Duquesne University ushered in Black History Month in a big way by selling out the Consol Energy Center and playing a spirited basketball game that had historical significance. The Second Annual Chuck Cooper Classic, presented by PNC Bank, was designed to honor the legacy of former Duquesne star Chuck “Tarzan” Cooper, the first Black player drafted by an NBA team.
|AWARD PRESENTATION—Steelers Hall of Famer Mel Blount, left, accepts the Chuck Cooper Award for Bill Nunn Jr. Presenting the award are Joe Guyaux, right, from PNC and Chuck Cooper III. (Courier Photos/William McBride)
Cooper was born in Pittsburgh in 1929 and he attended and won a City League championship at Westinghouse High School. In 1950, Cooper became the first African-American drafted into the NBA when the Boston Celtics selected him in the second round.
Cooper died Feb. 5, 1984 and when a special video presentation and tribute to his ground-breaking achievements was played at half time there was not a dry eye in the place.
“I’m proud of the sellout crowd and how far my father’s Classic has come in only one-year,“ said “Cooper’s son, Chuck III, who played basketball at Schenley High School, CCAC and the Connie Hawkins Summer Basketball League.
“We honored Bill Nunn Jr., and Mel Blount accepted the award for him. We are very proud. The Dukes have a great basketball program and the best is yet to come.”
Although the Duquesne University dance team and the Bucket Boys fired up the crowd, it was Tu Holloway and Xavier who showed just how colorful the game of basketball has become 60 years after Chuck Cooper.
The Xavier Musketeers (18-6, 9-1) knocked Duquesne (16-7, 8-2) out of first place in the Atlantic 10 Conference with a 71-63 victory.
During warm-ups, the Duquesne does not look intimidating. It doesn’t have a dominating 7-foot center—the team’s tallest player is 6-7—and everybody in uniform appears to be clean cut, All-American type. They don’t appear particularly fast or particularly athletic.
But how does that saying go about appearances?
Duquesne is led by tiny 6’0, 160-pound freshman T.J. McConnell and when you play
against T.J. and his team you better be prepared to put up your Dukes!
After stockpiling various accolades following the 2010 high school basketball
season, where he averaged 35-points per game and scored nearly 2,500 career
point, McConnell admits he isn’t yet the same dominant player. But he isn’t far behind.
McConnell leads the Dukes in assists leads the Atlantic-10 conference in steals. Ferocious defense is also a symbol of what he is about and he is a leader in his new role.
Despite being much smaller than the Musketeers, the Dukes scrapped and fought
their way to a one point halftime lead. Duquesne led 49-43, with 12:06 remaining.
With the game on the line, Xavier played like the No. 1 team in the Atlantic-10
and Holloway and 7-foot center Kenny Frease proved that size does matter. The Musketeers went on a 19-4 run and never looked back.
Holloway finished with a game-high 20 points, but received help from teammates
Dante Jackson and Frease, who finished with 19 and 12 points, respectively.
“You got to keep pushing and disrupting the flow and we didn’t do that,” said
Duquesne senior forward Bill Clark. “It just seemed like we just didn’t come to
play in the second half.”
Junior guard Holloway is one of four Division I players who average at least 20
points and five assists per game.
“Xavier is a team that, almost every guy on that club has been to a Sweet 16,”
said Everhart. “That was basically the same team that eliminated Pitt from the
NCAA tournament last year.”
Duquesne hasn’t been to the NCAA tournament since B.B. Flenory and Norm Nixon
ran the backcourt in 1977.
Cooper shattered the NBA racial barrier by becoming the first African-American player to play in the National Basketball Association, and it appears that his University is on its way back.
Thanks to Coach Ron Everhart, the Chuck Cooper Foundation, PNC Bank, and the spirit of Chuck Tanner, Duquesne basketball finally feels like fam-a-lee again after wandering in the wilderness for more than 30 years.