Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

College Sports

April 3, 2010

Southern W.Va. a part of Mountaineer tradition

PRINCETON — Since West Virginia University’s first basketball team took to the court in February 1904, hundreds of athletes and dozens of coaches have been a part of the Mountaineers’ tradition.

West Virginia’s return to the national semifinals tonight for the first time in 51 years prompted several local fans to point out southern West Virginians who have contributed along the way.

Rod Thorn and Jim Walthall of Princeton and McDowell countians Russell Todd and Maurice Robinson wore basketball jerseys of the old gold and blue.

After his all-state career in Princeton, Thorn played at WVU in 1961-63. He was the second overall pick in the 1963 NBA draft, and then spent 14 years as the league’s executive vice president of basketball operations. He is the president and former general manager of the New Jersey Nets.

Walthall was a letterman in 1945 and 1947, according to the current WVU men’s basketball media guide. Robinson lettered at WVU from 1975-78 and Todd earned his letters from 1980-83.

Willie Akers, a native of Mullens, played on the 1959 team that made it to the NCAA championship game. He reportedly scored the Mountaineers’ last two points in their 71-70 loss to California.

After serving as WVU’s team captain in 1960, he went on to coach Logan High School to four state basketball championships, winning 402 games.

Herbie Brooks of Mullens was a Mountaineer from 1986-89. Paul Popovich of Oceana lettered one year (1960), and Carey Bailey of Beckley lettered in 1968-69.

Warren Baker of White Sulphur Springs, a standout at Greenbrier East High School, competed for WVU from 1973-76. Chapmanville’s Tim McNeely lettered in 1989-92.

Extending the definition of southern West Virginia further north would include the name of one of basketball’s all-time greats, Jerry West, a graduate of old East Bank High School.

West Virginia’s first 20-win season was directed by head coach Lee Patton in 1945-46. Patton, a Texas native, coached basketball and football at Princeton to remarkable heights prior to taking the job in Morgantown, according to the WVU athletics website.

His Princeton basketball teams made the state tournament six times and the 1943 football squad finished the season undefeated, the website reported.

Patton, who carried the nickname “Worry Bird,” led the Mountaineers to consecutive NIT berths in 1946 and 1947 and crafted a 57-game home winning streak, still a school record.

— Contact Tom Bone at

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