Daigle: Unbeaten? Wiz knows all about it

Published 12:00 am Friday, September 17, 2004

Twenty-five years later the glitter in Davey Whitney’s eye about his 1978-79 Alcorn team hasn’t diminished a bit. While you won’t catch him declaring it was his best team ever, the Braves that year did what St. Joseph’s just did and six teams have accomplished in the last 30 years.

Go undefeated.

But that wasn’t all, Whitney said of his 26-0 club that went two rounds deep in the NIT. But much like this year with St. Joseph’s and Stanford going down to the wire chasing a perfect record, Whitney’s Braves did the same in that 1978-79 season with Indiana State and its standout player, Larry Bird.

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&uot;It’s tough to come away in any conference undefeated &045; I don’t think in the SWAC we’ve had that many teams undefeated,&uot; said Whitney, now living in Biloxi. &uot;We won the conference four straight years, and I think we won 24 or 26 straight, but that’s kind of unheard of now. We had quality people, and that’s why we did so well.&uot;

It’s about as unheard of as a coach staying 27 years at an under-the-radar school like Alcorn. But the man who had 567 wins had some dominant teams in the late 1970s and early 1980s, running the table on the SWAC during a time of transition for the conference from NAIA to NCAA.

That’s why that 1978-79 team got a measly ticket to the NIT and not the Big Dance.

Whitney, like coaches at Jackson State and Mississippi Valley at the time, was fortunate since most of the majority white schools didn’t recruit black players and not many schools from outside the state came in looking for talent. Whitney got players like Larry Smith, who played 13 years in the NBA and is now an assistant with the Atlanta Hawks.

But that undefeated team helped change that.

&uot;It was a different time,&uot; Whitney said. &uot;I was my own biggest enemy because when we became successful, everybody else started looking and coming into Mississippi. I remember USM coach (M.K.) Turk made a comment &045; ‘Whitney is getting all the players, so they must be able to play.’ He got those players, and they won the NIT. Louisville came in, and everybody started coming into the state of Mississippi.&uot;

Things, however, really came together for that undefeated team late in the season as the Braves pounded their way through their regular season before facing Mississippi State in Starkville in the NIT.

Billed as the first contest pitting a majority white school against a majority black school in Mississippi, the game made headlines. And the Braves came away an 80-78 winner.

That put the Braves in the second round against Indiana and head coach Bobby Knight in Bloomington, and the Hoosiers escaped with a 73-69 win.

Now 25 years later that season is still being recalled, and not many have forgotten.

&uot;It’s something the school can be proud of and all the players can be proud of,&uot; he said. &uot;Not many teams have done that. It’s a hallmark for the state of Mississippi. It makes me feel good.&uot;

Adam Daigle

is sports editor of The Natchez Democrat. Reach him at (601) 445-3632 or at