At 6-7, Branson was not small himself, and he once pulled down 27 rebounds in a game. That feat led to a bit of a dare. A teammate challenged Branson to grab a coin from the top of a backboard, nearly 13 feet off the ground.
Branson did — on the first try.
“I’d never done it before,” he said in 2009, “and I’ve never done it since.”
Branson did many things never done since at Elon. He remains the school’s all-time leading scorer (2,241 points) and rebounder (1,689).
“The greatest basketball player to play at Elon,” Tommy Cole, who ranks second on the school’s scoring list, said when Branson died in 2014.
Branson’s greatest game came on Jan. 7, 1964 in the sports moment judged the greatest in school history, topping a 74-69 victory against Clemson in 2005 — Elon’s first against an ACC opponent.
Branson scored a school-record 44 points in a 96-72 victory against Wofford, avenging their 100-87 loss at Wofford in the season-opener. It was Elon’s 10th consecutive victory and Branson set another milestone with 31 points in the first half.
His total surpassed the previous mark of 39 points by Dee Atkinson in 1956.
Branson set 17 records during his career, and 11 still stand. But he never considered them singular achievements.
“To me, there was always too much emphasis on the ‘MVP,’” Branson said in 2009. “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.”
After graduating from Elon, Branson was selected in the second round of the 1965 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.
He made his NBA debut on Oct. 16, 1965, playing alongside Wilt Chamberlain.
It doesn’t get much bigger than that.
“Others on the team didn’t accept rookies very well, they were very protective of their jobs,” Branson said in 2009. “Wilt and I got along super good. He was a great guy to be around.”
So was Branson, according to former teammate Bill Morningstar.
“He was just a special guy,” Morningstar said in 2014. “Truly a legend without any question. I had the fortune to play with him for three years at Elon. An unbelievable player.”
Video courtesy Elon Athletics via YouTube
On the cover: Jesse Branson, left, with Tommy Cole at their jersey retirement ceremony on Feb. 7, 2009. (Courtesy Elon Athletics)
THIS WEEK’S GREATEST MOMENTS
• Monday: Drexel and Duquesne
• Tuesday: East Carolina and East Tennessee State
• Wednesday: Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky
• Thursday: Eastern Michigan and Elon
• Friday: Ferris State and Florida Atlantic