A History of SEC Basketball
23 days ago
During the upcoming college basketball season, SEC Network will premiere “Southern Hoops: A History of SEC Basketball,” a seven-part SEC Storied documentary chronicling the origin and progression of the sport for both men and women in the conference as the sport approaches the 75th anniversary of the first NCAA Championship won by an SEC institution. A new episode will debut every Monday night at 9 p.m. ET from January 30 through March 13.
The series, directed by “Saturdays in the South: A History of SEC Football” filmmaker Fritz Mitchell, will span the history of SEC basketball, from Vanderbilt participating in the first men’s college game (1893) and Adolph Rupp leading Kentucky to the SEC’s first national title (1948), to basketball through the lens of the civil rights movement, and the emergence of powerhouse women’s programs such as the Tennessee Lady Vols, led by legendary head coach Pat Summitt, and the reigning SEC and NCAA champion South Carolina Gamecocks under Dawn Staley.
“After my experience directing ‘Saturdays in the South,’ I wondered if the passion for basketball could match that for football in the SEC,” said Mitchell. “Traveling to historically rich SEC college towns is always an enlightening journey. Sonny Smith told me about his early bootlegging days and I chuckled as Wimp Sanderson recounted hiding in the bushes to ambush a recruit. I visited Pat Summitt’s grave with her family, emotions still raw even several years after her death. I found myself mesmerized listening to Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf articulate the words of Malcolm X and sat enthralled as Andy Landers talked about the grassroots efforts of women’s basketball. I quickly found that yes, there is passion for SEC basketball, and a surprise around every corner.”
An Emmy and Peabody award-winning filmmaker, Mitchell started his television career as a researcher for CBS Sports in 1982, and has directed and produced documentaries for ESPN and PBS since 1998, including two films for the celebrated 30 for 30 series – “The Legend of Jimmy the Greek” and “Ghosts of Ole Miss.” In 2019, he directed the acclaimed 8-part/12.5-hour documentary “Saturdays in the South: A History of SEC Football” for ESPN’s College Football 150 project and the SEC Storied franchise. More recently, he directed the Sports Emmy-nominated “The Trials of Bobby Hoppe.”
PART ONE: Naismith to Rupp, 1930-1959 (Debuts January 30)
Adolph Rupp came to the University of Kentucky in 1930 – a 29-year-old who took classes at the University of Kansas from James Naismith, the inventor of basketball. Two years later, the SEC was formed, and Rupp’s Wildcats would dominate play in the conference for decades. Meanwhile, a future coaching legend was born in Clarksville, Tenn. It was years before Pat Summitt became a household name but the early years of her journey foretold extraordinary promise.
PART TWO: Pioneers, 1960-1970 (Debuts February 6)
As the South was transformed by the civil rights movement in the 1960s, so too was the SEC. Texas Western’s historic win with an all-Black starting five over Coach Rupp’s all-white Kentucky Wildcats in the 1966 NCAA final marked a turning point for basketball in the SEC. Vanderbilt’s Perry Wallace then became the conference’s first Black player, leading the way for pioneers who would travel a hard road to history. Down in Baton Rouge at LSU, Pete Maravich fashioned one of the most extraordinary college basketball careers of all time. In 1970, another transformative SEC basketball figure in Dawn Staley was born in Philadelphia.
PART THREE: Changing of the Guard, 1971-1979 (Debuts February 13)
The 1970s delivered a new generation of groundbreaking fixtures to the SEC. Dale Brown, a North Dakota native, brought an infectious personality and ferocious competitiveness to LSU men’s basketball. In 1974, the incomparable Pat Summitt began her legendary coaching career at Tennessee at the age of just 22. Meanwhile, the year after the death of Coach Rupp in 1977, his successor Joe B. Hall and a pair of local Lexington stars led the Kentucky Wildcats team to a memorable national title, the program’s first in 20 years.
PART FOUR: The Entertainers, 1980-1989 (Debuts February 20)
There may not have been two more entertaining and electrifying players in the SEC than Georgia’s Dominique Wilkins and Auburn’s Charles Barkley. The duo headlined the conference’s successes in the early 1980s, while LSU’s Coach Brown took two teams to the Men’s Final Four. Coach Summitt won her first national titles with the Lady Vols in 1987 and 1989. Tennessee was pushed by an emerging power in Georgia under head coach Andy Landers, as well as a strong Auburn program led by coach Joe Ciampi that made it to three straight NCAA title games. The Lady Vols defeated the Tigers for the 1989 championship.
PART FIVE: From Country to City, 1990-1999 (Debuts February 27)
In 1991 and 1992, a young Dawn Staley was finishing up a stellar college basketball career – earning Naismith College Player of the Year honors in her junior and senior seasons – even meeting Coach Summitt’s Lady Vols in the 1991 NCAA title game. Meanwhile Arkansas joined the SEC and the Razorbacks instantly became one of the conference’s top men’s teams, led by their fearless, fiery coach Nolan Richardson and his “40 Minutes of Hell” attack. Arkansas won an NCAA championship in 1994, while Kentucky returned to prominence under Rick Pitino, who led the Wildcats to a national title in 1996 in a Men’s Final Four that included a surprising Mississippi State team. Back in Knoxville, Coach Summitt enjoyed her greatest decade at Tennessee, winning three consecutive national championships from 1996 to 1998.
PART SIX: A Brave New World, 2000-2011 (Debuts March 6)
Kentucky entered a new century led by their first Black head coach, Tubby Smith, who had taken the Wildcats to the national championship in his first season in 1998. Later in the decade, Florida’s back-to-back titles in 2006 and 2007 under coach Billy Donovan marked the rise of a new power in the SEC. Coach Summitt and superstar Candace Parker led the Lady Vols to their own set of consecutive national championships in 2007 and 2008. And down in Baton Rouge, two memorable figures cemented their legacies. Three of LSU’s five straight Women’s Final Four appearances were fueled by two-time Naismith College Player of the Year Seimone Augustus, with the last one coming under the helm of former Ole Miss coach Van Chancellor. On the men’s side, tenacious guard Garrett Temple, the son of the first Black basketball player for the Tigers, helped take LSU to the Men’s Final Four in 2006.
PART SEVEN: From Old South to New South, 2012-2022 (Debuts March 13)
The past decade has seen the expanded SEC continue to thrive at the center of the story of college basketball in America. John Calipari has continued the tradition of excellence at Kentucky, leading the Wildcats to four Men’s Final Four appearances including a national championship in 2012. That same year, Missouri and Texas A&M joined the conference, a season after head coach Gary Blair led the Aggies to the Women’s Final Four and a national title. In 2016, the basketball world said goodbye to one of its greatest legends with the loss of Pat Summitt after a five-year battle with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. In 2017, Vic Schaefer led Mississippi State to the first of two consecutive national title games after knocking off top-ranked and undefeated UConn in the semifinals, before falling to Dawn Staley’s South Carolina Gamecocks led by A’ja Wilson. It was the first NCAA championship for Coach Staley, with the second title, featuring Naismith College Player of the Year Aliyah Boston, coming five years later in 2022.
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