Birthplace of turnaround jumper: Ellenboro, N.C.

“Belus Van Smawley came from the Appalachian foothills in western North Carolina. When Belus was 13, his father bought a small farm a half mile from an abandoned railroad depot along the old Southern Line.

“In that depot, the young boys of Ellenboro improvised a peach-basket gym to play in during inclement weather, and in the fall of 1934 Belus used his incredible jumping ability — developed by leaping up to touch high tree limbs while on his farm chores — to improvise a shot that no one had ever seen before. Off a dribble, he would stop suddenly, then with his back half to the basket leap high into the air, twisting to face the basket as he rose….”

— From “The Origins of the Jump Shot: Eight Men Who Shook the World of Basketball” by John Christgau (1999)

After starring at Appalachian State and in the early years of the NBA, Belus Van Smawley became a educator, retiring as principal at Mooresville Junior High. He died in 2003 at age 85.

I hadn’t known about Smawley’s role in the development of the jump shot until this story — it’s not mentioned in his citation at the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Belus Van Smawley came from the Appalachian foothills in western North Carolina. When Belus was 13, his father bought a small farm two miles south of the village of Ellenboro, a half mile from an abandoned railroad depot along the old Southern Line. In that abandoned depot, the young boys of Ellenboro improvised a peach-basket gym to play in during inclement weather, and in the fall of 1934, Belus used his incredible jumping ability–developed by leaping up to touch high tree limbs while on his farm chores–to improvise a shot that no one had ever seen before. Off a dribble, he would stop suddenly, then with his back half to the basket leap high into the air, twisting himself to face the basket as he rose. It was a shot that would eventually make Belus Smawley one of the stars of the early NBA.

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