Elon basketball celebrates 100 years, retires jerseys of Branson, Cole

Jesse Branson ’65 and Tommy Cole ’72 became the first Elon basketball players to have their jerseys retired during a halftime ceremony at the Elon vs. Appalachian State game on Saturday. The ceremony highlighted a weekend of events celebrating the 100th year of Elon’s basketball program.

A two-time All-American, Branson played for the Fightin’ Christians from 1961 to 1965. During his career, he set 17 Elon records and more than 40 years later still holds 11 of them, including career points (2,241) and points-per-game (20). A member of the Elon Sports Hall of Fame, Branson credited his teammates with helping him achieve his accomplishments.

“To me, there was always too much emphasis on the ‘MVP,’” Branson said. “No basketball player can do it by himself. He can’t beat five guys by himself. I couldn’t have done it without the guys around me.”

Jesse Branson’s #40 jersey.

Cole, also a two-time All-American, played for Elon from 1968 to 1972. He holds the Elon records for field goals made (828) and assists (705) in a career, and he ranks behind only Branson in career points (2,214) and points-per-game (19.1).

“This is the greatest moment of my life,” Cole said before the Saturday ceremony. “It’s the greatest accomplishment an athlete can achieve.”

The halftime ceremony began with recognition of more than 40 alumni of Elon’s men’s basketball program who returned to campus to celebrate the progam’s 100th year. Later, banners bearing Branson’s #40 and Cole’s #34 jerseys were unveiled hanging from rafters in the north end of Alumni Gym to cheers and applause from the large crowd.

Tommy Cole’s #34 jersey.

On Friday, former players and their families attended a dinner and social hosted by the Elon Athletics Department. Guests viewed a video presentation reviewing the history of Elon basketball, and many former players shared their favorite recollections of their time with the program.

To view a slideshow of the weekend’s events, click the link at the right.