Phil Sellers, regarded widely as the greatest basketball player in Rutgers history, died Wednesday at age 69. A family statement to NJ.com revealed Sellers had suffered a stroke in August after a series of medical setbacks left him in a rehabilitation center.
Rutgers' all-time leader in points (2,399) and rebounds (1,111), Sellers was the cornerstone behind the program's one and only Final Four run in 1976. The All-American, whose jersey was retired in 1988, nearly averaged a double-double (21 ppg, 9.7 rpg) for his career.
"Phil was the catalyst in our great recruiting class that played a vital factor in Rutgers having fantastic success in the 1970s that led us all the way to the Final Four," said Dick Vitale, a former Rutgers assistant with Sellers. "Once we were able to get Phil, we were able to get the best player in New Jersey Mike Dabney. Phil was such a fierce competitor, and he was dominant inside and outside. I am so sad to learn of his passing. To me, he is the greatest player in Rutgers hoops history."
Sellers' career achievements are fiercely intertwined with what is Rutgers' best era in college hoops -- and with Vitale. The Scarlet Knights reached the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years (1975, '76) with the latter's Final Four run fueled by a 31-0 start that ultimately earned a No. 4 ranking in the final AP Top 25. As a sophomore, Sellers shot nearly 45% from the field with 23.2 ppg for an NIT-bound team.
"Phil Sellers was Rutgers royalty," Rutgers coach Steve Pikiell said in a statement. "He was the greatest player on the greatest team in our program's history. I have had the honor of getting to know Phil over the last few years and was honored to be in his presence whenever he came to our games. He was the ultimate role model for our current Scarlet Knights."
Sellers was taken by the Detroit Pistons in the third round of the 1976 NBA Draft and played just one season before playing overseas and eventually retiring. He returned to his alma mater to be an assistant coach for four seasons in the 1980s.