With Furman appearing in their first NCAA Tournament since 1980, it brings to mind one of the great achievements in the history of college basketball that many fans watching March Madness today may not realize is connected with the school.
Given all that aligned for Frank Selvy on Feb. 13, 1954, the most improbable feat in college basketball history might actually have been destiny.
On that Valentine’s Day eve in Greenville, South Carolina, The Paladin reported in a 2016 retrospective that Furman’s matchup with in-state counterpart Newberry was already set to be Frank Selvy Night.
The occasion brought special attention, not the least significant of which was WFBC-4 TV, the Greenville-based channel that launched less than two months prior.
Televised basketball was still very much in its experimental stage in 1954; that season’s National Championship Game between a La Salle team with legendary Tom Gola and the Bradley Braves was the first aired on television. The precursor to March Madness did not return to TV for almost a decade thereafter.
So, for WFBC-4 to be on hand chronicling a moment that might never be matched is downright serendipitous. In fact, it was the first live basketball broadcast in South Carolina history.
Furman’s Selvy erupted in front of the television cameras, on the night designated to honor his All-America selection, to score 100 points. Selvy shot an incredible 41-66 from the field and 18-22 from the free throw line that night to set the NCAA Division I single-game scoring record that stands to this day.
While Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game eight years later against the Knicks remains the most famous triple-up ever, Selvy’s is perhaps ironically more accessible due to WFBC-4’s presence.
The iconic image of a smiling Wilt holding up a paper with the figure scrawled in marker is so closely associated with that night in part because no footage of the night exists. An intrepid YouTube channel dedicated to Chamberlain put together a compilation using the radio broadcast from that night in Hershey, Pennsylvania, overlaid on highlights from other games in Wilt’s career.
Meanwhile, South Carolina’s The State newspaper unearthed and published the actual footage of Selvy’s 100-point game in recognition of the feat’s 60th anniversary nine years ago with his 100th point coming on a dramatically lengthy shot at the buzzer.
The State is also the source for some more fascinating background on the mythic scoring performance, reported in 1954. Selvy was a media sensation that winter, even before hitting 100 points.
Just a week prior, the Paladins trekked north for a matchup with the aforementioned Gola and La Salle in Philadelphia and a visit to the Mecca, Madison Square Garden. Selvy did the media rounds in New York, which included an appearance alongside other All-Americans on The Ed Sullivan Show.
The State columnist Jake Penland joined on the Northern excursion to detail Furman’s and Selvy’s exploits. Among the tidbits, Selvy performed a shooting exhibition for photographers and New York scribes.
“In his workout for the press and radio and television and newsreels at the armory yesterday shot consistently from every angle and distances ranging up to midcourt.”
Put another way, the biggest star ever to come from the 2023 Southern Conference championship-winning program was putting up shots the most famous SoCon star, Steph Curry, was innovating a half-century later at Davidson.
Penland’s column shares another anecdote, that of a member of the contingent that traveled from Greenville to New York lamenting from inside the lobby of Hotel Astor that, “when [the media] get through with putting Frank through the publicity wringer, he won’t be in shape to play tonight.”
Selvy scored 42 points in that Feb. 5 contest against Manhattan. After his college career went on to be the first pick in the 1954 NBA Draft and was a two-time NBA All-Star with the Bullets and Lakers.
Furman’s place in basketball lore is minuscule. When the Paladins face Virginia to open the 2023 NCAA Tournament, it will mark a rare taste of the national spotlight in modern times.
But in Frank Selvy, Furman boasts one of the game’s earliest media superstars and a piece of history unlikely to ever be matched at the Division I level.