A shortage of eighth-grade players left the Buford school system’s basketball coaches scrambling for seventh-graders to fill out the roster, a scene that could hardly be imagined these days. But this was 1969.
That search took to the playground, where what had to be one of the greatest discoveries in state history took place. Soon the roster included another seventh-grader, Cindy Brogdon, a lifelong Buford resident who had never played organized basketball in her life.
HALL OF FAME
What: Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame; induction ceremony of inaugural class
Where: Coolray Field, during the Gwinnett Braves’ 2 p.m. game with Scranton/Wilkes-Barre
Induction class: Parkview’s Matt Stinchcomb, Central Gwinnett’s Ida Neal-Smith, Dacula’s Terry Harvey, Greater Atlanta Christian’s Cindy Brogdon and Lawrenceville native Ezzard Charles
“I guess I was one of the tallest seventh-graders standing around on the playground, so they recruited me,” said the 53-year-old, now a teacher and coach at Northview High School in Fulton County.
It was quite the find. She scored 52 points in her first middle school game.
“I guess that was the start of my basketball career,” Brogdon said.
Known for incredible range on her jump shot, Brogdon never slowed down in her frenetic scoring pace. She scored 2,672 points in her Greater Atlanta Christian career, put up 3,204 more at Mercer and Tennessee and shot her way onto the 1976 U.S. Olympic team.
Her list of accomplishments, a vast one that includes being the first female in Georgia history to earn a full athletic scholarship, made her a groundbreaker in state’s athletic history. It also made her an ideal candidate for induction Sunday as a charter member of the Gwinnett County Sports Hall of Fame.
“I just feel it’s such an honor,” Brogdon said. “To be one of the first five from Gwinnett County, to be in the first group is a very special honor. I’m so appreciative because there are so many top athletes in this county.”
Nearly 40 years ago, that wasn’t the case. The options for girls sports were very limited, forcing Brogdon to play most of her sports, outside of softball, against boys. There was no AAU or club basketball for young girls, no options for players until they were old enough for school teams.
Most of her basketball experience, prior to her seventh-grade introduction with her school team, came in her Buford backyard. Her basket and wooden backboard were framed by two large pecan trees, a humble beginning for one of the state’s all-time basketball legends.
“They were my passers, I would pass it to the tree and it would ricochet back to me,” Brogdon said. “I’d square up and take my shot.”
Some of Brogdon’s close friends went to GAC, so she took those shooting skills down I-85 as an eighth-grader. With the Spartans, her feats became legendary. Her prolific scoring — mainly with her incredible jump-shot range — led GAC to three team state titles. She was four-time MVP of the state high school tournament, using her 5-foot-11 frame to shoot over smaller defenders.
She was a pioneer of the sport in many ways, maybe most notably her one-handed jump shot.
“Back then you very seldom saw a girl shoot a one-handed jump shot,” Brogdon said. “You very seldom saw a girl with what we called hang time, on the (shot) release. A lot of people shot with their feet on the floor still, a two-handed set shot.”
A standout college player at Mercer — she averaged 30.1 points in two seasons there — she was selected to the 1976 U.S. Olympic team that won the silver medal. She was the first Georgian on an Olympic basketball team, and just as importantly it’s where she met renowned Tennessee women’s coach Pat Summitt.
Summitt signed Brogdon to play her final two seasons with the Volunteers, racking up a whopping 3,204 points as a college player. Most of her points came on deep jumpers prior to the 3-point line, prompting some (Summitt included) to predict that Brogdon would have scored as many as 25 percent more points had the 3-point line been in use.
Brogdon played two seasons for the New Orleans Pride of the Women’s Professional Basketball League, but basketball options were still limited for females so her career didn’t last much longer. She doesn’t play much these days, spending more time on distance running, golf and with her nieces and nephews.
She has coached several sports at the high school level at Centennial and Northview, where she has been for eight years, but hasn’t coached basketball in years. She’s spent the last two seasons as the Titans’ golf coach.
But this Sunday at Coolray Field, she will be Cindy Brogdon the basketball legend one more time. It will be her sixth hall of fame induction, including the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame and the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame (which honored Brogdon and Nancy Lopez as the first two female inductees).
“It’s nice as you get older and older to still get some accolades,” Brogdon said. “It’s a great feeling when a sport you loved so much continues to have an impact in your life. And it will be great to have some little ones there, so maybe they can see their aunt in a different light.”