Two groups of students played the first basketball game at Tulane on Dec. 9, 1905. A varsity team was organized the same season and, under the direction of Silas Hickey, won eight of 13 games and claimed the state championship. However, Tulane lost its first intercollegiate contest to Auburn by a score of 26-7. William T. Patton captained that first team.
Tulane posted its best all-time record in 1923-24, when Claude Simons Sr. guided the Green Wave to a 22-1 record. The next year, Tulane finished 18-3.
The Green Wave experienced sporadic success over the next two decades. In 1943-44, Coach Vernon Haynes' club finished 16-6 overall and posted the best record in the Southeastern Conference.
In 1945, the most successful coach in Tulane history, Cliff Wells, took over the program. Within two seasons, the Green Wave had a 20-victory campaign, going 22-9 in 1946-47.
The 1947-48 club finished 23-3 and appeared destined for a National Invitation Tournament berth before a second-round upset to Georgia Tech in the SEC Tournament.
The next season, Tulane again won 20 games, finishing 24-4. In the first year of the Associated Press college basketball rankings, the Green Wave ended the season ranked ninth by AP. That would also be the last time a Green Wave team would win 20 games until 1992, when Tulane won its first 13 games on its way to a 22-9 season.
Wells would finish his coaching career in 1963 with 259 victories, more than twice as many as any other coach in Tulane history. The following excerpt of a letter written by Wells to a high school coach may explain the drive behind Green Wave teams of the Wells era:
"I am a firm believer that condition means stamina. Stamina demands training. Training spells sacrifice. Sacrifice is the highway to desire. If a boy is traveling another road he is lost in every sense of the word. I would not have him on my squad.
"The athlete at his best learns something different. Not comfortable ease. Not idleness. Not self-indulgence. Not jaunty contempt for authority. These never win any game. Instead, these: obedience, self-denial, team play and always the inner cry -- `I must, I MUST and I will!' "
Wells went on to become secretary of the National Collegiate Basketball Coaches Association following his retirement. He would later be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
Wells, Simons and Perry Clark are the only coaches in school history to reach 100 victories. Simons had 101 wins from 1920-28 and 1930-31. Clark closed his Tulane coaching stint with 185 victories, second all-time at the school.
The Wells era produced Tulane's first All-American, Mel Payton, who in 1951 became the second member of the Green Wave's 1,000-point club (Jim Riffey was the first only a year earlier) and set single-game and season rebounding records that stand today.
The 1960s produced two more All-Americans, Jim Kerwin in 1963 and Johnny Arthurs in 1969. They became the first two players in school history to average 20 points per game over their careers, a group later joined by Phil Hicks. Kerwin, who earned All-America honors in 1962 and 1963, remains Tulane's only two-time All-American.
The most recent first-team All-America selection was John Sutter, who achieved the honor in 1970. Sutter's 24.3 scoring average that season is second in school history only to the 25.6 by Arthurs as a senior.
Accolades over the last 25 years have gone to Paul Thompson, who was the Metro Conference's Freshman of the Year in 1980 and was named All-Metro four times; John Williams, who also was a three-time All-Metro choice and the league's Player of the Year in 1984; Anthony Reed, Tulane's No. 2 all-time leading scorer, who earned Metro Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 1990 and was a four-time All-Metro pick; and Clark, who was named National Coach of the Year by three organizations in 1992. Jerald Honeycutt, also a four-time all-conference honoree, garnered All-America kudos in 1997.
Just like all programs have great teams, great coaches and great players, Tulane has had its great moments through the years, such as:
* Victories over LSU (83-72) and Nevada-Las Vegas (56-51) in the 1982 NIT, Tulane's first postseason appearance after being shunned some 34 years earlier;
* A 110-94 victory over LSU in 1969 before an overflow crowd in Tulane Gym, despite an incredible 66-point performance by the late "Pistol" Pete Maravich;
* A 78-75 upset victory over second-ranked Cincinnati in 1977 in the Louisiana Superdome;
* Daryl Moreau's 30-footer at the buzzer to defeat Memphis State 49-47 in 1983, and Paul Thompson's 25-footer at the horn of the second overtime to top Florida State 80-79 on the road two nights later, shots topped only in drama and difficulty by Jerald Honeycutt's 1995 three-pointer at the buzzer to top FSU;
* A pair of marathons with Dean Smith's North Carolina clubs, though Tulane lost both games, 113-106 in four overtimes in 1976 in the 'Dome, and 70-68 in triple OT in 1982 in Chapel Hill. The latter came only after a Michael Jordan 25-footer at the regulation buzzer forced overtime;
* An 81-80 thriller over nationally ranked Memphis State in 1990, the Green Wave's first season back on the floor in five years;
* A win at Southern Mississippi in the final game of the 1991-92 regular season to wrap up Tulane's first Metro Conference title, and less than two weeks later, a victory over St. John's in the Green Wave's first NCAA Tournament game;
* And subsequent first-round NCAA victories over Kansas State in 1993, 55-53, and Brigham Young in 1995, 76-70, which helped continue a streak of five straight seasons in which Tulane won a postseason game.
As Tulane continues its 11th decade of intercollegiate basketball at the beginning of a new millennium, the greats live on and the tradition continues.