By Lou Mancinelli
Hubie White, 72, a Mt. Airy resident for 30 years, may not be stopped these days for autographs when he walks around the neighborhood, like any other grandfather, but exactly 50 years ago the 6-foot-3 then-Villanova Wildcat center was a household name among basketball buffs.
Captain of the 1962 Villanova squad that played in that year’s NCAA Basketball Tournament’s Elite Eight, the West Philadelphia High School graduate earned All-America honors that year. He was a three-time All-Big Five player, AP and UPI All-East and two-time All-State. Villanova retired White’s #14 jersey on Jan. 27, 2001. After college, White played professionally for San Francisco (NBA) in the 1962-63 season, Philadelphia (NBA) 1963-64, Miami (ABA) 1969-70 and Pittsburgh (ABA) 1970-71.
“It was electric,” said White, about the March Madness tournament he participated in almost a decade after playing his first schoolyard pickup game (which included comedian Bill Cosby). The 1962 Wildcat hoopsters, which included Wali Jones, Jim McMonagle, Jim O’Brien and George Leftwich, were 21-7 under coach Jack Kraft. Only 25 teams were invited to the NCAA Tournament in those days (now it’s 68), and Villanova was among them.
White had 28 points and 10 rebounds in a first-round win over West Virginia and 31 points in a second-round victory over New York University. The next day, Villanova lost to Wake Forest in the East Regional Final. White had 14 points, but his team was unbelievably small, and he believes ‘Nova might have advanced to the Final Four if there was more time between games, as there is today.
“We just ran out of gas,” White said. “If we had a break, that would have helped us.” White was a 6-foot-3 center, which was tiny even by the big-time college hoops standards of the early ‘60s, so in almost every game White was trying to outrebound guys five or six inches taller than he was.
“Against NYU,” he recalled, “we played against two of the best players in the region, Happy Hairston and Barry Kramer, both legitimate All-Americans. And we were hoping that St. Joe’s beat Wake Forest (the Hawks lost, 96-85) because we had beaten them during the regular season. But Wake Forest won, and they were just too much for us. They had 6-foot-8 Len Chappell (Player of the Year), and 6-foot-11 center Bob Ward. Our biggest guys were 6-5 — O’Brien and McMonagle. We led by two points at the half, but in the second half they just wore us down.” Wake Forest defeated Villanova, 79-69.
Wake Forest proceeded to lose to Ohio State, led by Jerry Lucas, in the Final Four, which in turn lost to Cincinnati in the national championship game. White was named to the all-tournament team along with Jones, who later played for the 76ers. “I played good defense and I could rebound,” White said. “I left the ballhandling to Wali.”
But before basketball, education topped the list of priorities in the White family. Born in Athens, Georgia, in 1940, White was seven when his father, a laborer at the local bus station, moved the family to Philadelphia to escape the climate of institutionalized racism legalized by Jim Crow laws in the south. His father realized in order to provide his son the opportunity to lead a successful life, the family had to leave the south.
“My father painted the idea in my head that if you want to succeed you gotta get an education,” said White during a mid-August interview.
Service and education have been two totems of White’s life. After his two-season NBA run, White worked for more than a decade in the Philadelphia Health Department before working for 12 years as a teacher in North Philadelphia.
After graduating from Villanova University in 1962 with a degree in business administration, White joined the San Francisco Warriors (’62-’63), who that year had been purchased and relocated from Philadelphia. In San Francisco he played with former Temple University All-American Guy Rodgers.
But his remarkable jumping ability that enabled him to play in the frontcourt throughout high school and college failed to transfer to the guard position. In the NBA he struggled to evolve from a forward/center into a guard. And it would have been difficult for him to compete against NBA forwards and centers who stood so many inches above him.
After professional basketball, White navigated his way into a short-lived career in private industry, but he disliked the money-making values that dominated the industry mindset. He worked for a number years before a two-year run in the American Basketball Association from 1969-1971 and marrying his wife Christa. White described the ABA stint as an effort to earn extra money, three times the amount he realized in the NBA, to buy a home and begin to raise a family (he eventually had five children and five grandchildren). Afterwards, White began his long career as an employee of the City of Philadelphia.
He started in the mayor’s office promoting job development and in man-power planning. In 1975 he shifted to the health department, capitalizing on an opportunity to serve as an administrator of Health Center Number 5 at 19th and Berks Streets in North Philadelphia.
When he learned he needed to further his education before he could rise from assistant to director, White enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania. He earned a master’s degree in governmental administration from the Penn’s Fels Institute of Government in 1983 and then ran Health Center Number 3 in West Philadelphia. In 1995, he retired at 57.
But as if his father had fused it in his mind like a mantra, the sound of education called. A year later, after hearing about a Beaver College —now Arcadia University — program, somewhat targeted towards African-American males that enabled men to teach in Philadelphia schools while they received a teaching certificate, White enrolled.
He started at Roberts Vaux High School, then a middle-school, at 23rd and Master Streets in North Philly, as a history teacher. Twelve years later, in 2008, at age 68, White retired.
As a teacher, White said he encountered many students who lacked the value of education he cherished. Students were unprepared, particularly for the transition from grade school to high school. “It was very hard to help them understand that this was their opportunity,” said White.
One can perhaps imagine then the dreamlike aura for White and his southern father, as the boy planned to walk into one of the region’s most known basketball arenas. White says that Villanova served as a bridge for him to get to where he wanted to be. “It was the most important time of my life,” he said about the college days.
On January 27, 2001, White’s Villanova number 14 was retired.
Ed. note: My wife and I went to the Palestra often in the early 1960s to see Big 5 games, and my favorite players were Hubie White and Wali Jones. I still have a clear mental picture of Hubie White leaping against guys six inches taller than he and somehow, miraculously, coming down with the rebound, and of Wali Jones and his unique corkscrew jumpshot which he seemed to hurl into the basket from across the street. As a schoolyard ballplayer myself, I could appreciate the huge hearts of these guys as well as their stunning talent. After 50 years, they are definitely in my personal Basketball Hall of Fame.