In the latest installment in his "Forgotten Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Charles Brunson, the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in the history of Winthrop basketball. Brunson was a two-time NAIA All-American at the school and also ranks second in school history in field goal percentage.
Jon Teitel: You started your college career at Gardner-Webb before transferring to Winthrop after two years. Why did you decide to attend Gardner-Webb?
Charles Brunson: Gardner-Webb had a top-ranked program at the time and Coach Eddie Holbrook was good at making you into the best basketball player you could be. It was a challenging program and a good school, but very demanding. The school president was a good person and I fell in love with the campus.
JT: Winthrop's very first season of basketball was in 1978. How did it feel to go to a school that was creating a program from scratch, and was it important to you to help start a tradition there?
CB: Winthrop had an up-and-coming program, but had to wait one year after developing the program and at the time I just wanted to play. I transferred in 1979 and was coming off of a serious knee reconstruction after ACL surgery. The Winthrop trainer really helped me get back in shape and be able to play. In that era an ACL tear usually limited your effectiveness, but I was very blessed. When I first signed with Winthrop I could not even bend my leg! Winthrop was also closer to home (only 45 miles from where I grew up) so I had some friends there as well. Winthrop had recruited some of the best talent in the nation during that first year, and I felt that my personality and goals were a great fit with the players (Ronnie/Donnie Creamer, Tim Raxter, Rick Riese, and Bennie Bennett). That is the #1 reason that I transferred to Winthrop.
JT: You played all of your home games at a junior hight school gym. What did it feel like to play a college game in a high school gym?
CB: The team did not move into the Winthrop Coliseum until the year after I graduated. The high school gym was a close environment. At a big coliseum you lose the connection with your fans. One of the building blocks for the program was the gym itself: when you ran out of bounds you had people standing there to push you back in! It was a very nice gym. I think Duke is a perfect example of tradition that does not want to change one bit. I used to go watch the Hornets when they were in Charlotte, and when I sit up high I would need binoculars.
JT: In 1981 you became only the third college team in the history of the state to win 30+ games in a single season. Was that the best team you have ever been on, and what was the reaction like on campus?
CB: The campus atmosphere was great, as the student body (from fraternities to athletes in other sports) were all supportive of each other. The closeness with the administration and faculty is also very unique. I went back last winter because our entire team was inducted into the school's Hall of Fame. To be honest, what I remember the most are not the games but the faculty who was so involved with us both inside and outside the classroom. If I was not in class the professors knew it!
JT: You won the Open Division of the 1981 Southern Textile Tournament while playing with Zam Fredrick Sr., who led the nation in scoring that season at South Carolina. How good a player was Zam Sr. back in the day, and did you ever think you would see his son Zam Jr. follow in his footsteps by becoming a great player for the Gamecocks?
CB: Zam Sr. is a good person and a great coach, and he has passed off his wisdom/knowledge to his son in addition to his players. I played against Zam Sr. in the 1977 state HS All-Star game and drew four charges on him! To see Zam Jr. do what he did was just like a flashback to his father.
JT: You were a two-time NAIA All-American. What did it mean to you to win such outstanding individual honors?
CB: Being named an All-American was a great individual honor, but more importantly it reflected the spirit, excitement and closeness we had as a team, including the university, faculty and community of Rock Hill and the state of South Carolina. I never went out and tried to win such awards and never dreamed of being an All-American. Coach Nield Gordon taught us a lot about the game and was a great mentor to me after having a great playing career himself. He taught us that if we worked hard and did our job we did not have to worry about the scorebook. I was shocked to be named All-American. I never thought about it because basketball is such a team sport. You cannot succeed unless your teammates make sacrifices. It is a great honor that I can share with my teammates because I did not do it by myself. If we had not won 30+ games, I doubt that I would have been named All-American.
JT: You remain the all-time leading scorer and rebounder in school history despite starting only 81 games in your career. Do you think anyone will ever break your records, and what is the secret to being a great scorer and rebounder?
CB: I hope somebody breaks my records. That is what they are there for, and I do not mind spotting them a year and a half! There are tricks in every sport, including basketball. How to step on someone's toes at the right time, how to hook someone without being called for a foul, etc. Much of the game is played below the rim, which most people do not realize. Once the light bulb went off I just did repetition after repetition. I never really kept track of my stats. The scoreboard told me everything I needed to know.
JT: Your 61.3 FG% is second all-time in school history. What is the secret to being a great shooter?
CB: The guy who holds the record (Eddie Gay) was a great player, but he only took about half as many shots as I did. I cannot really explain any trick to shooting: sometimes it is just about the state of mind you have, as well as knowing what shot you are going to take before you get the ball.
JT: You currently work as Executive Vice President of Operations at Evatran. How do you like the job, and what do you hope to do in the future?
CB: I really enjoy my role as Executive VP of Operations for Evatran. It is much like starting a new basketball program (as we did at Winthrop), but in the business environment. We are developing a one-of-a-kind electric proximity charging system for the Electric Vehicle industry, and it is exciting to be a part of developing new technology that will provide a tremendous benefit to the world and generations to come. The staff and CEO (Tom Hough) has a love, passion, and drive to make a difference in the world, which are the same characteristics I found in my coaches. It is a joy to be a part of such a great team that once again will make history.
JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?
CB: One thing that is not often printed in newspapers is what kind of person a player was. I would rather be known as a Christian man of character, honesty and integrity than by any of my stats or awards, as a man's values are the things that really last.
Brunson is also on Jon's list of best fantasy players in Big South history.
Campbell: Joe Spinks (1994) 1711 PTS (#4), 954 REB (#2), 220 STL (#2), 155 BLK (#2), conference POY
Charleston Southern: Ben Hinson (1987) 2295 PTS (#1), 45.7 3P% (#2), All-American, conference POY
Coastal Carolina: Tony Dunkin (1993) 2151 PTS (#1), 721 REB (#4), 52.1 FG% (#4), All-American, 4-time conference POY
Gardner-Webb: George Adams (1972) 2404 PTS (#1), 1113 REB (#1), 60.3 FG% (#1)
High Point: Arizona Reid (2008) 2069 PTS (#2), 1013 REB (#4), 2-time All-American, 2-time conference POY
Liberty: Karl Hess (1980) 2373 PTS (#1), 648 AST (#1), 89.8 FT% (#1)
UNC Asheville: Josh Pittman (1998) 1549 PTS (#4), 175 STL (#2), 2-time conference POY
Presbyterian: Dave Thompson (1956) 2195 PTS (#1)
Radford: Doug Day (1993) 2027 PTS (#1), 401 3PM (#1)
VMI: Reggie Williams (2008) 2556 PTS (#1), 820 REB (#4), 196 3PM (#4)
Winthrop: Charles Brunson (1982) 1850 PTS (#1), 913 REB (#1), 61.3 FG% (#2), 2-time All-American?