John McLendon

John McLendon (1915-1999)

Teams coached: North Carolina College Eagles, Hampton Pirates, Tennessee A&I Tigers, Cleveland Pipers, Kentucky State Thorobreds, Cleveland State Vikings, Denver Rockets
North Carolina College record^: 239-68 (.779)
Hampton record^: 31-20 (.6008)
Tennessee A&I record^: 149-20 (.882)
Kentucky State record: 50-29 (.633)
Cleveland State record^: 27-42 (.391)
Overall record^: 496-179 (.735)

Career Accomplishments:

  • NCAA National Championships:  0
  • NCAA Tournament Appearances:  0
  • NIT Championships:  0
  • NIT Appearances:  0
  • CIAA (Div II) Regular Season Champion:  6  (1941, 1943, 1944, 1945, 1946, 1950)
  • NAIA National Championships:  3  (1957, 1958, 1959)   
  • NAIA Tournament Appearances:  4  (1956, 1957, 1958, 1959)


  • Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted 1979 and 2016)
  • National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame (inducted 2006)

Coaching Career (head coach, unless noted):

1969 Denver Rockets
1966-1969 Cleveland State
1963-1966 Kentucky State
1959-1962 Cleveland Pipers
1954-1959 Tennessee A&I
1952-1954 Hampton
1940-1952 North Carolina College

John McLendon Facts

  • John Blanche McLendon, Jr.
  • Born April 5, 1915
  • Died October 8, 1999
  • Hometown: Kansas City, Kansas
  • Alma Mater: University of Kansas (BA, 1936)
  • Born in Hiawatha, KS, McLendon moved around a bit before his family finally settled in Kansas City, KS, where he attended Sumner HS
  • An all-around athlete in high school, McLendon didn’t officially play basketball until he made the team at Kansas City Kansas JC
    • Later transferred to KU, where he was a student of the game under Dr. James Naismith but was not allowed on the segregated varsity team
  • Started out coaching at the high school level before becoming the head coach at North Carolina College (now NC Central) in 1940
    • Went 239-67 in twelve seasons with the then-Division II (College Division) program, winning six CIAA titles
    • NCC mostly had to play against other all-black teams, but in 1944 McLendon led his team in a “Secret Game” against an all-white team from the Duke medical school which the Eagles won 88-44
  • Became the first head coach at what was then the Hampton Institute (NAIA) in 1952 – now Division I Hampton University
    • Was the Pirates’ head coach for their first two years, going 31-20 in total before leaving in 1954
  • Had an incredibly successful five-year tenure at Tennessee A&I (now State), winning three-straight NAIA National Championships (1957-59)
    • McLendon was the first head coach to ever win three-straight championships; was named NAIA National COY all three of those seasons
  • Hired by the fledging Cleveland Pipers of the NIBL in 1959, becoming the first African-American head coach of a professional sports team
    • Was with the program for most of three seasons, with the team disbanding in 1962 after a failed bid to join the NBA
  • Returned to the college game, spending three years as the head coach at D-II Kentucky State; went 50-29 overall
  • Made history again in 1966, becoming the first African-American head coach of a predominately white college’s basketball team (Cleveland State)
    • Was not very successful on the court, but his tenure was a major step towards a more inclusive college basketball landscape
  • McLendon briefly served as the head coach of the NBA’s Denver Rockets (now Nuggets) in 1969, going 9-19 during his tenure
  • Considered a pioneer in the sport, McLendon has been inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball HOF on three separate occasions: first in 1979 as a contributor, then again in 2016 as a coach, and lastly in 2019 along with his full 1957-59 Tennessee A&I teams that won three-straight NAIA titles
    • Also a member of the inaugural 2006 class of the National College Basketball HOF, Helms Foundation HOF (1962), CIAA HOF (1978), NAIA HOF (1983), North Carolina Central HOF (1984), Tennessee State HOF (1984), MEAC HOF (1986), Cleveland State HOF (2007) and Ohio Basketball HOF (2009)
    • has awarded the John McLendon Award annually since 2012 to recognize the nation’s top head coach at any level (D-I, II, III, NAIA or NJCAA)
    • McLendon is credited with inventing the fast break offense, full-court press defense and the four corners offense
  • McLendon passed away in 1999 at the age of 84 in Cleveland, Ohio

John McLendon Coaching Tree

  • coming soon


^ overall record includes head coaching positions at the NCAA Division II and NAIA levels only; Cleveland State and NC College (Central) were both D-II during McLendon’s tenure, while Tennessee A&I (State) and Hampton were both NAIA