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Former Syracuse men’s basketball player Manny Breland, the first Black athlete offered a basketball scholarship by the university, died on Saturday, his son Gary told syracuse.com.
Breland was 87, and he had pancreatic cancer, according to syracuse.com.
He played at Syracuse from 1952-57 and helped the Orange earn their first-ever NCAA Tournament bid during his senior season — when they won their first two games. Tuberculosis forced Breland to miss the 1955-56 season, but he averaged 6.3 points and 4.1 rebounds per game in his final year with SU. During his first season, he led the team in scoring and averaged 9.8 points per game as a sophomore and first-time starter.
“Manny Breland was a ground-breaking pioneer for our program and devoted much of his life to educating our youth,” Syracuse Athletics said in a tweet. “He will be missed but never forgotten.”
Even though his high school coach, Ken Beagle, played at Syracuse under Lew Andreas — who eventually became the university’s athletic director — Breland wasn’t originally offered a scholarship at first because Andreas told Beagle that “We’re not ready for a Black kid.” Breland was eventually offered a spot because of the relationship between Beagle and Andreas, he told The Daily Orange in 2012, with Andreas telling Beagle that he’ll “take a chance on your kid.”
But Breland’s impact in the Syracuse community, as he grew up in the 15th Ward that the I-81 highway eventually tore apart, stretched beyond those four years at SU and into his time as a principal, vice-principal and a teacher — positions he held for over 30 years. He also coached basketball at Central Tech High School, serving as the Syracuse City School District’s first Black varsity coach at the same school he attended before starting at SU, and he won a pair of section titles.
Along with Breanna Stewart, Earl Lloyd and Dolph Schayes, Breland is one of four athletes who’d be featured on an East Onondaga St. mural in downtown Syracuse proposed to highlight basketball trailblazers from the city.
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