A Davidson Basketball Team First Stunned Alabama 60 Years Ago
Last week’s amazing win by the Davidson basketball team over nationally ranked Alabama brought back memories of the first time Davidson played Alabama in basketball. I thought there would be lots of comparisons of the recent wins with the Wildcats’ two victories over Alabama during the 1961-62 season when I was on the team.
The problem is that few people alive today remember those victories 60 years ago.
But those wins were even more amazing than the recent victory.
Back then, in 1961, Coach Lefty Driesell was off to a terrible start during his second year on the job. His time at Davidson had begun with a win over nationally ranked Wake Forest. He then quickly recruited a world-class set of players, including Fred Hetzel, Barry Teague, and Don Davidson who would take the Cats into national prominence in 1962-63. But those great players were freshmen in 1961-62 when they could not play on the varsity.
Even though Bill Jarman and Terry Holland, who would be stars on the next year’s team, were playing, the team lost its first six games, including a blowout in Cameron Indoor Stadium in which Duke scored 117 points and broke a scoring record.
After the Duke loss, Coach Driesell pretty much gave up on the varsity and resolved to concentrate on the freshman stars and the few varsity players like Holland and Jarman who would be playing together the next year. He cut the varsity to eight players.
During the Christmas holidays we continued our losing streak with a loss to Carson-Newman in the Oglethorpe Invitational in Atlanta. We came back to beat Mississippi College in the consolation.
Then we drove to Florence, Alabama, to play the University of Alabama. Florence was the home of fellow Davidsonian, Mims Rogers. He wasn’t on the team but dressed out and sat on the bench to fill one of the places Lefty cut after the Duke debacle.
Somehow we beat the University of Alabama 68-63. I don’t remember any of the specifics of the game except that Lefty got us to switch back and forth from zone to man-to-man in an attempt to confuse the Alabama team.
Maybe that was what worked for us. In any event, we won.
Folks in Davidson could not believe it.
I got back there, just in time for the church’s annual Christmas party held in Chambers Building’s basement. I remember Mrs. Abernethy asking or telling me, “That was Alabama College that you all beat, wasn’t it?”
In January we beat Alabama again in Davidson. These wins were the beginning of a 12-game winning streak that included a win over Press Maravich’s Clemson and Belmont Abbey. Our streak broke the 8-game winning streak record set by former Secretary of State Dean Rusk’s team in the 1930s.
Our great achievement has been eclipsed many times over by the later successes of Driesell’s and Coach Holland’s teams and the magnificent achievements of the Steph Curry-Bob McKillop era.
But that first win over Alabama will always be a treasured memory for me.
[Editor’s note: I watched the most recent Davidson-Alabama basketball game on my computer. My curiosity led me to an internet search to find out if this was the first meeting between the two teams. I learned that it was actually the 5th. Much to my surprise, I also learned that the most recent win put the series record at 4-1. . .with the Wildcats with those four wins. One sports website let me know that the last time the Wildcats one was before I was born – December 28, 1964. The ‘Cats won 79-62 in a game played at the Charlotte Coliseum. The last meeting between the two teams was in 1991 with the Crimson Tide winning 76-59. That game was the first game of the 1991 season and was played in Belk Arena. What was not immediately apparent was information about those initial wins against Alabama. I thought about doing more research and writing something about those details. However, with the whirlwind of holiday events, I never got around to it. So imagine my surprise when D.G. called me on Monday afternoon and asked if I thought News of Davidson readers would be interested in the story from his unique perspective – as a player on the team that earned not one, but two victories over Alabama. My response was “Yes, absolutely yes.” I hope you’ll enjoy this Sports/Davidson History article.]