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Chuck Landon: Rotary wall of rock could honor four MU greats

Jun. 29, 2013 @ 11:54 PM

Remember that sheer rock cliff standing silent sentry over the city of Huntington on Route 60 East?

Well, that wall of rock near the entrance to Rotary Park is still there. And, yes, I am still sculpting an imaginary version of Mount Rushmore.

This time our “Mount Thundermore” will honor the four Marshall University basketball greats who deserve to be etched in stone.

There are several deserving candidates, but this is my quartet.

n Cam Henderson: Any list of the greatest figures in Thundering Herd basketball history has to begin with the “Old Man.” This native of Joe, W.Va., in Marion County was that respected, successful and influential.

Henderson coached MU for 20 years (1935-55), compiling a 362-159 record. His teams won the Buckeye Conference in 1936-37, 1937–38 and 1938–39. He won 35 straight home games from 1944–47.

His Herd started the 1946-47 season 17-0, then compiled an 32-5 record while winning Marshall’s only National Championship in basketball. MU captured the NAIB (now NAIA) Basketball Tournament in Kansas City, Mo. His 1947-48 team won the Helms Foundation’s Los Angeles Invitational defeating Syracuse, 46-44.

Henderson had only one losing campaign, going 6-10 during his first season at MU. His teams won as many as 32 games and had 20 or more wins eight times.

See why the Cam Henderson Center is named after him?

n Hal Greer: After graduating from Douglass High School, the Huntington native joined Marshall’s basketball program in 1954 becoming the first African-American collegiate player in state history.

The 6-foot-2 guard was all-conference (Mid-American) in 1957 and ’58 and became MU’s second All-American. Greer averaged 19.4 points and 10.8 rebounds in his career and also set Marshall’s career record for field goal percentage (.545). He averaged 19.4 points for his career, scoring a total of 1,377 points.

Huntington renamed 16th Street as Hal Greer Boulevard and rightfully so.

n Mike D’Antoni: This 6-foot-3 ball-handling and playmaking wizard was the catalyst of the most memorable season in modern MU basketball history.

D’Antoni led the 1971-72 Herd to a 23-4 overall record and a national ranking of 12th in the final Associated Press Poll. That’s the highest NCAA Division I final ranking in school history.

During the amazing 1972 and ’73 seasons, D’Antoni triggered an offense that scored 100 or more points 19 times. The Herd averaged 91 points in 1971-72 and 93 points in 1972-73 without the use of 3-point field goals or a shot clock.

The Mullens native is MU’s only two-time, first-team Academic All-American and holds the school record for career assists per game (8.23). He ranks second all-time in total assists (659) despite playing only three seasons. D’Antoni also scored 1,227 points for a career 15.3 average.

n Leo Byrd: The Huntington native produced the greatest individual season in Herd basketball history in 1958-59, averaging a school-record 29.3 points and earning consensus All-American status.

That’s an impressive feat for a 6-foot-1 guard, who overcame polio as a child.

Byrd posted averages of 16.4, 24.9 and 29.3 points, while scoring 1,705 points in 72 games for a career average of 23.7 points. He finished his career by earning a gold medal in the 1959 Pan American Games.

Next?

Watch for my final “Mount Thundermore.”

Chuck Landon is a sports columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Contact him at 304-526-2827 or clandon@herald-dispatch.com.

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