By MICKEY FURFARI
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Rod Thorn was one of the greatest student-athletes in West Virginia University history without a doubt.
Eight months ago he reached the highest peak of his numerous coaching and administrative positions of his impressive professional career.
A three-year basketball and baseball All-America star, Thorn continues to excel as the president of basketball operations for the National Basketball Association in New York City.
West Virginia fans thought the state should be — and probably are — extremely proud of this Weirton native who grew up in Princeton. He followed Jerry West on the hardwood in 1961-62-63.
Thorn was so great at Princeton High School in both sports that West Virginia’s State Legislature got involved in his recruitment at WVU. It declared the youngster as one of the state’s top natural resources.
Like West, Thorn was the only other cager issued No. 44 to wear on his jersey.
Before becoming NBA president late last fall, he had served three years as president of basketball operations for the Philadelphia 76ers franchise.
Thorn, who turns 73 on May 23, took over that role after having been NBA vice president for its operations earlier.
In all, Thorn played eight years in the NBA from 1963-71 after leaving Morgantown. He retired from competition while with the Seattle Supersonics.
Then he completed his college education at the University of Washington and received a degree.
Eventually, WVU awarded Thorn an honorary degree, which he certainly appreciates.
Besides Seattle, the 6-foot-4, 198-pound ex-Mountaineer played with Baltimore, Detroit and St. Louis as a first-round draft choice.
The 1963 Southern Conference Athlete of the Year was named to an even dozen All-America teams in basketball.
While at WVU, Thorn helped the Mountaineers to three-year records of 70-18 in basketball and 66-21 in baseball as a first baseman.
He was elected in 1992 into the second class of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. Thorn also earned numerous honors at all three levels, including membership in the West Virginia Sports Writers Hall of Fame.
“It was great playing for WVU and George King, a terrific coach of basketball, and for Steve Harrick in baseball,” Thorn said from his office last week. He led two teams to two NCAA tournaments in basketball and three in baseball.
Rod and wife Peggy have been married for more than 50 years. They have three grown children: son J.J. and twin daughters Amanda and Jessica.
“I loved my years at West Virginia,” said Thorn, who played both at forward and guard. “Those were some of the best years of my life.”
He had made all-state three years in basketball and one year in baseball at Princeton.
As a Mountaineer superstar, he played in 82 games, made 692 of 1,559 field goal attempts (.449 percent) and 401 of 568 free throws (.706), for 1,785 points.
In addition to his 21.8 points per game average, Thorn grabbed 912 rebounds for an 11.1 average per game.
He also had 308 assists.
In his baseball career at WVU, the statistics available show it was not so consistent. No figures were available for 1961. But Thorn played in all 24 games in 1962.
Thorn had 20 hits, 20 runs batted in, two doubles, one home run and a .233 batting average. He made just two errors at first base.
He played in just three games in 1963 and hit .333 before being hit in the head with a ball.
He then was selected in the first round of the NBA draft by Baltimore.
Thorn noted that the two sports were rated evenly by him as favorites, but basketball eventually became clearly No. 1 and remains so.