Well before World B. Free began making his NBA reputation as a scoring machine in the NBA, he was an unstoppable offensive force in college.
Free, who has been the 76ers ambassador of basketball for the last 21 years, will be inducted into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame at the Missouri Theatre in St. Joseph, Mo., on Thursday.
“It is going to be a great night, and to be picked out of all the college players in the world is a beautiful thing,” Free, a second-round pick by the Sixers in 1975, said Tuesday at the team’s facility in Camden.
In the 1972-1973 season, Free burst onto the college scene by leading Guilford College of Greensboro, N.C., to the NAIA championship. Known then as Lloyd Free, he scored 30 points in the national championship game and became the first freshman to be named tournament MVP.
He played three years at Guilford, scoring 2,006 points for a career average of 23.6 per game.
Guilford was unseeded in that national championship season, but won the title with a 99-96 victory over Maryland-Eastern Shore in the title game at the Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City.
“We went out and shocked the world,” said Free, who had 25 points in a 77-69 semifinal win over second-ranked Augustana.
That Guilford team boasted future NBA players. In addition to Free, there was M.L. Carr, later a Sixers nemesis with the Boston Celtics and Greg Jackson, who had brief stints with the New York Knicks and Phoenix Suns. Free said that Jackson was a mentor and a major reason he attended Guilford. Both grew up in Brooklyn.
After college, Free kept up his high-scoring ways in the NBA with a career average of 20.3 points per game over 13 seasons. Free played for five teams, including two stints with the Sixers.
He played his first three seasons with the Sixers. During his second year in 1976-77, the Sixers lost in six games to the Portland Trail Blazers in the NBA Finals.
His best individual season was 1979-80, when Free averaged 30.2 points for the Clippers and earned his lone NBA All-Star bid. Playing for the Western Conference, he was voted a starter along with a rookie named Magic Johnson.
Free was a two-time NAIA All-American and has been inducted into the Guilford and NAIA Halls of Fame.
“We are so proud of him,” Sixers president Chris Heck said of Free. “He is a gentleman who has spent the last 21 years in Philadelphia, reaching kids in our community and connecting with individuals old and young and doing it in the best way by being an ambassador to the 76ers.”
Free will be among 12 who will be inducted on Thursday. Among the other honorees is Chester native Bo Ryan, who coached Wisconsin-Platteville to four NCAA Division III titles before moving on to become head coach of Wisconsin.
“I loved my time at Guilford,” Free said. “If I had to do it over again, I would do the exact same thing. There were so many great memories."