A decade removed from a winless season, Grambling is poised to rewrite its school’s history books with a first-ever trip to the NCAA Tournament.
There is a long and storied history of men’s basketball at Grambling State University. Most of it lives in the deep past.
Under legendary head coach Fred Hobdy, the namesake of the Grambling State’s basketball arena and winningest college basketball coach in Louisiana history at the time of his death, the Tigers won the 1961 NAIA National Championship with a team that featured future NBA Hall of Famer Willis Reed, the namesake of the court in the Hobdy Assembly Center.
Fifteen years later, just before the team’s jump to NCAA Division I with the rest of the SWAC, Grambling had another star in Larry Wright, who scored 92 more collegiate points than Pete Maravich, was the 14th overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft, and won a ring with the Washington Bullets in 1978.
In no uncertain terms, Grambling State men’s basketball was something to be admired and respected during Hobdy’s tenure, which lasted from 1957 to 1986. Still, the team never made the Division I NCAA Tournament with Hobdy — or anyone else — at the helm. Even in the years after, while the good times continued to roll under Robert Hopkins, the Tigers still couldn’t punch a ticket to the Big Dance.
Then, after Hopkins’ departure following a SWAC title in 1989, things quickly fell apart in Grambling.
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Over the course of the next 28 years, the team went 243-550 for a win percentage just over 30 percent, and the Tigers finished above .500 just twice. Toward the end of that span, Grambling State completed a perfectly imperfect 0-28 season — and that 2012-13 squad still stands as the last Division I college basketball team to finish a full season without a single victory.
Ten years later, none of that matters now. Not to this Grambling team, which is 22-8 and just won a share of the SWAC regular-season crown. The players on this team are not thinking about the past — not the three decades of highlights under Hobdy, nor the three decades of lowlights that followed.
“There’s an incredible history in Grambling State basketball,” says Donte Jackson, the Tigers’ sixth-year head coach. “The tough part of it is, do I think our guys really know?”
He pauses a moment to let the question hang — then laughs.
No, these Tigers aren’t burying their noses in the school’s record books.
They’ve been busy burning their own names into Grambling State lore.
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Header image courtesy of Grambling Athletics.