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December 27, 2012

Former UA basketball star Cleveland dies at 61

TUSCALOOSA | Charles Cleveland, one of the first black basketball players at the University of Alabama, died last week.

He was 61.

Cleveland's basketball coach at UA from 1971-75, C.M. Newton, said he was a great player and a good person all around.

"He was All-American and everything," Newton said after leaving Cleveland's funeral in Brent on Thursday. "We won two conference championships while Charles was on our team. He was All-National Invitational Tournament, which rivaled the NCAA in terms of talent back then."

Newton said Cleveland was the fourth black basketball player to come to UA. During his time playing for the school, he was a three-time, first-team All-Southeastern Conference selection. He scored 1,312 points in three seasons, averaging 15.8 points and 7.5 rebounds with 271 assists in his career.

Alabama went 66-17 in his three seasons and helped lead UA to its first-ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 1975. Cleveland scored 18 points and grabbed 13 rebounds against Arizona State in a first-round NCAA Tournament game.

Wendell Hudson, UA women's basketball coach and former teammate, said Cleveland was one of the best.

"Charles may have been the best athlete to ever come through Alabama," Hudson said. "Because of the three point line not being in effect, people may have not known how good he was as a player. He had such great range. Aside from basketball, he was also a good friend for many years. He was really a great person."

Cleveland also won a state championship at Bibb County High School.

"He played high school basketball, football and baseball at Bibb County High School and was recruited very heavily in all three," Newton said. "He chose to come here and play basketball and he had a great career."

After college ball, Cleveland went to the NBA to play for the 76ers, Newton said. After that, he came back to Tuscaloosa to work for the UA Police Department. He took a job in Birmingham for a while, Newton said, then came back to Tuscaloosa to work with disadvantaged youth in Holt. He was later hired at UA's Brewer Porch Children's Center where he continued to work with disadvantaged youth until he died.

"He was employee of the month several times out there and just did a good job all around," Newton said. "He was a good friend. He'd call and check on my health several times. He had a good heart."

Reach Jamon Smith at jamon.smith@tuscaloosanews.com or 205-722-0204.


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