1964.”
Terrell also wrote that the capacity crowds that followed Western Carolina and Logan were impossible to ignore.
Said Terrell: “Elon’s 4,600-seat gymnasium is 10 years old. The only time it has ever been filled for a basketball game was when Western Carolina and Logan performed there. At Appalachian, High Point and Lenoir-Rhyne, the gates were closed and paying customers turned away when the Catamounts played there because there was no room remaining in the gym.”
Before Logan left Western Carolina after four seasons starring for the Catamounts as a four-time all-conference player and one time league player of the year, Logan held records that will almost certainly never be broken.
His 3,290 career points are more than 1,200 points ahead of second place. His last three single-season point totals of 1,049 in 1968, 816 in 1966 and 757 in 1967 are top three in school history. His 60-point game against Atlantic Christian on Jan. 7, 1967 is a school record and one of his nine career games of 45 or more points; Only one other player in Catamounts history has scored more than 45 in school history with 46.
And Logan’s nation-leading scoring average of 36.2 in 1968 – and his averages of 30.3 and 29.1 in 1967 and 1966, respectively – are top three in school history.
On Dec. 7, 1967, Logan scored 24 points for the Catamounts in a 77-73 Holiday tournament victory over Belmont Abbey at Skyland’s T.C. Roberson High School.
Drafted by both the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics and the old American Basketball Association’s Oakland Oaks in 1968, Logan chose to sign a three-year, $150,000 contract with the Oak that was considered “one of the most lucrative first-year contracts in the history of professional basketball” by newspaper reports of the day.
Oaks coach Bruce Hale, who would pair Logan with Basketball Hall of Famer Rick Barry on his team that season, said this of Logan after the signing: “We consider him (Logan) the best college guard in America today. Henry and Rick Barry will be one of the top combinations in professional basketball.”
Logan averaged 12.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.4 assists as a rookie in the 1968-69 season and added 13.6 points, 2.5 rebounds and 2.1 assists per game as the Oaks won the ABA title that season. But his professional career would last only 32 more regular season and one more playoff game due to a series of knee surgeries.
A member of Western Carolina’s inaugural Sports Hall of Fame class of 1990, Logan also was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 2000 and his No. 10 jersey was retired by Western Carolina in 2002.