By Trey Williams
Accomplished coaches and players have spoken of Sammy “Dee Dee” Stuart’s athletic ability throughout the years with a reverent tone in their voice – voices that came flooding back when reading that Stuart was being inducted into the Bluefield State College National “B” Club Hall of Fame.
Stuart, part of a dynamic senior duo with James Percy Hairston that helped Science Hill’s basketball team to a state runner-up finish in 1968, was an all-state player in football and basketball for the Hilltoppers and a two-sport standout in college. His two-sport status was recognized in grand fashion at the Hall of Fame ceremony Saturday in Bluefield.
“It was special,” a smiling Stuart said. “It meant a whole lot, man. When you get to that next level in college and they rate you as one of the best there’s nothing else to say.”
Of course, plenty’s been said about Stuart.
Elvin Little coached basketball 20 seasons at Science Hill after winning a state title at Lenoir City. Little, who coached the likes of Steve Spurrier and Gary Carter, has inflection in his voice when describing Stuart’s athleticism and big-game performances.
Stuart made a state tournament-record 16 of 17 free throws en route to 31 points in the Hilltoppers’ upset of state favorite Memphis Carver in the 1968 semifinals at Mid-South Coliseum in Memphis.
Emory Hale was Spurrier’s quarterbacks coach at Science Hill before becoming head coach at Oak Ridge, where he won three state titles to help get him the head coaching job at Austin Peay. Hale has often chuckled with admiration while discussing how Stuart could send kickoffs through the uprights (the goal post was over the goal line then) and attack passes in the air with explosive grace from his wide receiver and safety positions.
“Oh Dee Dee, he was wonderful – a free safety, wide receiver,” Hale said. “Smooth as silk. Hands that were just (excellent) – oh law, what an athlete.”
The talent level was high in Bluefield State’s West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference primarily due to the fact that many of the power-conference schools were still segregated or nearly completely white. Bluefield State’s basketball roster had multiple players from Philadelphia and multiple players from Baltimore and another from Bronx, New York.
Dobyns-Bennett coach Buck Van Huss was apparently the first coach to mention Stuart and Hairston to Bluefield basketball coach Tony Mandeville. Hairston opted for Martin Junior College before signing with Middle Tennessee State.
“The basketball coach came to D-B to see Coach Van Huss about running the run-and-jump defense, which now, everybody runs,” Stuart said. “Back then nobody knew anything about it. … When he talked to Van Huss he said, ‘I need a two guard. You know where I can find one at?’ And something was said like, ‘Well, they’ve got two kids in Johnson City that can flat-out play.’”
Ex-San Antonio Spur Skeeter Swift has repeatedly stressed the toughness he saw from a 16- and 17-year-old Stuart enduring the physical brand of pickup ball with the likes of older players such as ETSU players Swift and Tommy Woods in Memorial Gym.
Stuart generated similar acclaim at Bluefield State while playing against the likes of future NBA players Marvin Webster (Morgan State) and Henry Dickerson (Morris Harvey).
Stubby Currence was a veteran Bluefield Daily Telegraph columnist that covered Stuart and often focuses on the explosive 6-foot-2, 205-pounder: “Sammy Stuart, the peerless end who has no superior in the state. … I think Sammy Stuart could probably play football on any college team in the land. … Stuart, of course, has no superiors on driving into the boards. He’s like a runaway locomotive when he cuts for the buckets. … Sammy Stuart from Johnson City is maybe the finest all-around athlete ever enrolled at BSC.”
Stuart’s basketball coach, Tony Mandeville, agreed that Stuart was arguably the Big Blues’ best-ever athlete in terms of versatility.
West Virginia Tech football coach Charlie Cobb was a fan, too: “Bluefield’s Sammy Stuart is some kind of football player,” he told the Associated Press. “He’s probably the best receiver in the conference, plays defense, kicks off and kicks field goals.”
Stuart was Jim Thorpe-like on the gridiron. He scored all 10 points in 10-10 tie with Salem in front of a large crowd at Mitchell Stadium. Stuart returned a punt for a TD and made the PAT kick, and later made a 35-yard field goal to complete the 10-point rally.
In basketball he was the MVP in a holiday tournament that included 6-foot-11 Marvin Webster of Morgan State. Strong and fast, the 6-foot-2 Stuart attacked the rim, especially in transition – even if Webster was providing the transition defense.
“They called Marvin Webster the Human Eraser,” Stuart said while setting up the time he glided past Webster to score a lay-in. “Look here, I’m coming down – they threw the ball down on the break to me and there ain’t nobody down the floor with me and him. I go up as high as I can. I wasn’t gonna dunk it; I knew he’d block it. I laid it in and went back down the floor and he said something. I said something like, ‘You better get me man or it’s gonna be a long night.’”
Stuart shouldn’t have agitated Webster, something he realized when a similar transition opportunity presented itself later in the game.
“And I tried to do the same thing and Marvin caught it, pinned it against the backboard and snatched it,” Stuart said. “When he snatched it I fell to the floor. And he’s got the ball and said, ‘You forgot this,’ and shoved it in my belly. I thought, ‘Okay, I’m cool. I’m a true believer.’”
Stuart made believers out of many opponents. He scored 37 points in a 100-93 loss to Federal City College of Washington, D.C., which was coached by Boston Celtics great Sam Jones. Stuart scored 17 in an 82-71 loss to Morris Harvey at the Charleston Civic Center. Morris Harvey got 18 points from Henry Dickerson, who played in the NBA and was later the head coach at Chattanooga.
Stuart was pleased to get an offer from Bluefield State, where one of his career highlights was playing a nine-game exhibition tour in Europe. The Big Blues visited Germany, Iceland, Belgium and Luxembourg.
“Bluefield State was a great opportunity for me,” said Stuart, who works at the Salvation Army and has a son Tre’ who’s a sophomore offensive lineman at Science Hill. “People were good to me. I’m honored they remember me.”