The date was Feb. 15, 1969. The opponent: American University. The player: Charlie Davis, the second black basketball player at Wake Forest University. The motivation for a game that would go down in Demon Deacon history: a team that had lost five of its last six games â€“ including a 122-93 drubbing by Duke â€“ and a sophomore star who had just been fouled hard on a lay-up.
“What followed was the most withering barrage on the basket in Wake Forest history,” wrote Dan Collins in his 2004 book Tales From the Wake Forest Hardwood. “While a crowd of 3,500 Deacon diehards roared its approval, Davis scored 15 straight Wake Forest points in a span of four minutes and 54 seconds. Davis had 37 points and the Deacons led 80-70. Davis was hot and his teammates were fanning the flames,” making extra efforts to pass the ball to Davis.
With the crowd keeping vocal count of his scoring total, Davis continued to score left and right until he was breathing down the neck of the school-record single-game scoring total of 50 points.
“The crowd was yelling ‘you’ve got 49, you’ve got 49,’” Davis told Collins. “‘And that’s when Bobby Rhoads, my running mate at guard, committed a foul so we could get the ball back one more time.’”
Davis drew a foul on a drive down the lane and made two free throws to reach 51 points, setting a new school record. Wake Forest won the game 105-81.
“Today they call it ‘Being in another zone,’ but back then you were ‘unconscious,’ and I was,” Davis recalled years later (to Collins). “It’s easy to look back at that night in retrospect and try to figure out why or how it happened, but all I know is I was playing awfully well.”
Playing awfully well for his entire Wake Forest career (1969-1971) earned Davis first-team All-ACC honors three years running, the 1971 ACC Player of the Year award, an 8th round NBA draft pick by the Cleveland Cavaliers, and his No. 12 jersey hanging in the rafters. In 1984, Davis was inducted into the WFU Hall of Fame, and in 2002, he was chosen as one of the all-time best ACC players with a spot on the 50th anniversary team.
While Davis is remembered for his stellar playing, he also went down in ACC history as the first black player of the year. The ACC, which started in 1953, didn’t even have any black players until Bill Jones came to Maryland for the 1965-66 season.
According to bleacherreport.com: “The ACC Player of the Year Award is given yearly by the Atlantic Coast Sports Media group, and these fellows were of a different generation than the young fans who eagerly supported the black players on the court. In the previous two seasons, Ed Leftwich and Charlie Scott, both black, had led their two schools to the ACC Tournament Championship. However, each had been denied the player of the year award. Grumblings of racism in the voting were whispered throughout the region. That all changed with Davis of Wake Forest in the 1970-’71 season. Davis was just so good there would have been a congressional investigation if he had been denied the trophy. A 6’1″ guard, Davis made his living eating up pressure defenses, and he was rewarded by becoming the first African-American to win the Player of the Year award in the ACC.
Wake Forest students couldn’t get enough of the player they called “C.D.” and proved it by wearing buttons that said “I like C.D.” The 1971 edition of the Howler, Wake Forest’s yearbook, reported that: “In C.D., Wake Forest had one of their most outstanding and most exciting basketball players ever. Instrumental in creating both team spirit and Deacon spirit, C.D. was a rare talent and a completely unselfish individual who has won the hearts of all Demon Deacon followers the world over.
“On March 2, Wake Forest and Winston-Salem acknowleged C.D. — the basketball player and the person â€“ with a day of his own. In an emotional halftime ceremony, No. 12 was retired â€“ the third basketball jersey to be so honored. In Wake’s history, C.D. will not be forgotten.”
Davis averaged 24.9 points per game, still the best in school history, finishing with 1,970 points. The American University game still stands as the highest single game output in school history, and Davis held the ACC career free throw percentage record until Duke’s J.J. Redick broke it in 2006.
Davis came home to Wake Forest in 1989 to work in athletic administration, later becoming the assistant athletic director. He later served as athletic director at Bowie State University in Maryland and at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro.
“Black History Moment in ACC Basketball.” http://bleacherreport.com/articles/117908-black-history-moment-in-acc-basketball Viewed 20 Feb. 2009.
“Bowie State Athletic Director is One of 50 Greatest.” Archives of the CIAA, http://archivesoftheciaa.com/02-03/news/bsu0926.htm, 26 Sept. 2002. Viewed 20 Feb. 2009.
Collins, Dan. Tales From the Wake Forest Hardwood. Champaign, IL: Sports Publishing L.L.C., 2004.
Howler. Wake Forest University, 1971.