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‘Mega superstar’ Larry Finch paved way for other shining lights

  • Written by Kelley Evans
  • Published in News
Young players, said Penny Hardaway, need to know that it all began with Larry Finch. When you’ve made the NBA All-Star team and your star power has inspired a Nike puppet, Lil Penny, it pays to understand the foundation that your rep is built upon. Young players, said Penny Hardaway, need to know that it all began with Larry Finch.

Larry Finch with his wife
At Melrose High School, Larry Finch met his wife, Vickie, and love blossomed. (Photos by Mark Stansbury)

“He left an unbelievable legacy,” Hardaway said, reflecting on Finch, the hometown hero – and the University of Memphis’ winningest basketball coach – who died Saturday (April 2) at Saint Francis Hospital. He was 60.

“He’s a home grown everything,” said Hardaway.

“He left an unbelievable mark on the city of Memphis. A lot of young people are not aware of everything he did for this city. Before me, or anybody else, that was Coach Finch. We couldn’t have done it without the mega superstar.”

For those knowledgeable of Memphis and basketball, the game and Finch are inextricably interwoven.

“Larry Finch is one of the two most important figures in the City of Memphis’ history, along with Elvis Presley,” said U of M Head Coach Josh Pastner. “Larry surely will be missed, but his spirit will continue to be with us. Our prayers and thoughts go out to Larry’s family and friends.”

Born in Memphis, Finch attended Melrose High School and became a high school basketball legend. And in 1970, with the city still staggering from the effects of an emotional meltdown in the wake of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination here in 1968, he began what became an even bigger legend as point guard for the then-Memphis State University Tigers.

He led the 1973 Tigers team to the national title game, where they fell to the UCLA Bruins. During that tournament, he averaged 26.8 points a game, including a 29-point performance in the championship game.

Gene Bartow, the ’73 team’s coach and now president of Hoops LP, said Finch was one of the finest people he’s ever been around.

“I’m asked a lot about who was the greatest player I ever coached, and I always have the same answer: ‘Larry Finch,’” said Bartow.

“Larry helped provide the roots for this city’s wonderful basketball tradition, and his contributions to Memphis were immense. He will be missed.”

When he graduated from Memphis State, Finch was the college’s all-time leading scorer, now ranking second. He earned All-American honors from the Associated Press and United Press International. He was named to four All-American teams his senior season after breaking nine individual records. Finch was the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year in 1972 and the conference’s Newcomer of the Year in 1971. He was inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall of Fame in 2001.

Drafted by the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers in 1973, Finch chose to stay in Memphis to play for the Memphis Tams of the American Basketball Association. His professional basketball career included stints with the Tams, the Memphis Sounds, the Baltimore Hustlers and the Baltimore Claws.

Finch was a U of M assistant coach in the 80s. When NCAA violations disrupted the program, he was hired (in 1986) as head coach to restore order.

Finch posted 10 out of 11 winning seasons, seven 20-plus win seasons and six NCAA tournament appearances. He helped develop standout players such as Hardaway, Elliot Perry, Lorenzen Wright, David Vaughn, Cedric Henderson and Michael Wilson, and his 1991-92 team made the NCAA Elite Eight.

In the rich history of Memphis basketball, Finch is an “iconic figure,” said Chris Wallace, Grizzlies General Manager and Vice President of Basketball Operations.

“…(No) luminary shined brighter in the constellation of stars which have made Memphis basketball so special,” said Wallace.

“As a person he touched countless hearts and made an even bigger contribution. The Grizzlies and the entire Memphis basketball community mourns his passing while celebrating his life and work. Our prayers and thoughts go out to his family, friends, former teammates and players.”

Perry, Grizzlies limited partner and radio analyst, said Finch was one of the biggest influences in his life

“Playing for Coach Finch at Memphis was a perfect scenario for me,” Perry said. “He helped shape me as a basketball player, but more importantly into the person that I am today.”

Larry Finch with Ernest Withers
Larry Finch receives an award
The late, renowned photographer Ernest Withers with Larry Finch. Larry Finch accepts one of the many awards he garnered to during his celebrated life and career.

IN QUOTES

University of Memphis President Dr. Shirley C. Raines

“On behalf of the entire University of Memphis community, students, faculty, staff, alumni and fans, I want to extend my sincere condolences to the family of Larry Finch. He was not only the University’s most successful basketball coach ever, he was an enthusiastic and untiring ambassador for the University, a unifying force for all of Memphis and a man admired and loved personally by all who knew him. He will be greatly missed.”

University of Memphis Athletics Director R.C. Johnson

“Memphis has lost a legend. Larry Finch was so much bigger than just a basketball player or a basketball coach. He did so much for the City of Memphis, his community and his University, that it would be hard to mention all of his achievements.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Finch family in their time of grief. Larry Finch will live on in the memories of all Tiger fans. He will never be forgotten.”

SERVICES

A wake for Larry Finch will be held from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the Finch Center on the campus of the U of M.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hope Presbyterian Church at 8500 Walnut Grove Rd., 38018.

The family requests that those who desire to send flowers send them directly to the church.


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