As Frank Selvy took the inbounds pass near mid-court in the waning seconds of a 1954 basketball game against Newberry, the Furman star knew he had very little time to get his shot off.
“After I took a dribble or two, I spun around and just sort of threw it up,” Selvy said recently, as he recounted what turned out to be an historic 40-foot shot. “I figured it was in the whole way.”
And what made him so sure that his shot would fall through the net as the final horn sounded in Greenville’s Textile Hall?
“Most of them were going in that night,” he said. “I figured that one would, too.”
Indeed, most of them did go in — he shot 41-of-66 from the field and 18-of-22 from the free-throw line in the 149-95 Furman win — as he accomplished what no other NCAA Division I player had done prior to that night and what no other Division I player has done since.
Selvy scored 100 points in one game.
“It’s still hard to believe something like that would happen,” said Selvy, who lives in Simpsonville.
The 60th anniversary of the Feb. 13 game arrives Thursday, and the 81-year-old Selvy remains as low-key today about the one-of-a-kind performance as he was upon accomplishing the feat. He doesn’t relish the spotlight.
“I’ve said many times that it’s not something I was real proud of. I regretted doing it, scoring 100 points, many times,” he said. “I didn’t set out to do anything like that, but every game, my coach wanted me to score as many points as I could score and get as many rebounds as I could get. That way we would win more games and get more publicity. So that’s what I did.”
In his senior season of 1953-54, Selvy led the nation with an average of 41.7 points per game as Furman went 20-9 under coach Lyles Alley with two wins each against South Carolina and Clemson. His 1,209 points that season rank second on the all-time Division I list behind the 1,381 scored in 1969-70 by LSU’s Pete Maravich, who also holds the only three single-season averages higher than Selvy’s.
But it was no secret the game against Newberry might turn out to be something special. Alley designated it “Frank Selvy Night” in honor of his star’s career achievements, which included leading the nation in scoring with a 29.5 average as a junior. An overflow crowd of 4,000 attended the game, which also was the first in Upstate history to be broadcast live thanks to local station WFBC.
A caravan of family and friends made the 250-mile trek from his hometown of Corbin, Ky., to take part in his festivities. His mother, who had never seen him play in college, was in attendance, as were his younger siblings, who participated in a halftime game against local children.
After Selvy scored 37 points in the first half, Alley decided to turn the game over to his 6-foot-4 senior star by telling his teammates to feed him the ball at every opportunity.
Selvy, who played every minute of every game in his final collegiate season, obliged by putting on a torrid shooting display. As it became clear that he might have a chance to reach 100 points, the P.A. announcer gave the ecstatic sellout crowd a running total of his points.
That final shot capped what only can be described as a perfect night, one that continues to stand as a singular achievement in Division I basketball annals. It also stands as a fitting monument to a man who helped Furman to a 59-21 record in his three seasons, earned consensus first-team All-America honors and was the first pick in the 1954 NBA draft by the Baltimore Bullets. He played nine seasons in the NBA, including five seasons with some excellent Los Angeles Lakers teams led by Elgin Baylor and Jerry West.
After his professional career ended, Selvy returned to Furman as the head coach for four seasons before leaving the game to work 25 years in sales for an Upstate paper company. An avid golfer, he remains close to former Furman teammates such as Roger Thompson, who played with Selvy in 1951-52.
“He’s a better person than he was a player, and I think he was the best player in the history of the state of South Carolina,” Thompson said. “Frank was a very humble, quiet guy, and the fact that he scored heavily does not detract from the fact that, first and foremost, he was a team player. He was a great ambassador, totally unselfish, and his presence on the team made all of us a lot better than we would have been.”
Selvy understands that he’ll always be known for his 100-point game. Whenever he’s playing golf with someone he hasn’t met, he invariably gets the same first response: “You’re the guy who scored 100 points.”
That figure remains virtually unattainable for players at the collegiate and professional levels. Bevo Francis scored 113 points for NAIA member Rio Grande (Ohio) in a win over Hillsdale (Mich.) in 1954, 11 days before Selvy hit the century mark. Wilt Chamberlain scored an even 100, the only NBA player to achieve the milestone, for the Philadelphia Warriors in a 1962 game against the New York Knicks.
Those three figures held firm for decades until Jack Taylor, a guard for NCAA Division III Grinnell College, poured in 138 points in a 2012 game against Faith Baptist Bible. This season, he scored 109 points in a game against Crossroads College. Grinnell’s run-and-gun system greatly helped Taylor, who took 108 shots and made 27 3-pointers in his 138-point game.
