Larry Finch

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Larry Finch
Sport(s) Basketball
Biographical details
Born (1951-02-16)February 16, 1951
Memphis, Tennessee
Died April 2, 2011(2011-04-02) (aged 60)
Memphis, Tennessee
Playing career
1969–1973
1973−1975
Memphis
Memphis Tams/Sounds(ABA)
Coaching career (HC unless noted)
1975–1979
1979–1986
1986–1997
UAB (assistant)
Memphis (assistant)
Memphis
Head coaching record
Overall 220–130

Larry Finch (February 16, 1951 – April 2, 2011[1]) was a player and coach for the University of Memphis men's basketball team. He is perhaps most famous for leading the Memphis State Tigers to the NCAA men's basketball championship game in 1973 in a heroic loss to the UCLA Bruins, led by Bill Walton.

Playing career[edit]

Finch was born in Memphis, and played basketball for Melrose High School in the Orange Mound section of Memphis. He then entered Memphis State and played basketball under famed basketball coach Gene Bartow. This decision was somewhat controversial for both Memphis' black and white communities, given the recent assassination of Martin Luther King and the resultant heightened strain on race relations in Memphis, not to mention so few local African-American prep stars had been able to wear a Tiger uniform to that point. Some had advised Finch not to go, but whether or not he saw it as an opportunity to do something even more meaningful than playing for his local university, Finch loved his hometown team. As he led the Tigers to new heights of success, at least during basketball games, Memphians had a chance to see things less in black and white and more in Tiger blue and gray.

In his senior year at Memphis State, 1972–1973, he and Larry Kenon led the basketball team to the Final Four. In the championship game, Finch scored 29 points, but lost to John Wooden's UCLA Bruins, a game where Bill Walton went 21 of 22 from the floor. Finch graduated the all-time leading scorer in Memphis history, and is currently the second all-time leading scorer for the University of Memphis.

Finch was drafted on the fourth round by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1973, but opted to join the local American Basketball Association team, the Memphis Tams. Finch played professionally for two years with the Tams, the Memphis Sounds and the Baltimore Hustlers and Baltimore Claws.

Coaching career[edit]

In the 1980s, Finch was an assistant coach for Dana Kirk at Memphis State. Kirk was forced to leave Memphis State after violating NCAA regulations and becoming the subject of a criminal investigation, and Finch was made head coach in 1986 in order to restore order to the program. He would remain at the school, which was renamed the University of Memphis in 1994, until 1997.

Finch posted 10 out of 11 winning seasons, seven 20+ win seasons, and six NCAA tournaments. He recruited and developed such players as Elliot Perry, Penny Hardaway, and Lorenzen Wright. His 1991–92 team led by Hardaway and David Vaughn went to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. During his tenure, the basketball players began to graduate in high numbers.

As a player, Finch was known for his shooting prowess, and his skills remained intact throughout his coaching days; he would routinely win games of H-O-R-S-E against his players and against assistant coaches in long distance shooting contests after road game practices. Even while head coach, he maintained connections to his roots; he often visited Orange Mound barbershops, often delivering Memphis State posters and other team paraphernalia.

Despite Finch's overall success, during the mid-90's more and more local blue chip recruits began leaving for other schools, specifically Todd Day to the University of Arkansas and others to the University of Tennessee. This ultimately led to fan dissatisfaction for a program that was renowned for achieving national prominence on primarily Memphis-area talent. And while there was the Elite Eight team of 91–92, there were also teams considered under-achievers, such as the highly touted 1995–96 squad which lost to 12th seeded Drexel University in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Finch was forced to resign and his contract was bought out at the end of the 1996–97 season. The forced resignation was a public relations fiasco for the university and athletic director R. C. Johnson, as the deal was finalized immediately following Finch's final game in one of the concession areas of the Pyramid Arena.[2] Although a portion of the fan base had become disenchanted with Finch, even some of his detractors were critical of the way school officials handled it. He left as the school's all-time winningest coach, a record which still stands as of 2014.

After basketball[edit]

In 1998 he ran for the office of Shelby County Registrar and lost to the incumbent by only 127 votes despite having no government experience. He was briefly in the running for coaching positions at Tennessee State, Georgia State, and South Alabama.

In 2002, Finch suffered a debilitating stroke. People close to Finch created the Friends of Larry Finch Foundation to help offset his medical expenses. In December 2006, the Foundation released a Larry Finch tribute CD called "Eye of the Tiger", featuring performers from Memphis' diverse musical community such as Al Green, The Bar-Kays, Gary Johns, John Kilzer, and Al Kapone.

Finch died on April 2, 2011, after a long illness.

Head coaching record[edit]

Season Team Overall Conference Standing Postseason
Memphis State (Metro Conference) (1986–1991)
1986–1987 Memphis State 26–8 8–4 2nd Ineligible due to NCAA violations
1987–1988 Memphis State 20–12 6–6 T–3rd NCAA 2nd Round
1988–1989 Memphis State 21–11 8–4 T–2nd NCAA 1st Round
1989–1990 Memphis State 18–12 8–6 4th NIT 1st Round
1990–1991 Memphis State 17–15 7–7 T–4th NIT 2nd Round
Memphis State: 102–58 37–27
Memphis State/Memphis (Great Midwest Conference) (1991–1995)
1991–1992 Memphis State 23–11 5–5 T–3rd NCAA Elite Eight
1992–1993 Memphis State 20–12 7–3 2nd NCAA 1st Round
1993–1994 Memphis State 13–16 4–8 T–5th
1994–1995 Memphis 24–10 9–3 1st NCAA Sweet Sixteen
Memphis State/Memphis: 80–49 25–19
Memphis (Conference USA) (1995–1997)
1995–1996 Memphis 22–8 11–3 1st (White) NCAA 1st Round
1996–1997 Memphis 16–15 10–4 T–1st (White) NIT 1st Round
Memphis: 38–23 21–7
Total: 220–130

      National champion  
      Conference regular season champion         Conference regular season and conference tournament champion
      Division regular season champion       Division regular season and conference tournament champion
      Conference tournament champion

References[edit]

External links[edit]