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The 22nd Greatest Basketball Program In The South: UNC Charlotte 49ers

Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on October 10, 2007

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UNC Charlotte 49ers

Location: Charlotte, North Carolina

Nickname: 49ers

Reason For Nickname: Unlike football’s San Francisco 49ers, the Charlotte 49ers earned their nickname not because of gold rushes, but because of 1949, when the University of North Carolina at Charlotte was saved from bankruptcy and transformed into the present-day university.

Colors: Green, Gold, and Black

Conference: A-10

Arena: Dale F. Halton Arena (built 1996, capacity 9,105)  

Miner Pride: UNC Charlotte began playing basketball over 40 years ago after receiving four-year status as a university as members of the Dixie Conference, where they played from 1965 to 1970. During that time, however, the 49ers won their first title in the conference in 1969. The Niners would play as an independent until 1976 when they became members of the Sun Belt Conference and would make their first and only Final Four Appearance a year later, where they finished fourth behind UNLV, North Carolina, and eventual champion Marquette. In 1991, the Niners became members of the Metro Conference, which would later absorb into Conference USA in 1996. The Niners would remain members of Conference USA until 2005 when they joined the Atlantic 10.

Postseason Success: Outside of the 1977 Final Four, the 49ers made the NCAA Tournament in 1988, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2004, and 2005, which would give the 49ers 11 NCAA Tournament appearances in 42 years of basketball. Along with that, the 49ers have been a part of 5 NITs, one of them which resulted in a 1976 NIT Final Four berth. Much of the success that UNC Charlotte have accumulated came during their days in Conference USA during the mid-90’s.

Coaching Legacy: Charlotte’s basketball tradition can be seen in the great coaches who have led championship and postseason teams. For any 49ers fan, the legendary line would start with Lee Rose, who led the team to the 1976 NIT Final Four and the 1977 NCAA Final Four, which would garner him Sun Belt Coach of the Year in that same year. Next in line would be Jeff Mullins, who would lead the 49ers out of the doldrums and into a period of sustained success and five postseason appearances during his tenure. After Mullins left, he was replaced by former UNC Charlotte standout Melvin Watkins, who would take Charlotte to two NCAA appearances in each of his two seasons, reaching the second round on both occasions. He would in turn be followed by another former Charlotte standout, Bobby Lutz, who would take the 49ers to five NCAA appearances and a Conference USA regular season championship in 2004. Lutz also led the 49ers to the Conference USA Tournament championship in both 1999 and 2001. As of this writing, he needs only 15 wins to pass Jeff Mullins on the all-time wins in Charlotte history.

Big Man On Campus: Cedric Maxwell is considered one of Charlotte’s greats in basketball. Maxwell played a key part in leading the 49ers to the 1977 Final Four and is currently 6th all-time in points scored. He would parlay his success into an 11-year career with the Boston Celtics, Clippers, and Rockets. Currently, he is working in radio with the Boston Celtics. Other players of note would include former Pistons guard Rodney White, Brendan Plavich, and 2005 Conference USA Player of the Year Eddie Basden.

Rivalries: Over the years, the 49ers have had its share of rivalries. During their time in Conference USA, Charlotte had rivalries with Cincinnati and Louisville, teams that normally contended, along with the 49ers, for the conference crown. Since the 49ers joined the Atlantic 10, it’s been hard to figure who will be their big rival in basketball because of geography. All signs would likely point to possibly George Washington or Xavier (Ohio) for consideration as rivals in the Atlantic 10.

Did You Know?: The main campus of UNC Charlotte is located on N.C. Highway 49, which may also explain the reason for the nickname of the athletic programs.

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