A profile of Harrison Wilson, a JSU Sports Hall of Fame inductee

As Jackson State’s men’s basketball coach and later as president of Norfolk State University, Harrison B. Wilson became known for his formidable leadership.

On Oct. 4, he’ll join 12 others who are being inducted into the JSU Sports Hall of Fame.


Wilson became one of the most successful coaches in JSU history. His 371-93 career record wins rank the highest for JSU basketball. He is considered by many the architect of modern men’s basketball. In 17 seasons at the helm of the Tigers’ program, he never had a losing season and recorded 13 20-plus win seasons. His teams also posted 29 wins in a season twice (1955-56 and 1963-64). His 1963-64 team won the Southwestern Athletic Conference championship.

During his tenure at Jackson State, Wilson coached some of the most talented players in the country, such as Cleveland Buckner (drafted by the New York Knicks in 1961), Ed Manning (former NBA player and the father Kansas Jayhawk great Danny Manning) and Paul Covington (a disciple of Wilson’s and took over as head men’s basketball coach at Jackson State). All of these individuals are highly respected in the world of basketball and that is due in no small part to Wilson’s teaching and philosophy.

From 1960-67, he served as chair of the Department of Health and Physical Education at Jackson State. Wilson believed in and demanded excellence in his student-athletes, a trait which he took to Norfolk State with him.

“We must continue to broaden our horizons in all we do — in academics as well as athletics — you need to raise the bar, set higher goals and work for excellence. The students, the university and the community deserve nothing less than representing ourselves at the highest level of effort,” Wilson has said.

Wilson left Jackson State in 1967 to work as chair and professor of health and physical education at Tennessee State University. He then worked for a short time as assistant to the president at Fisk University before being named president at Norfolk State University in 1975. During his 30 year tenure at Norfolk State, he helped increase the enrollment from 6,700 students to 8,100 students, and the number of faculty and staff grew from 377 to 412, with a student-faculty ration of 20-to-1. The university also added 14 new buildings and acquired 51 acres of land.

Upon his retirement in 1997, Wilson was honored by Old Dominion University as one of their Strong Men and Women Excellence in Leadership series. He was born on April 21, 1925, in Amsterdam, New York. Wilson was the fifth of seven siblings. His mother was a school teacher and his father worked in construction. Wilson served in the U.S. Navy from 1945 until 1947, when he enrolled at Kentucky State University at the age of 19. There he was an honor student and a star athlete in basketball, football, baseball and track and field, before earning his B.S. degree.

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