Larry Finch hospitalized, but improving

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Larry Finch hospitalized, but improving

Postby rlee » Thu Oct 07, 2010 10:55 pm

Memphis legend Larry Finch hospitalized, but improving

All-time winningest coach set standard for U of M basketball

By: John Martin
Dailyhelsman .com

Former University of Memphis basketball coach and player Larry Finch was hospitalized earlier this week with a case of pneumonia. He is currently in intensive care but showing signs of improvement.

Finch, 59, played guard for the Tigers from 1969-1973 and was head coach from 1986 to 1997.

Since 2001, Finch's health has been on a rapid decline after one heart attack and multiple strokes.

"Larry Finch is one of the most important figures in this city's history," U of M coach Josh Pastner said. "There's no doubt that he is on the same plateau as Elvis when you are speaking about someone making an impact in this city.

"Coach Finch is a legend."

Keith Easterwood, a Memphis-based AAU travel team coach, met Larry Finch when Finch was a player at Melrose High School.

"Larry Finch was the first black male that people openly loved," he said.

"There's something special about Larry. He played during a unique time that I don't think will be replicated. He knocked down some racial barriers."

The Orange Mound native played in an era when most local black players opted to play college basketball elsewhere. Many Memphians attribute The University's on-court success to Finch and his Melrose teammate Ronnie Robinson's decisions to stay home and suit up for then-Memphis State University.

As a player, Finch led the Tigers to the 1973 NCAA National Championship game against UCLA. He scored 29 points in the 87-66 loss.

"Larry was tough on the floor. He had a prototypical jump shot," Easterwood said.

Finch graduated in 1973 as the program's all-time leading scorer; Keith Lee, Elliot Perry and Rodney Carney later usurped his record. Finch's jersey was retired in 1974.

"If three-pointers were around then, who knows how many points he would've scored... Everybody knew he'd take the big shot and make it, too," Easterwood said.

Drafted in the fourth round of the 1973 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers, Finch elected instead to play in the ABA, wracking up two seasons with four different teams: the Memphis Tams, the Memphis Sounds, the Baltimore Hustlers and the Baltimore Claws.

In 1979, Finch accepted an assistant coaching position at Memphis State under the late Dana Kirk. When Kirk was fired seven years later, he made history and took the reins of the program as its first black head coach.

Under Finch, the Tigers appeared in the NCAA Tournament six times, including two showings at the Sweet 16 and one in the Elite 8. With 220 victories, Finch is the all-time winningest coach in U of M history.

As a player and coach, Larry Finch paved the way for The U of M basketball program's success, Easterwood said.

"Without Larry, if he goes somewhere else, who knows where the program would be?"

-- Career Accolades --

- 4th leading scorer in school history with 1,869 career points.

- Led the Tigers to the 1973 NCAA Championship game.

- Averaged 24 points per game his senior season, the highest of any Tiger in school history.

- NCAA All-Tournament Team and AP All-American selection in 1973.

- Leads all U of M coaches with 220 victories.

- Guided the Tigers to nine postseason appearances, including an Elite 8 in 1992.
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