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BLACK HISTORY MONTH IN NJ: We Salute Newark's Cleo Hill


By: Richard L. Smith

Newark basketball legend Cleo Hill went on to become a star at Winston-Salem State and a National Basketball Association black pioneer.

According to a story published on August 13, 2015, by reporter Maria Guardado from NJ Advance Media (, Hill was an All-State basketball player for Newark's South Side (now Shabazz High School) before becoming an All-American at Winston-Salem State.  

Guardo said Hill graduated from WSSU in 1961 and remains the second-leading scorer in school history, behind only Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.

Hill averaged a gaudy 25.4 points per game at Winton Salem in four years. He guided the Rams to consecutive Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) titles as a junior and senior. He was a two-time All-CIAA selection and an NAIA first-team All-American in 1961.

According to a published report on the No. 8 pick in the 1961 NBA Draft, making him the first player from a historically black institution to be taken in the first round. (

Advance Media reporter Maria Guardado said Hill decided to boycott a preseason game after he and other black players -- including the Boston Celtics' Bill Russell and Sam Jones-- were denied service at the Phoenix Hotel in Lexington, Kentucky.

"Scoring 26 points in his first career NBA game, he also began to clash with the Hawks' trio of white veterans -- Bob Pettit, Cliff Hagan, and Clyde Lovellette -- who resented the rookie for shooting too much and taking away their scoring opportunities, Maria Guardado wrote.

According to Guardado, the Hawks eventually cut Hill after his first season, and he never played in the NBA after that. "It wasn't racial," Hill told The Star-Ledger in 2008. "It was points.

They never said anything to me. But they knew there were getting paid for the points they scored. And here I was, taking their points."

Hill went on to play in the Eastern Basketball League and later became a successful college coach at Essex County College in Newark, where he won 489 games in 24 seasons, according to Guardado.

INFORMATION & IMAGE CREDIT: Maria Guardado from NJ Advance Media (,

SPONSORS: Metro Media Institute of Harrison, Nino's Pizza, Bergen Street Harrison, NJ, and William Paterson University