North Carolina’s Junior College basketball history: Part 3 – Gaston College builds program quickly, successfully before dropping sport in 1972
North Carolina and the National Junior College Athletic Association Region X area that also includes schools from South Carolina and Virginia has a rich basketball history that dates to the 1920s. We’re doing a four-part series on that history.
Part 1: The early years from 1929 to the 1950s when Belmont Abbey was one of the powers. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolinas-junior-college-basketball-past-the-first-of-a-4-part-series-starts-with-belmont-abbeys-early-dominance/
Part 2: The 1960s when changes were coming fast and furious and Gardner-Webb emerged as a dominant program. Link: https://carolinassportshub.com/north-carolinas-junior-college-basketball-past-the-second-of-a-4-part-series-starts-with-gardner-webbs-1960-dominance-led-by-2-future-pros/
Part 3: The 1970s when Gaston College fielded successful teams and one of them nearly advanced to the national tournament.
Part 4: The all-time great coaches and players of Region X and the two recent national championship teams.
By Richard Walker
When Gaston College began its athletic program in 1965, it didn’t have a schedule of opponents or even a conference championship to pursue.
But before the school dropped its basketball program in 1972, it quickly became a power in the North Carolina Community College Conference and it advanced to the Region X championship three straight seasons.
Gaston College finished of those seasons one win shy of the National Junior College Athletic Association (NJCAA) national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Now that the school is set to restart its athletic programs later this year, including basketball, let’s look back at how Gaston College quickly became a junior college power in the area.
Nicknamed the Raiders (1964-65), Rebels (1965-66 to 1968-69) and Warriors (1969-70 to 1971-72), the school played only one game at the Holbrook gymnasium in its inaugural season of 1964-65 before playing 13 games in the 1965-66 season under head coaches Sid Varney and Jim Garrison, respectively.
Once Kentuckyian Pete Brooks was hired before the 1966-67 season began, the school’s fortunes took a quick turn for the better.
After losing nine of the first 14 games in school history, Brooks’ first team went 16-2 and had the school’s first two standout players – former Hunter Huss High standout Jim Turpin and former Highland High standout Leonard Hamilton. Both went on to become basketball coaches – Turpin at the Gaston County junior high and high school level and Hamilton at the collegiate level; Hamilton is currently in his 19th season as Florida State head coach.
Finishing with a 16-2 record in 1966-67, Brooks scheduled tougher competition in 1967-68.
But with Turpin and Hamilton back for their sophomore seasons, Gaston College finished 19-15 and advanced to the school’s first Region X tournament.
Among the Rebels losses were against Gardner-Webb (with 7-foot-2 eventual Basketball Hall of Fame center Artis Gilmore), Wake Forest’s freshman team (with eventual NBA players Charlie Davis and Gil McGregor) and North Carolina’s freshman team comprised of players like eventual East Gaston and Highland Tech principal Lee Dedmon who helped the Tar Heels win the 1969 ACC title and 1971 NIT championship.
In their season finale, Hamilton’s 23 points wasn’t enough in an 86-76 loss to Lees-McRae and the Lenoir Recreation Center in the Region X opening round.
Turpin finished as the school’s first 1,000-point scorer with 1,074 in his two seasons and Hamilton not far behind with 971 points; The duo also combined for 107 points – Hamilton had a school-record 54 and Turpin 53 – in a 150-87 win over Montreat Anderson at Gastonia’s Groves gymnasium in a Jan. 30 game.
The next season, the school had a new nickname (Warriors) and was a member of the North Carolina Community College Conference.
And led by Gastonia’s Larry Reid and Kentuckyians Charlie Hamilton and Beirut Wall, Gaston College finished third in their conference and 21-12 overall after losing to Spindale’s Isothermal Community College 101-84 in a tournament it hosted at Groves gymnasium.
The loss knocked Gaston College out of the Region X tournament but motivated the Warriors to win or share the league title in its final three seasons of competition.
With Charlie Hamilton (1,310) and Wall (1,185) joining Turpin as 1,000-point career scorers in the 1969-70 season, Gaston College scored 100 or more points in 20 of its 33 games and finished with a 29-4 record after falling 92-80 at Brevard in the Region X tournament.
They also had a freshman in 5-foot-9 guard Barry Faith of Culver City, Ky., who go on to become the school’s all-time leading scorer with 1,533 career points.
Faith averaged 23.5 and 23.8 points per game, respectively, in his two seasons and to the brink of national recognition.
Gaston College went 22-12 in the 1970-71 season with losses to powerful freshman teams that featured future NBA players North Carolina (Bobby Jones), N.C. State (Tommy Burleson) and South Carolina (Brian Winters) before winning its league regular season title.
But a semifinal tournament loss at the Kings Mountain Community Center meant the Warriors had to win a conference playoff game just to advance to the Region X tournament.
It meant Gaston College had to play six games in the last 11 days of the season, including a heartbreaking 85-81 loss at Ferrum, Va., in the Region X championship game. A victory would’ve advanced the Warriors into the NJCAA national tournament in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Faith fouled out with five minutes left after scoring 20 points in his final game.
Few knew at the time but the 1971-72 season would be the school’s last playing basketball game.
New coach Charlie Warren guided the Warriors to a 20-6 record and first-place 7-1 conference record.
Julian Miller, who would play at Belmont Abbey College the following year, was the top scorer and four of the losses came against the freshman teams of UNC Charlotte, South Carolina, Davidson and Clemson.
And a N.C. Community College Conference tournament semfinal loss to Surry Community College would keep the Warriors out of the Region X playoffs.
Three months later, as the May 22 school sports banquet at Gastonia’s Dixie Village cafeteria, school officials announced they were dropping basketball (and baseball) due to financial issues at the school.