Icons create lasting impressions, and Western Carolina University has several in its athletics history who have earned that label. Names such as Art Byrd ’50, Tom Young ’52, Ronald Rogers, Dan Robinson ’51, Bob Waters, Jerry Gaines ’75, Clyde Simmons ’96, Wayne Tolleson ’78 and Brad Hoover ’00 had distinguished careers and are synonymous with WCU regionally and nationally.
However one name, from the 1960s, resonates above all others. Henry Logan spent only four years around Cullowhee and had a limited professional career, but the significance of his arrival in Cullowhee, the unparalleled attention he attracted wherever Western’s basketball team played, and the uniqueness and quality of his game evoke perhaps the clearest connection of all with WCU.
Logan’s legend began 50 years ago this past May when he became the first African-American to accept a scholarship to attend and play basketball at a predominately white college or university in America’s Southeast. The scholarship signing received virtually no media attention outside Western North Carolina, while a year earlier Gov. George Wallace blocking the admission of two black women to the University of Alabama was a national media event.
To say that Logan opened the door for African-American student-athletes in the South is an understatement. In the next five years, several other colleges and universities in North Carolina and other parts of the South recruited and granted athletics scholarships to dozens of black players. Fifty years after Logan signed, 126 of WCU’s 375 student-athletes are African-American.
The recruitment of Logan was unique in that it was virtually a secret process that produced a surprising outcome. He had led Stephens-Lee High, Asheville’s all-black high school, to two state championship games, but was openly recruited by only historically black colleges and universities in the spring of 1964. In addition, a few Big 10 Conference schools and John Wooden, UCLA’s legendary coach, had made contact but no firm commitments.
Meanwhile, Jim Gudger ’48, Western’s head basketball coach, was working in the background. He had received the blessing of Western President Paul Reid and the school’s Board of Trustees to offer Logan a scholarship. At the time, the school had two African-American undergraduates and a handful of graduate students. “We were waiting for the right time and the right player to break the athletics color line, and Henry was the right person,” Gudger told Bob Terrell ’51 of The Asheville Citizen. “Henry had as much athletics ability as anyone I had ever seen on a basketball court, plus he was from our area and was a good person that could handle the unique situation.”
Logan’s ability to “handle the unique situation” was tested in his first season with the Catamounts when he and Herb Moore, a Stephens-Lee High teammate who joined him at Western, were not permitted to play in a tournament in Louisiana because of the state’s segregation laws.
Logan told the Asheville Citizen-Times in February of this year that he and Moore didn’t really think about being the only “black guys” on the team. “We had no problems there at Western,” he said. “The only problem we had was when we went out of town. We played a university in Louisiana, and we could not even dress out because of our color. Other than that, we didn’t have any problems.” He also said that he reacted to the occasional shouts from the stands and racial slurs by doing his talking on the court. “I tried to back that up by scoring more points and playing better,” he said. “When I went back the next time, they didn’t call me the names. They shut their mouths because they didn’t want me to score a lot of points.”
For the record, Logan is WCU’s all-time leading scorer as he averaged 30.7 points and shot 52 percent from the floor for his 107-game collegiate career. His 3,290 points ranked third on college basketball’s all-time scoring list and he was the NAIA’s all-time assists leader with 1,037 (9.7 per game) when he left Cullowhee in 1968. Although only 5 feet 11 inches tall, he averaged 6.3 rebounds per game and routinely was in the jump circle for the opening tip.
He was a four-time All-America selection who scored 50 or more points six times and 40 or more 20 times, and totaled a school and conference record 60 points in a 1967 game. His likeness hangs in the WCU, Western North Carolina and North Carolina sports halls of fame. In 1967, Logan was a key player on the U.S. basketball team that won the Pan American Games in Winnipeg, Canada.
There was no 3-point field goal in college basketball during Logan’s career. However, game shooting charts show that he made approximately 170 baskets shooting from 20 feet or longer, which would translate to more than 500 additional career points.
Logan’s impact was a financial windfall for WCU and opponents. Before Logan arrived in Cullowhee, Reid Gymnasium was a cozy 2,400-seat facility. During his second season, another 1,000 seats were added as the Catamounts’ games with the likes of Appalachian State, Lenoir-Rhyne, High Point, Catawba, Elon and Guilford were played before standing-room-only crowds of 4,000 or more. During his four seasons, more than 200,000 fans crowded into Reid Gym. Fans would line up outside App State’s Varsity Gym and offer $20 for a ticket when Logan visited. Most other conference sites were sold out and several of those games were televised locally. The Carolinas Conference moved its championship tournament to the 8,000-seat Winston-Salem Coliseum in 1968 to accommodate demand. After playing in the Quincy Holiday Classic for a second year, Logan was presented the key to the Illinois city.
Logan’s skill set was “30 years ahead of his time,” said Greg Wittman, a teammate of Logan’s for three seasons, the school’s all-time leadingr rebounder and a National Basketball Association draft pick who played for three teams in the now-defunct American Basketball Association. “No one in the college game at that time could match Henry’s combination of shooting, ball handling, passing and jumping, and I haven’t seen anyone since that could do all of those things on his level. His quickness, hang time, elevation and passing style were uncanny,” Wittman said.
Wittman described a pregame scouting report when he was playing with Denver of the ABA and his team was preparing to face Logan’s Washington squad in a 1970 game. “My coach and teammates agreed that we could defend everyone on Washington’s team except for one player…Henry Logan.”
“Pistol Pete” Maravich, the all-time leading scorer in NCAA Division I basketball history and three-time first team All-America selection in the 1970s, competed against Logan in summer games and once said, “Logan is the best 6-foot guard in America. I caught myself mesmerized by his passes and shot creation.”
Dave Odom, former head coach at Wake Forest, East Carolina and South Carolina, competed against Logan while at Guilford College. “I never played against a guy that could impact a game in so many ways as Henry and, as a coach, never saw anyone as exciting as he was at Western Carolina,” Odom said in 2006.
Logan’s professional career started in 1969 when he was the first guard taken in the ABA draft by the Oakland Oaks, choosing Oakland over the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics. After a productive rookie year season and a great start to his second season when he was averaging 20-plus points a game, he suffered a crippling knee injury in December 1970 and underwent the first of six knee surgeries. Two years later, he had part of a kneecap removed, which prematurely ended his basketball career.
Bob Ray ’57, the Catamounts’ assistant basketball coach during Logan’s collegiate career, agreed that Logan was indeed the “right person” to break the school’s athletics color line. “Henry conducted himself as a gentleman despite the abusive language directed toward him and racial situations he faced,” Ray said. “He just played the game and never reacted. He opened the door, changed attitudes about race, changed basketball in the Carolinas Conference and should be held in high esteem by Western Carolina University and by others in our region and state.”
At age 68, Logan still resides in Asheville with his family. He is unofficially retired after spending most of his working days in recreation-related jobs and for Meritor in southern Buncombe County for several years. He currently spends much of his time making motivational speeches and counseling and ministering to youth while working on his autobiography.