A look back at CIAA basketball greats

The oldest black college sports conference in the country, the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association has a long and storied history. The CIAA, consisting of 11 historically African-American colleges, held its first basketball tournament during the 1945-46 season.

For more than six decades, the tournament has been one of the largest sporting events for African-Americans in the nation. The 2010 CIAA tournament will be held Feb. 23-27 at Charlotte Bobcats Arena in Charlotte, N.C., and the tournament's participants will be following in the footsteps of generations of trailblazing players, many of whom had stellar professional careers.

The league was founded in 1912, when it was known as the Colored Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. When the NBA opened its doors to black players in 1950, the CIAA was ready to showcase its talent. Earl Lloyd from West Virginia State would become the first African-American player in the NBA on Oct. 31, 1950 -- but he wasn't the first one drafted. The Celtics picked Duquesne forward Chuck Cooper in the second round of the same draft, and Nat "Sweetwater" Clifton was drafted by the New York Knickerbockers, becoming the first African-American to sign an NBA contract.

Many more players from the CIAA would venture into the pro ranks, infusing a free-flowing brand of basketball never before seen in the fledgling league. In anticipation of the CIAA's upcoming tournament, we take a look back at 15 of the most outstanding players to come out of the league:

Earl Monroe | 6-foot-4 Guard
Winston-Salem State

Monroe played for legendary coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines. He averaged an incredible 41.5 points per game his senior season. In 1967, he led Winston-Salem State to the NCAA College Division championship game, in which he scored 40 points in a big win over Southwest Missouri State. In 1967, Monroe was a first-round pick for the Baltimore Bullets. In 1973, after being traded to the Knicks, he guided the team to the NBA title. Monroe is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Cleo Hill | 6-1 Guard
Winston-Salem State

Hill was an outstanding shooting guard for Winston-Salem State, with a career that preceded the great Earl Monroe. Hill averaged 26.7 points per game and scored 2,488 career points. In 1961, he was drafted by the NBA's St. Louis Hawks.

Sam Jones | 6-4 Guard
North Carolina College

Jones played for Hall of Fame coach John McLendon at North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University). He scored 1,770 points and grabbed 578 rebounds in his career. Jones, a Hall of Famer, led the Boston Celtics to 10 NBA championships. A longtime teammate of fellow NBA Hall of Famer Bill Russell, Jones was known for his bank shots.

Ronald "Flip" Murray | 6-4 Guard
Shaw University

Murray was the CIAA and NCAA Division II Player of the Year in 2002, leading Shaw to its first-ever CIAA championship and to the NCAA Division II Final Four that season. Murray is in his eighth season in the NBA. He plays for the Charlotte Bobcats.

Rick Mahorn | 6-10 Center

Mahorn was a three-time NAIA All-American during his career, making the Pirates a powerhouse in the CIAA. He tallied 20.3 points and 12.3 rebounds per game during his four years. Mahorn, currently a coach in the WNBA, earned an NBA crown with the Isiah Thomas-led Detroit Pistons.

Charles Oakley | 6-9 Center
Virginia Union

Oakley, the all-time leading rebounder at Virginia Union (with 1,664), is also third on the Panthers' all-time scoring list (with 2,379 points). He carried Virginia Union to a CIAA championship with a 31-1 record during the 1984-85 season. Oakley played most of his NBA career with the New York Knicks, with stops in Chicago and Toronto in between.

Bobby Dandridge | 6-6 Forward
Norfolk State

Dandridge was a tremendous scorer, averaging 32.3 points per game his final season at Norfolk State. He could light it up from anywhere on the floor, and went on to play on two NBA championship teams: the 1971 Milwaukee Bucks and the 1978 Washington Bullets.

Al Attles | 6-1 Guard
North Carolina A&T

Attles led North Carolina A&T to two CIAA titles. He scored 944 points in his career and was known as a great defender with long arms and quick hands. He played alongside Wilt Chamberlain with the Philadelphia Warriors, and later coached the Golden State Warriors to an NBA championship in 1975.

Fred "Curly" Neal | 6-1 Guard
Johnson C. Smith

Neal, an All-CIAA standout, averaged 23.1 points per game his senior season, leading Johnson C. Smith to the CIAA semifinals before losing to Winston-Salem State. He was one of the most exciting players to ever play in the conference. Neal was also a sensational ball handler with the Harlem Globetrotters from 1963 to 1985.

Earl Lloyd | 6-6 Forward
West Virginia State

Lloyd, the first African-American to play in the NBA, guided the 1947-48 West Virginia State team to an undefeated 23-0 record, capturing the CIAA title. As a senior, Lloyd averaged 14 points and eight rebounds per game. An NBA Hall of Famer, Lloyd is one of basketball's true pioneers.

Ben Wallace | 6-9 Center
Virginia Union

Wallace was a great defensive player and did an excellent job sweeping the backboards. Wallace led Virginia Union to the NCAA Division II Final Four with an impressive 28-3 record, averaging 13.4 points and 10 rebounds per game. Wallace, a four-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year, is in his 14th NBA season. In 2004, he helped the Pistons win an NBA championship.

Jackie Jackson | 6-5 Center
Virginia Union

Jackson will be inducted into the John B. McLendon Hall of Fame during the CIAA tournament week. He was known as "Jumpin'" Jackie Jackson at Virginia Union. In 1961, he had 30 rebounds in a game against Maryland State. He grabbed 641 rebounds that same season, averaging 24.7 boards per game. In 1962, Jackson was drafted by the Philadelphia Warriors, but opted to play for the Harlem Globetrotters.

Joe Howell | 6-2 Guard
North Carolina A&T

Howell played for the Aggies' great coach Cal Irvin. Howell led North Carolina A&T to two consecutive CIAA championships, and finished his playing career with 1,600 points.

Mike Gale | 6-4 Guard
Elizabeth City State

Gale, a two-time All-CIAA selection, was an outstanding player for coach Bobby Vaughan. He could score, play defense and rebound. In 1971, he received NAIA All-American honors. Gale played in the ABA as well as the NBA during his professional career, earning an ABA championship in 1974 with the New Jersey Nets.

Terry Davis | 6-9 Center
Virginia Union

Davis, a rugged rebounder, defender and great scorer, was a magnificent post player. He tallied 1,875 career points. Davis is one of four Virginia Union grads who played under former coach Dave Robbins to play in the NBA (the others are Charles Oakley, Ben Wallace and A. J. English). Davis, an undrafted free agent, played 11 seasons in the NBA.

Donald Hunt is a columnist for The Philadelphia Tribune. His HBCU Notebook on ESPN.com can be found here. Got a story idea for Donald? E-mail him at dhunt37261@aol.com.