Selvy took interest in Taylor’s feats and quickly realized Grinnell’s system is an aberration in basketball circles.
“Most Division I teams don’t get 60-70 shots in a game. Here’s one guy with 108 shots,” Selvy said. “I couldn’t figure out how he could do that. If you get a certain amount of shots, you’re going to score a certain amount of points.”
Selvy, of course, didn’t have help from a 3-point line in his era. It has been estimated that he might have scored 12 to 15 more points against Newberry if there had been one. He could hit jump shots from anywhere on the floor, but he grew up playing high school basketball as an undersized center whose best shot was a hook that he could methodically sink with either hand.
His lack of size kept bigger schools such as Kentucky and North Carolina from offering him a scholarship until he excelled in all-star games after his senior season. But he decided that he couldn’t go back on his word to play for Alley at Furman.
Once he arrived in Greenville, his future teammates quickly realized they were going to play with someone special.
“First time I saw him play, it was clear he was a player who had enormous skills,” Thompson said.
Freshmen weren’t eligible for varsity play back then, but he proved Thompson right by averaging 24.6 points per game as a sophomore and making first-team All-Southern Conference when the league included the teams that would go on to form the Atlantic Coast Conference. With Selvy and Nield Gordon leading the team, Furman defeated Duke on the way to an 18-6 record, one season after going 3-20.
“He could hit from the outside, he could post up and he could drive to the basket,” Thompson said. “We used to call him ‘Snake’ because of the way he would weave himself through a couple of people and lay it up or kick it out to one of us.”
Gordon, Selvy’s teammate in 1951-52 and 1952-53, gave Furman a strong 1-2 scoring punch in those seasons, as both would later make it into the school’s Hall of Fame and have their jerseys retired.
“He was the best player I ever played with,” said Gordon, who went on to a stellar coaching career with Newberry and Winthrop. “But when you were on the floor with him, you didn’t realize how good he was and how many points he got. He was just a pleasure to play with.”
Selvy embraced the game as a youngster, practicing for hours when he wasn’t going to school or working summers on a farm. His father was a coal miner, and the family didn’t have a lot of money. When the opportunity came to attend Furman and earn an education while playing basketball, he never looked back.
“Basketball meant everything to me,” he said. “All of a sudden, I had a full scholarship and all the food I wanted. I thought that was something.”
He doesn’t believe that he could have done what his father did for a living in the mines.
“I don’t think I would have been tough enough to do that,” he said.
But he was tough enough to be a good defensive player, too. When playing point guard for the Lakers, he always guarded the best perimeter player on the opposing team while making sure that he distributed the ball to Baylor and West on offense.
“He was a great defender, as well as a great passer, a great rebounder and a great clutch player,” Thompson said.
Ironically, his most famous NBA shot may be one that he didn’t sink. In Game 7 of the 1962 NBA Finals, he made a pair of big shots late to tie the game, but he misfired on an 18-foot baseline jumper at the buzzer that would have given the Lakers the championship. Instead, the game went to overtime, where the Celtics prevailed. He finished his NBA career — which was interrupted by a three-year stint in the U.S. Army in the mid-1950s — in 1964 as a two-time All-Star who averaged 10.8 points over 565 games.
Today he’s still married to Barbara, a former Miss Arkansas that he met through a friend of St. Louis Hawks star Bob Pettit in 1959 when Selvy played for the New York Knicks. They had four children and nine grandchildren, and Selvy, who will have knee replacement surgery soon, likes nothing more than watching his grandkids playing youth basketball. He has attended a handful of Furman games this season and enjoys watching the top college teams on television.
He plays golf with a group of seniors that includes some of his former Furman teammates on Mondays and Thursdays. Their relationships have only grown closer over the past 60 years, and they like to joke about the number of people they run across who claim to have witnessed Selvy’s 100-point game in Textile Hall that night.
As for another Division I player matching his feat, Selvy concedes it’s possible, but he says it would be difficult. He points to the size and strength of today’s players as well as the greater emphasis on team defense in the college game. He also notes both teams would have to be willing to engage in a run-and-gun affair as Furman and Newberry did.
Until it happens, he’ll continue to quietly accept his unique brand of celebrity.
“My name is connected with it. That’s what I’m remembered for all these years,” Selvy said. “It turned out to be a really big thing.”