Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Sports column

September 25, 2012

Robinson, Thorn shining examples of regional success

BLUEFIELD —  This past weekend a basketball player from Welch and one from Princeton who both went on to play at West Virginia University were honored in big ways.

Saturday morning, Maurice Robinson, former star for the Welch Maroon Wave, was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. Sunday afternoon the interchange of Route 460 and I-77 in Princeton was named in honor of former Princeton Tiger, Mountaineer, NBA player and executive Rod Thorn.

Thorn and Robinson played just over a decade apart from each other at WVU, but both were important cogs on Mountaineer teams on which they played.

Thorn was a first-round draft pick of the Baltimore Bullets, now the Washington Wizards. He was on Mountaineer teams that came immediately after the Jerry West era in which the Mountaineers made it to the Final Four. Though Thorn did not have a playing career in the NBA as long as West, he did make his mark, in the front office.

It was Rod Thorn who as general manager of the Chicago Bulls drafted Michael Jordan, hired Phil Jackson and was the architect of the Bulls’ dynasty in the 1990s. When he went to the New York Nets, he assembled a group that made it to the NBA Finals for the only time since the team now based in Brooklyn joined the league in 1976. Thorn is now with the Philadelphia 76ers.

Robinson was one of the most sough-after players in the nation in 1974, his senior year at Welch High School.  A year earlier as a junior, he led the Maroon Wave to the Class AAA state tournament in Charleston, but Welch fell to a Charleston team that won its third consecutive state championship and was led by another nationally-recruited player, Mike Jones, who played at the University of Cincinnati for Gale Catlett. Oh, by the way, Catlett was Thorn’s roomate at WVU.

I remember seeing Robinson play at Welch. In those days both Welch and Gary played their home games at the armory on Stewart Street, and most nights it would be a doubleheader with both schools hosting an opponent.

“Tree,” or “Mo” as he was called then, was dominant on the court. He stood 6’7” but played much taller, and he did the same at WVU, outrebounding much taller opponents.

Robinson and Thorn stand as examples to youth, from my time in high school 30 years ago, to the youth of today that you can make it in life. Oftentimes our area is criticized, ridiculed and mocked for many things. Many people young and old feel that nothing comes our way but doom and bad news.

These two men, one from Welch, one from Princeton overcame the odds and were able to play major college basketball and in the NBA.

There’s been a lot of good people from Southern West Virginia and Maurice Robinson and Rod Thorn are two of them. They are examples of dedication, hard work and determination.

Congratulations gentlemen. Thank you for the memories and work you have done.

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