Hallie Walker/ Staff Photographer
David Thompson, NC State forward from 1972-75, smiles during the statue unveiling event outside of Reynolds Coliseum Dec. 6. Thompson is the first student athlete to have a statue on campus. Thompson is a three time ACC Player of the Year and was the Most Outstanding Player in the NCAA Championship game in 1974.
Throughout the years, there have been numerous Black athletes making exponential impacts on NC State’s athletics department. If I were to sit here and name every single Black athlete who has made their mark on NC State’s athletics, this article would be longer than a J. R. R. Tolkien novel. To avoid that, I am only going to talk about a few of these remarkable athletes.
To start off, I have to mention the man who is possibly the most notable athlete in NC State history: David Thompson. Thompson led the NC State’s Men’s Basketball team to its first of two NCAA Championships. His jersey number, 44, is the one-and-only retired number in NC State Men’s Basketball history. He was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame in 1982, and the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2012. Commonly referred to as one of the best, if not the best, basketball players from the ACC, Thompson collected two Consensus National Player of the Year awards, as well as three ACC Player of the Year titles. He then went on to play in the professional leagues for nine seasons, dividing his time between the Denver Nuggets and Seattle Supersonics. In 1976, he received the American Basketball Association’s (ABA) Rookie of the Year title. The ABA was a second professional basketball league that countered the NBA. During his time in the ABA and NBA, he racked up an average of 20-plus points per game for six consecutive seasons, continuing his legacy of excellence.
Recently, Thompson became the first ever student-athlete to have a statue built in his honor on NC State’s campus. The statue is located outside of Reynolds Coliseum and shows off his impressive 44-inch vertical leap. Thompson is posed as if he is catching an alley oop pass and from certain angles, it looks as if he is getting ready to shoot the ball into the net, represented by Talley Student Union’s Tech Tower.
Moving into women’s basketball, we have another NC State Athletic Hall of Famer: Chasity Melvin. Inducted in 2014, this superstar is known for putting up incredible numbers all around the board. While playing for NC State, Melvin scored 2,042 points, got 1,020 rebounds and holds two school records for free throws. To this day, she holds the first place spot for free throws, with 182 attempted in a single season and 639 over her whole career. Under Coach Kay Yow’s leadership, Melvin and the 1998 team went all the way to the Final Four in the NCAA tournament. Just like Thompson, Melvin’s jersey number, 44, has been retired and hangs in Reynolds Coliseum. In 1998, she was drafted into the American Basketball League by the Philadelphia Rage. After only a year, she moved up into the WNBA and was the 11th overall pick, drafted by the Cleveland Rockers. For 12 years, she played in the WNBA under a number of different teams, and became a WNBA All-Star in 2001. In her professional career, she kept up with her insane rebound skills, and still ranks top 20 in the WNBA for total rebounds.
Today, Melvin works as a member of the Professional Sports Counseling panel at NC State, helping athletes transition from college sports to a professional career either on or off the court.
We have another NC State Athletic Hall of Famer: Torry Holt. In 2013, Holt was inducted into the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame, and for good reason. Holt played for the NC State Football team from 1995 to 1998, setting record after record. His list of records, from both the ACC and NFL, is extensive. He holds records for receiving yards, touchdown receptions, total receptions, touchdowns and more. After an amazing collegiate football career and receiving multiple ACC Player of the Year awards, Holt went on to get picked sixth overall in the 1999 NFL draft. Starting off with the St. Louis Rams, Holt went on to play for the Jacksonville Jaguars and the New England Patriots. After 11 seasons in the NFL, he played in the Pro Bowl seven times, finished 10th in all-time receiving yards, and took home a Super Bowl Championship Ring in 2000.
Following his retirement from the football scene, Holt created the Holt Brothers Foundation along with his brother, Terrence, fellow NC State football star. After watching their mother battle cancer for a decade, the brothers realized the impact having a parent with cancer can have on a child. They decided to create this foundation in order to support children dealing with the same circumstances that they did. The Holt Brothers Foundation has a few different programs, but their main focus is KidsCAN!. This program helps children understand what cancer means and how to cope with their emotions.
Cullen Jones is one name that would be a crime to leave off of this list. Inducted into the NC State Athletic Hall of Fame in 2018, Jones is a five-time ACC Champion. He is the 2006 ACC Swimmer of the Year and Meet MVP and the 2006 NCAA champion in the 50-meter freestyle. And we can’t forget his two Olympic gold medals as a part of the 4×100-meter medley relay team in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics. His medal in the 2008 Olympics made him the first African-American swimmer to hold a world record. He also acquired two silver medals in 2012, one for the 4×100-meter freestyle relay and one for the 50-meter freestyle. At the 2008 Olympics, Jones helped the US 4×100-meter freestyle relay team achieve a world record time, and then again the next day. The top three times for this event are all set by the US team, and the only common names on each of the rosters are Michael Phelps and, of course, Cullen Jones. To this day, Jones remains NC State’s most decorated Olympian.
Last, but certainly not least, we have Irwin Holmes. Back in 1956, Holmes was one of the first four Black undergraduates to enroll at NC State. When he graduated four years later with a degree in Electrical engineering, he became the first Black graduate of NC State University. Soon after enrolling at State, Irwin Holmes joined the tennis team. This was yet another set of firsts for not only NC State, but the ACC as well. Holmes was the first Black athlete in the ACC, first Black varsity letter winner and the first Black co-captain of a varsity team. Due to his amazing presence on the tennis court as well as his academic achievements, Holmes was inducted into the NC State Athletics Hall of Fame in 2020.
Although Holmes didn’t go on to become a professional athlete, he had a successful career as an engineer at IBM. He remains very involved with the NC State Engineering program, as well as the Black Alumni Society. To honor Holmes, in 2018, the NC State Board of Trustees renamed the University College Commons on Centennial Campus to Holmes Hall.
As I mentioned before, this list is not all inclusive. There are hundreds of names that could be listed, along with the five that I have here. NC State has worked with athletes of high caliber since the earliest days of the athletics program, and will continue to do so. As every season passes, the list of excellent Black athletes will only continue to grow, and I can’t wait to see who will be added.