Fifty-one years ago, a men’s basketball team, coached by Louisiana Sports Hall of Famer Fred Hobdy, changed the dynamics of what you would call a No. 13 seed.
A team, captained by Rex Tippitt, Charles Hardnett and Herschel West, knocked off the No. 1 seed, followed by the No. 3 seed of the 1961 National Athletic Intercollegiate Association tournament to become national champions.
Grambling’s 1961 men’s basketball team is currently the only men’s basketball team in the state of Louisiana with a national champion.
Saturday, before the G-Men take the field to battle Virginia University of Lynchburg for its Homecoming football game, the 1961 men’s NAIA championship team will be honored as they finally receive their rings after waiting for more than half a century.
“It’s a great honor and I’m real appreciative that the president and administration looked back and saw it after 51 years,” said Tippitt. “I’m well pleased.”
The 13-member team of Tippitt, Hardnett, West, Tommy Lee Bowens, Rufus Calhoun, Bobby Ricks, Roosevelt Rankin, William Gentry, Willis Reed, Freddie Carter, Samuel Jackson, Albert Johnson and Robert Piper held an overall record of 32-4. (Reed is now recognized as one of the 50 greatest National Basketball Association players.)
Tippitt, who is currently employed at GSU’s Intramural Center, was once a big name in college men’s basketball. He was a first-team All-American in 1960, second-team All-American in 1961, but most importantly, he played a major role in the Tigers’ championship run.
In 1961, during the NAIA semifinals against No. 1 seed Westminster of Pennsylvania, Tippitt hit the biggest shot of his career. His go-ahead 25-foot jumper on the right wing during the closing moments of the game gave Grambling a 45-44 lead and the Tigers eventually won the game.
The team then went on to defeat No. 3 seed Georgetown College of Kentucky 95-75 in the finals and became NAIA champions.
Missing from the ceremony will be Carter, Jackson, Johnson and Piper, who are all deceased, and Hardnett, who is ill.