It has to be mind-blowing to be standing in the presence of Willis Reed. Not only is he one of the 50 greatest NBA players, but he is also one of the 12 individuals who achieved maximum success as a Grambling basketball player.Willis Reed, along with Herschel West, Roosevelt Rankin and Rex Tippitt were all honored at thier 50 year anniversary held in the Eddie Robinson Museum on March 5.
“I can’t believe that I am shaking hands with Willis Reed,” said Grambling State’s center Steve Danridige. “He inspires me to push through all the pain and get the job done. I think we have all seen the highlights of him limping on the court to fuel his team to a victory in the NBA finals.”
Fifty years ago, the 1961 Grambling State basketball team coached by Hall of Famer Fredrick Hobdy consisted of 12 members. They changed the dynamics of what you would call a No.13 seed. Seeded low with their backs against the wall the Tigers were confident and believed that they could win it all.
“We had been down there twice before but we lost,” said Roosevelt Rankin. “Coach Hobdy was determined for us to win in 1961.We had great players during the time.”
The Tigers faced tough challenges during their “Glory Road.” They went 3-0 in the NAIA tournament including victories over the No. 5 seed, No. 1 seed and No. 3 seed.
In the semifinal game, the Grambling Tigers took the fierce No.1 seed Westminster of Pennsylvania.
The game resulted in a 45-44 nail bitter. Tippitt’s baseline go ahead jumper ended up being the game-winning basket for Grambling, and he became the savior.
“I realized at the end I had to shoot it,” said Tippitt. “Yes I was confident, but what I didn’t understand was why the ball came to my side instead of Willis or Herschel.”
As time winded down, it left Westminster with the final possession.
Reed made the defensive play that challenged the shot, and caused a miss and gave Grambling victory. He finished with 20 points went 9-10 from the field went 100 percent from the free throw line.
The G-Men went to the finals were they emphatically defeated the No.3 seed, Georgetown College of Kentucky 95-75. West carried the way with 27 points Charles Hardnett and Reed both finished with 21 and Tippitt finished 20.
Hardnett averaged 24.6 ppg in the NAIA tournament and became the Chuck Taylor MVP.
The 1961 Grambling State men’s basketball team is the most triumphal team in its basketball history. Four players would be chosen as NAIA All-Americans and played professional: Reed, West, Hardnett and Tippitt.
The win was sumed up by Rankins, “It was one of the greatest moments of my life to win the national championship for Grambling State University.