Induction Year: 1978
For Bob Hopkins, it all started when he was a 6-foot-7-inch, 205-pound eighth grader playing on the outdoor dirt court at Jonesboro High School.
The school, which later became Jackson High, didn’t have a basketball coach - or a basketball team.
Those problems were solved one year later, with the arrival of Gus Garner.
In his junior and senior seasons, Hopkins averaged 36 and 39, respectively, in leading his team to the Louisiana Interscholastic, Athletic and Literary Organization state tournament at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Jonesboro was eliminated by Holy Rosary the first year and Booker T. Washington of New Orleans the next year.
Conditions improved considerably in his senior year. Garner took his team to Winnfield to play its home games in an indoor gym.
Hopkins scored 72 points in one game against Winnfield in his junior season.
He was a two-time All-Stater in basketball, but Hopkins was even more impressive in baseball. Playing first base and the outfield on both the high school team and a semi-pro summer team, he batted over .500 each year and made All-State all four years.
Professional baseball scouts were interested, but Hopkin’s mother- Mattie Lou Bolds- wanted him to be the first member of his family to attend college.
One of his cousins, Grambling publicist Collie J. Nicholson, helped the Tigers recruit Hopkins. The stiffest competition came from Indiana University, which became the first Big Ten school to break the color barrier that year with Bill Garrett of Indianapolis. Garner and his assistant, Windsor Turner, were both attending graduate school in Indiana. But Hopkins wasn’t interested in being a Big Ten pioneer. He opted for Grambling.
At that time, Eddie Robinson was coaching both the football and the basketball team at Grambling.
“We knew we had to run for four hours,” Hopkins recalled of Robinson’s coaching philosophy.
As a 6-8 freshman in 1952-53, Hopkins averaged 28 points and 17 rebounds per game. Nicholson provided a nickname in press releases- “Li’l Abner.”
The following summer, another cousin nearly persuaded Hopkins to leave Grambling. He was Bill Russell, then attending the University of San Francisco.
Hopkins spent two consecutive summers with an older sister who was living in San Francisco. He played basketball with Russell, K.C. Jones, Johnny Mathis and other San Francisco players.
Russell, who was born in Monroe, La. but moved to California as a child, tried to talk Hopkins into transferring.
“Collie J. persuaded me to come back to Grambling,” recalled Hopkins.
Russell proceeded to lead San Francisco to two consecutive NCAA championships and a 55-game winning streak. Grambling, which was then a member of the Midwestern Athletic Conference, won two conference titles as Hopkins shattered national collegiate scoring records with a career total of 3. 759 points in 126 games- an average of 29.1 points per game. He also had 2,191 rebounds.
The Syracuse Nationals, who won the National Basketball Association championship in 1954-55 but lost all five-game playoff series to the Philadelphia warriors the following year, picked “Li’l Abner” in the fourth round of the 1956 draft.
Four rookies made the Syracuse squad in 1956-57: guards Jim Ray of Toledo and Bob Schafer of Villanova, forward Joe Holup of George Washington and Hopkins.
The Nationals made a late charge to finish second to the Boston Celtics (with Russell joining the Celtics after the Olympics) in East Division standings.
In each of his four seasons with the Nationals, the Celtics won division titles. Three of the teams won NBA titles. Syracuse made the playoffs each year, and forced a playoff series with the Celtics to a seventh game in 1958-59 as both teams won on their home courts. (Boston then swept the Minneapolis Lakers in four games.)
Although his team didn’t enjoy much success against the Celtics, Hopkins turned in some of his best scoring performances against his cousin. One night, he scored 28 points against Russell in the first half and fouled out in the third quarter with 44 points.
“I usually played well against the teams on the east coast,” he recalled.
In his rookie season, Hopkins averaged only 12 minutes per game. He never averaged more than 23 minutes per game, and his scoring average was in double digits only once- when he averaged 10 points per game in 1958-59.
The bottom line numbers for four NBA seasons: 2.237 points (8.3 per game) and 1,526 rebounds (5.6 per game).
After his playing career ended, he made his coaching debut with Prairie View A&M- guiding the Panthers to an 18-10 record. In the next three seasons, his Alcorn State teams were 20-8, 24-3, and 27-1.
Hopkins also had a couple of 20-win seasons at Xavier in New Orleans.
He returned to the NBA as an assistant coach with the Seattle Supersonics and the New York Knicks, and was the Supersonic’s interim head coach for 22 games at the end of the 1977-78 season. He spent a couple of years coaching the Grambling women’s team before returning to the men’s game at Southern and Grambling. His 1984-85 Southern team lost to St. John’s in the NCAA tournament.
Hopkins, now head coach at Maryland-Eastern Shore, was inducted into the NAIA Hall of Fame on March 15, 1961. He was inducted into the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in 1978.
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