Roots of UNC-Asheville basketball? Started with different name and no on-campus gymnasium and later a former Hunter Huss High coach
By Richard Walker
Before UNC-Asheville became one of the top basketball programs in the Big South Conference, the Bulldogs struggled to get their footing in the old Western Carolinas Junior College Conference when the school had a different name and didn’t even have its own gymnasium.
A school that traces it roots to 1927 when it was called Buncombe Junior College, it was renamed Biltmore College in 1930, Asheville-Biltmore College in 1936 and, finally, UNC-Asheville for the 1969-70 school year.
An original member of the North Carolina Athletic Conference of Junior Colleges with Boiling Springs (now Gardner-Webb), Campbell, Lees-McRae, Mars Hill, Presbyterian of Maxton (now part of St. Andrews), Rutherford College (later combined with Weaver to form Brevard), Weaver and Wingate following a meeting of those schools on May 2, 1931, Asheville-Biltmore would begin competition for the Western Carolinas Junior College Conference in the 1946-47 basketball season.
The Bulldogs, affectionately known by some as “A-B Tech,” did so while holding practices at Millard Junior High with a football coach (Herb Coman) as its first-year, one-year head coach.
Members of Asheville-Biltmore’s first WCJCC team included Frank Bennett, Ralph Bennett, Bill Dalton, Clifton Dozier, Phillip Gaillard, Pete Grant, Wayne Hensley, Frank Jones, Frank Israel, Al Parrymore, Arnold Phillips, Paul Reynolds, Jim Sisk, Dan Warthen, Garland Wilde and Al Wonige.
The Bulldogs later would have Floyd Woody (1948-52), Max Spurlin (1953-54), Frank Maennle (1955), Ernie Jernigan (1956-57), Red Stevens (1958-60), Laney Yelverton (1961-62) and Bob Hartman (1963-64) as its junior college head basketball coaches.
Coman and Hartman were also Asheville-Biltmore athletic directors, with Hartman leading the school into the senior college ranks in 1964; In 2003, Coman and Hartman were members of UNC-Asheville’s inaugural 2003 Sports Hall of Fame induction class.
Hartman, who led the Bulldogs to a 223-209 overall in his 17 years guiding the Bulldogs, had another important chore as he was coach when the school’s first on-campus gymnasium opened in the fall of 1963.
Hartman also coached a player who would set school single-game, single-season and scoring average records that stand to this day.
Before opening that gymnasium, the school had played “home” games at Millard and Hall Fletcher junior highs and Asheville Catholic high school.
Unlike the Big South power that UNC-Asheville has become with seven regular season titles, five tournament titles, four NCAA tournament appearances and two other national college tournaments since 1989, Bulldogs’ junior college teams struggled mightily on the hardwood.
Asheville-Biltmore had only six winning records in its 18 seasons in the WCJCC and never won a regular season or tournament title.
The Bulldogs’ best seasons came in 1950 (16-8 overall and 6-1 in the league), 1952 (17-5 and 7-2) and 1964 (17-11 and 9-5).
The closest the Bulldogs came to titles were back-to-back years of 1952 and 1953 when they were beaten in WCJCC tournament championship games each year by Lees-McRae at the Spindale House. In the 1952 title game, the Bobcats beat Asheville-Biltmore 85-63 with Vernon Mull leading the Bulldogs with 19 points. In 1953, Lees-McRae won more comfortably, 78-53, with Bobby Parker’s 14 points leading the Bulldogs.
Asheville-Biltmore did have all-conference players like Jack Brinkley, John Laughter and Jimmy Baldwin before a former University of Florida recruit from Apopka, Fla., came north and set school records in the school’s final season of junior college basketball.
Dan Goolsby, a 6-foot-1 guard, wasn’t even considered a sure starter in a preseason preview on the team in The Asheville Citizen-Times. But after torching defending WCJCC tournament champion Gardner-Webb for 39 points in an early-season win, Goolsby scored and scored and scored – and scored some more – for the Bulldogs in that 1963-64 season.
Goolsby finished the year with averaging 27.2 points with 679 overall points and a season-high 48 points in an 88-81 WCJCC tournament consolation victory over Anderson. (The school only recognizes its senior college records, though Goolsby’s totals surpass record-holders in each of those statistical categories).
Goolsby would finish his career as the scoring leader – with averages of 17.1 and 15.0 – the next two seasons at NCAA Division I Furman of the Southern Conference.
Goolsby’s high-scoring play helped Hartman and the Bulldogs celebrated that season by opening their new $500,000 gymnasium with late October practice drills and officially in a 70-58 loss to Tusculum on Dec. 5, 1963. That facility was renamed the Justice Center in 1973.
That facility was home to NAIA District 6 champions that advanced to the NAIA national tournament Kansas City in 1969 and 1971 and a pair of NAIA District 26 runner-up teams in 1983 and 1984. Hartman coached the first two teams before his replacement, Jerry Green, guided the last two.
Green, a Hartman assistant for three years, became head coach in the 1979-80 season and went 150-108 in nine years. Green left UNC-A to join current University of North Carolina head coach Roy Williams’ coaching staff at Kansas. Williams, a former T.C. Roberson basketball and baseball standout, had known Green for years. And Green later was head coach at Oregon and Tennessee.