There was no mistaking that Marlbert Pradd was the big man on campus at Dillard University during his time there.
Pradd averaged 37.5 points per game from 1963-67 at Dillard, which still plays in the NAIA. A wiry 6-foot-3, 170-pound guard, he was a must-see phenom. His impact, however, went further than basketball, said John O. Brown, an assistant coach during Pradd’s tenure who later became head coach for 19 years there, starting in 1967.
“Pradd was at Dillard when a lot of things were going on in the 1960s — Stokely Carmichael, and stuff in the Desire Project (with the Black Panthers Party),” Brown said. “There was a lot of unrest on college campuses. Pradd gave Dillard’s students something to look forward to. He helped the students with their pent-up emotions.”
Pradd, a three-time All-American who went on to play for the inaugural New Orleans Buccaneers team of the American Basketball Association, died on April 29. His funeral was May 8. He was 69.
During a time when NCAA school basketball team rosters had few black players, if any, Pradd was recruited to Dillard by coach Bill Martin from Carver High School in Chicago. He scored 2,907 career points with the Blue Devils and led the NAIA in scoring in 1966, his junior season, averaging 39.0 per game, ahead of Winston-Salem State guard Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, who would win it the next seasaon.
“Marlbert was a great scorer, just ahead of his time,” said former teammate Walter Tillman. “He had unbelievable body control and shooting touch. He had so many moves. He could jump, switch hands with the ball and make a shot on you.”
Said Brown: “We played in (NAIA) District 30, and Grambling had Willis Reed and Jimmy Jones and Southern had Bob Love, so we went against some really good teams.”
Brown said the key was Pradd had an extremely quick first step, and that he drove strongly to the basket with his off, or left, hand.
“He was a very good shooter, so you had to get up on him,” Brown said. “And if one man tried to guard him, he’d drive to the basket, and he made shots with either hand.”
When Pradd won the scoring title, playing in 20 games, he made 264 field goals but also 253 free throws. His senior season, he set a Dillard record by shooting 92 percent on free throws.
Another record was scoring 55 points against Huston-Tillotson of Austin, Texas, at Dillard’s Henson Hall in 1965.
“It took place during Mardi Gras time, and so a lot of faculty members, administrators, we all went to a ball after the game,” Brown said. “Word got around that the gym was on fire, so we left the dance and went back to school.”
Tillman chuckles at the rumor in jest that soon made its way.
“It was an electrical fire,” Tillman said. “But people were saying the janitor should have wet the nets because Marlbert left them so hot, the nets were smoldering and that started the fire.”
Henson Hall was repaired, but it gave way to a new gym, A.W. Dent Hall, in 1969.
Pradd, however, brought the house down many other times. Tillman and Ron Gearing recalled a memorable shot Pradd made that is memorable because of his body control.
“He was driving the baseline, and another player forced him behind the goal,” said Gearing, a freshman then but now the New Orleans Public Schools Athletic Director. “He contorted his body, leaned back and shot the ball over the backboard. Nothing but net.”
Brown said a classic Pradd moment came in a game at Paul Quinn College in Waco, Texas.
“They were leading by a point and called timeout,” Brown said. “But they didn’t have any. So a technical foul was called.
“Marlbert missed the shot, but we got the ball. He made a long shot with time running out to win the game. That was big time.”
Pradd was drafted in the sixth round by his hometown Chicago Bulls, but he also was selected by New Orleans’ fledgling ABA team. Feeling he had a chance to better make his mark in the new league and with a legion of fans already in New Orleans, he signed with the Bucs.
But he played in 29 games in the 1967-68 season, averaging 2.6 points in just 4.3 minutes per game, although he shot 45.0 percent. The next season, in what would be his final pro season, he played in 50 games and averaged 5.2 points in 6.5 minutes on 43.5 percent shooting.
He remained in New Orleans, working in area hospitals, most notably DePaul.
“You could take the attitude that he could have waited his turn with the Bucs,” Brown said. “But he could score, and when he didn’t play, it took a lot out of him. Some people can handle that better than others.”