The Tenacious Bulldogs of 1965 | By Thad Mumau
11/01/2006 11:21AM, Published by Anonymous, Categories:
With Clark in Chapel Hill, playing for the University of North Carolina freshman team, the expectations were not high for Fayetteville High hoops. That made what would happen all the more amazing.
Back for the Bulldogs was Vann Williford, a skinny 6-foot-6 kid whose college future no one could have predicted. Following the season, he appeared headed for Pfeiffer before someone talked N.C. State coach Norm Sloan into giving Vann his last scholarship. All Williford did was average 19 points for the Wolfpack over three varsity seasons, getting more than 20 a game each of his last two years and twice earning first-team All-ACC honors.
The Fayetteville High point guard was junior Chris Cammack. He would also make All-ACC at N.C. State, but in baseball. In fact, he was a four-time first-team all-conference selection and was named the Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year his sophomore season when he set what remains the Wolfpack record with a .429 batting average. Baseball was always Cammack’s favorite sport, and that’s what he was thinking about when school started in the fall of 1965.
“I saw his dad at the barber shop,” recalls Len Maness, the Bulldogs’ outstanding former coach who is a member of the Fayetteville Sports Club Hall of Fame. “Chris had played on the junior varsity the year before, and I said I was looking forward to seeing him with the varsity. His dad said, `Well, you had better talk to him because he isn’t planning on playing basketball.’”
Cammack did play, and he played very well. Not a big scorer, he didn’t like to shoot much, but excelled at running the team and playing tough defense. The other key players were Bruce Moore, Jim Perkins, Harold Ingle, Cornell Bowden and Howard Smith.
Long before practice started, Maness was thinking of a new way to play. “We were so big with Rusty, Eddie Martin (another departed senior) and Vann,” he says. “We didn’t do a lot of fast-breaking. We wanted to go down and wait for Rusty to get there, and then get the ball to him. He could score, but he was also a great passer.
“In the summer, I knew we were going to have to do something different. I went to a clinic in Sarasota, Florida, and picked up the wheel offense from Gary Colson, who was the head coach at Valdosta State. You didn’t need a big man for the wheel; it was not a post offense. They call it a motion offense now. We used that and had a lot of success. We did a lot of fast-breaking. Vann would get the rebound, give it to Chris and then beat everybody down the floor. Vann out-quicked people. He got off the floor, down and back up so quick, and he had a quick release on his shot.”
If those who followed Fayetteville High athletics didn’t know how good the Bulldogs could be during the 1965-66 season, they weren’t alone.
“We didn’t know what to expect,” Maness says. “As it turned out, it was one of those seasons when a whole lot of things went our way. We played 15 games that were decided by five points or less.”
Fayetteville High won its first 11 games, giving the Bulldogs a 21-game victory streak extending to the previous season. Visiting Durham ended the streak, but Fayetteville High got revenge by winning at Durham in mid-February. With his team trailing by a point, Cammack hit two free throws with three seconds remaining for a one-point win. “Chris was not a great foul shooter percentage-wise,” Maness says, “but he almost always made them when we needed them.”
In the state tournament held in the Greensboro Coliseum, the Bulldogs trounced Asheville in the first round, defeated Greensboro Page in the semifinals and then faced unbeaten Myers Park of Charlotte.
“They had all of these big kids,” Maness says, “and they were 25-0. The game was on television, the first state championship game ever televised in North Carolina.”
Williford scored 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, with Cammack getting 21 points, as Fayetteville High nipped Myers Park, 70-69, for a 21-5 record and a second straight state title. The contributions from that pair were big throughout the season, and Maness did a terrific job of coaching. He did his homework in finding the best way to utilize his talent, and then he taught it.
“That whole team was great to coach,” Maness says, “and it was fun for me. More fun than the year before because everybody expected us to win then. There was so much pressure because people said, `If Maness doesn’t mess it up, Fayetteville High will win it all.’
“The second championship year was different. There was no pressure. I think I did a better job of coaching that season. I had to do more x-ing and o-ing. But the credit goes to the kids. They had tremendous determination and desire. And they executed so well. I would draw up a play, and they’d go out and run it exactly like I drew it up.”
There are not many schools that win back-to-back state basketball championships. That Fayetteville High did it was special. But the second title, the one the Bulldogs were not “supposed” to win, was magical.