John B. McLendon, Jr., 37MA, the only UI graduate to be inducted into the Naismith College Basketball Hall of Fame, is one of the most respected and influential innovators of college basketball.
Born in Hiawatha, Kansas, McLendon earned his bachelor's degree at the University of Kansas in 1936, where he was a protégé of Dr. James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
Recognized as an early pioneer and advocate of the fast break and zone press, McLendon invented the four corners offense and introduced a fast-paced style of play that became his trademark.
"McLendon's influence, if not his spirit, will be felt in arenas across the nation, every time a fast break is executed, every time a team presses for 40 minutes," said a 1993 New York Times article. "McLendon didn't invent the fast break. But as the head coach of Tennessee State between 1954 and 1959, he helped popularize it and widen the concept of what a fast break could be with well-conditioned, athletic players with speed and quickness."
It was at historically black colleges and universities that McLendon had his greatest successes. He won six conference championships in 12 years at North Carolina College For Negroes (now North Carolina Central University). In 1957, when his Tennessee State team defeated Southeastern Oklahoma in the finals of the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Tournament (NAIA), McLendon became the first African-American to win a national basketball championship. With his NAIA championship in 1959, he became the first university coach to win three consecutive national basketball titles.
On the international scene, McLendon coached the US to a 6-0 record over the USSR in 1961, in a series that decided the World's Amateur Championship. The USA representative to the World Basketball Rules Committee from 1974 to 1976, McLendon was also a member of the 1968 and 1972 US Olympic basketball coaching staffs and a member of the US Olympic Basketball Committee from 1964 to 1976.
McLendon's accomplishments also include being named the first African-American to coach a professional team (Cleveland Pipers, 1961) and the first black head coach at a predominantly white American university (Cleveland State, 1966).
NAIA coach of the year in 1958, McLendon went on to amass 523 career college victories and to receive the prestigious Metropolitan Award from the New York Basketball Writers Association in 1977. Basketball Times magazine named him one of the top six coaches who changed basketball in America from 1950 to 1994, and Sports View magazine selected him as "Coach of the Century" in 1992.