Gastonia native, Virginia Union basketball coach named to NC Sports Hall of Fame

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Gastonia native and legendary Virginia Union University basketball coach Dave Robbins has been inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame last week for his successful career in college basketball.
Gastonia native and legendary Virginia Union University basketball coach Dave Robbins has been inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame last week for his successful career in college basketball.

Almost a decade after leaving coaching, Gastonia native Dave Robbins is still making history.

Already a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame as well as the Gaston County Sports Hall of Fame, Robbins will be part of the 2022 class inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

”I am honored to be considered because of my career as a coach. I am proud of the moments I had while coaching,” Robbins said.

Specializing in football, basketball and track at the former Ashley High School in Gastonia, he would later do the same at Catawba College.

"I was coached by Larry Rhodes during my time at Ashley. He mentored me and taught me a lot. I actually incorporated some of the things he taught me in my coaching," Robbins said.

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NFL hopes to becoming a coach

Before diving headfirst into coaching, Robbins spent three months pursuing a roster spot with the NFL's Denver Broncos. A knee injury ended that pursuit but allowed another to begin in Richmond, Virginia.

During that time Robbins met the love of his life, Bunny Baker, with whom he shared something in common.

”My wife is from Mount Holly. I met her at a party. We spoke for a while and while talking to her I noticed that North Carolina southern accent. Then she revealed she was indeed from the same place I was. It was destiny," Robbins said.

After eight years coaching high school basketball — including the 1975 Virginia state AAA championship at Richmond's Thomas Jefferson High School — Robbins was ready for the college ranks. In 1978, he was hired as head coach at Virginia Union University, where he would earn legendary status.

“I started working at Virginia Union after one of the current basketball coaches there, Tom Harris, saw me coach during one of my games at Thomas Jefferson High. He said ‘that white boy is going to be my next coach,’ and at the time I said ‘no way,’” said Robbins.

”When the job opened to be a head coach for the basketball team at Virginia Union, I received a call from Harris. I ended up accepting it and the rest is history.”

Heading into the CIAA

Robbins was the first white head coach in the history of the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (CIAA), a league made up of historically Black colleges and universities. At the time, a segment of fellow CIAA coaches felt the hiring of Robbins took opportunities away from Black candidates.

“It took a while to be accepted, but in time I earned the respect of the university’s coaches as I connected with other coaches in the CIAA,” Robbins said.

Robbins earned the respect of fellow coaches after the late Clarence “Big House” Gaines selected Robbins as an assistant basketball coach during Gaines' time on the U.S. Olympic Committee from 1973 to 1976. Gaines was a former coach at Winston-Salem State University.

Nicknamed “The White Shadow,” he finished with a 713-194 record over the course of a 30-year career. Robbins led Virginia Union to NCAA Division II national titles in 1980, 1992 and 2005, also finishing as runner-up in 2006.

Virginia Union won 14 CIAA league titles under his guidance, as well as seven regional championships. In three decades on the bench, his teams won 30 games four times and 20 games or more on 24 occasions.

Five of his players went on to play in the NBA, among them Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer Ben Wallace, as well as Charles Oakley.

In addition, he was honored with the Virginia Union Lifetime Coaching Award. He retired in 2008.

“I made many memories during my time as a coach and I am humbled to be remembered as a North Carolinian. It is hard to be remembered when you have been away for so long,” said Robbins.

"We still call Gaston County our home, though we have been living in Richmond for over 55 years.”

Other inductees to the N.C. Sports Hall of Fame

Along with Robbins, other members of this year’s induction class include National Baseball Hall of Famer Luke Appling, groundbreaker Missouri Arledge, who was the first African-American woman to play in an AAU tournament and first female to join the Harlem Globetrotters; legendary athletic trainer Ronnie Barnes; basketball lifer Henry Bibby; longtime Duke women’s golf coach Dan Brooks; NC State football product, retired NFL receiver and Super Bowl XXXIV champion Torry Holt; the late Sam Mills, who played 12 years in the NFL — his final three with the Carolina Panthers; Timmy Newsome and renowned sports journalist Tom Suiter.

Charlotte Hornets legend Tyron “Mugsy” Bogues is also being inducted as part of the 2022 induction class.

Beatriz Guerrero can be reached at 704-869-1828 or on Twitter@BeatrizGue_. Joe L Hughes II contributed to this story and can be reached at 704-914-8138 or on Twitter @JoeLHughesII.

This article originally appeared on The Gaston Gazette: Gastonia native inducted into North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame