Wendell Hudson

Wendell Hudson (1951- ) was the first black scholarship athlete at the University of Alabama (UA), signing to play with the men’s basketball team in 1969. Hudson’s high school career occurred as high school athletics were integrating in the state. A forward at UA from 1970-1973, Hudson was named first-team All-American and SEC Player of the Year in his senior year. He went on to a career as a college basketball coach and administrator, coaching the UA women’s basketball team from 2008 to 2013.

Wendell Hudson Hudson was born in Birmingham, Jefferson County, on April 16, 1951, to Mildred Hudson, who was 16 and unmarried. He had a younger sister. They lived with Mildred’s mother in West Birmingham while she completed high school. She also worked at a downtown Birmingham department store in order to support the family. As a freshman at A. H. Parker High School, Hudson wanted to try out for basketball but his mother objected. During his sophomore year, she relented and Hudson joined the team under coach Herman Williams. Though talented and standing 6’6″, Hudson lacked on-court experience and chose to play with the junior varsity during his first season in order to develop his skills.

Hudson’s high school career coincided with movement toward the integration of Alabama high school athletics. (In 1966, Hudson’s freshman year, Danny Treadwell of S. R. Butler High School of Huntsville, Madison County, broke the Class 4A tournament color barrier.) As black students began gaining access to formerly all-white schools, they also began competing in school sports. Integration accelerated following a 1968 federal judge ruling in the Lee v. Macon County case that black and white high school athletic associations in the state must merge. (The process of actual school integration occurred more slowly, however.) During Hudson’s senior year, the Parker squad dominated the regular season 30-1 and advanced to the state 4A championship against another predominately black team, Birmingham’s Carver High School. On March 1, 1969, the teams met at UA’s Memorial Coliseum (now Coleman Coliseum) for the first all-black championship game in Alabama high school basketball history. Parker earned a come-from-behind 72-70 victory in front of a crowd of 10,000, the largest in the history of the high school tournament. Playing forward, Hudson scored 47 points during the three-game tournament and was named to the all-tournament team.

The performance made an impression on UA basketball coach Charles “C.M.” Newton, who attended the tournament to scout Hudson’s teammate, Alvin McGrew. Newton had been trying to recruit several black players, including Henry Harris from the Greene County Training School in Boligee, but he chose to attend Auburn University. Harris became Auburn’s first black scholarship athlete and made the school’s basketball program the second in the Southeastern Conference to integrate, after Perry Wallace debuted at Vanderbilt University in 1966.

Wendell Hudson, 1971 At that time, scholarship offers for black athletes typically came from junior colleges and historically black colleges and universities, such as Birmingham’s Miles College, which made an offer to Hudson. Following the 1969 season, Newton visited Hudson in Birmingham and invited him to Tuscaloosa for a recruiting visit during a UA game. In a small ceremony in his mother’s home in April 1969, Hudson accepted his only offer from a major school and filled out the Southeastern Conference (SEC) grant-in-aid forms to become UA’s first black scholarship student athlete. During his career, Hudson endured racial taunts when playing at other SEC schools and Newton weathered criticism from fans. Hudson also faced criticism from the black community for choosing to attend UA rather than a black college. Both Hudson and Newton have recalled that the process went smoothly, despite these issues.

On the court, Hudson showed promise immediately, becoming the leading rebounder and number two scorer on the Crimson Tide’s freshman team. He started on the varsity squad his sophomore year, but his season was cut short when he broke his wrist in a game against the University of Tennessee. In his first full season, in 1972, Hudson led the Crimson Tide in points, rebounds, and blocked shots during the team’s 18-8 run—its first winning record in six years. Hudson also led the SEC in rebounds (340 for a 13.1 per-game average) and was named first-team all-conference. Hudson’s success enabled Newton to recruit additional black players. During Hudson’s senior year, three other black players joined him on the court; Leon Douglas, Charles Cleveland, and Ray Odums. Hudson also helped UA recruit its first black scholarship football players, Wilbur Jackson and John Mitchell, by sharing his experiences as a black student athlete at UA.

The 1972-73 season became a watershed for the program. The Crimson Tide earned a 22-8 record and finished second in the SEC, their best conference finish in 17 years. Invited to the program’s first-ever postseason appearance in the National Invitation Tournament (NIT), Alabama advanced to the semifinals before losing to the University of North Carolina. Hudson averaged 20.7 points per game his senior season, led the SEC in scoring, and earned conference player-of-the-year honors. He was also named a first-team All-American. Hudson finished his college career with 1,326 points (19.2 per game) and 826 rebounds (12 per game).

Wendell Hudson with Fellow UA Coaches After graduating in 1973, Hudson was selected by the Chicago Bulls in the second round of the National Basketball Association draft and the Memphis Tams in the second round of the American Basketball Association draft. After a short stint with both teams, Hudson returned to UA and joined Newton’s staff as an assistant. From 1974 to 1979, the Crimson Tide posted a 129-41 record, including three straight SEC titles and an NCAA Sweet 16 appearance in 1976. That same year, Hudson and UA football assistant coach Dude Hennessy unsuccessfully sued the NCAA over a ruling that limited the size of coaching staffs. The plaintiffs charged that the limitation effectively reduced them to part-time employees and hampered their efforts to seek similar positions elsewhere.

Hudson left his alma mater in 1979 and served as an assistant men’s basketball coach at the University of North Alabama in Florence through 1982. The Lions advanced to the NCAA Division II tournament twice, appearing in the Final Four in 1980. Between 1982 and 1986, Hudson served as an assistant men’s basketball coach at Rice University (1982-83), the University of Mississippi (1983-85), and Baylor University (1985-86). In 1986, he was hired as the assistant athletic director at McLennan Community College in Waco, Texas, and took over as the athletic director in 1990. Hudson also coached the school’s women’s basketball team from 1986 through 1997 and the men’s basketball team from 2000 to 2001.

Wendell Hudson Receives UA Award Hudson returned to UA in 2003 as associate athletics director for alumni relations. In 2008, he was hired as the eighth head coach of the UA women’s basketball program, making him the second black head coach in the Alabama athletics program. (Auburn University track star Harvey Glance became the first when he was hired as head coach of the UA men’s track and field team in 1997.) Hudson’s team had their best season under him in 2010, earning an 18-15 record and an invitation to the Women’s NIT for the first time in nine years. Several subpar seasons followed, however, and Hudson was removed in 2013 as coach and reassigned to an administrative position within the Department of Athletics.

He is married to the former Belinda Urivie and has five children. Hudson was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.

Further Reading

  • Jacobs, Barry. “Door Jamb: Wendell Hudson, University of Alabama, 1969-73.” In Across the Line: Profiles In Basketball Courage: Tales Of The First Black Players In The ACC and SEC (Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2007), pp. 122-46.
  • Bolton, Clyde. The Basketball Tide: A Story of Alabama Basketball. Huntsville, Ala.: Strode Publishers, 1977.
  • Walsh, Christopher. “Influence of UA’s first black athlete endures.” The Tuscaloosa News, February, 22, 2008.

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