By: Richard L. Smith
On the 12th day of Black History Month, RLS Media honors the legacy of Cleo Hill, a Newark basketball legend whose journey from the courts of South Side High School (now Shabazz High School) to becoming a pioneer in the National Basketball Association (NBA) embodies the spirit of perseverance and excellence.Hill's stellar high school career paved the way for his All-American status at Winston-Salem State, where he left an indelible mark under the tutelage of Coach Clarence "Big House" Gaines.
With an impressive average of 25.4 points per game over four years, Hill not only led the Rams to back-to-back Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA) titles but also earned his place as the second-leading scorer in the school's history, second only to Earl "The Pearl" Monroe.
His prowess on the court led to Hill being the No. 8 pick in the 1961 NBA Draft, marking him as the first player from a historically black college or university (HBCU) to be selected in the first round.
Hill's rookie season with the St. Louis Hawks was groundbreaking, scoring 26 points in his NBA debut.
However, his time in the league was marred by challenges, including a preseason boycott due to racial discrimination and conflicts with teammates over scoring opportunities.
Despite being cut from the Hawks after his first season, Hill's impact extended beyond the NBA.
Hill's dedication to the game didn't wane as he transitioned into coaching, leading Essex County College's basketball team to numerous victories over 24 seasons and amassing 489 wins.
His legacy is a testament to the barriers he broke and the paths he paved for future generations.
Cleo Hill's story is not just one of athletic prowess but also of courage and resilience in the face of adversity. He died August 10, 2015 at the age of 77 in Orange, New Jersey.
As we commemorate Black History Month, let us remember and celebrate the contributions of Cleo Hill, a true pioneer and an inspiration to many in Newark and beyond.INFORMATION & IMAGE CREDIT: Maria Guardado from NJ Advance Media (NJ.com), collegebasketballexperience.com
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