MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It never was easy being Rod Thorn.
When you’re the best high school basketball player in your state, when you are probably the best high school baseball player in your state, when you are a solid student, life can’t be anything but fun.
You try being the man who replaces Jerry West and see how easy it is, especially when you have already been labeled a prized West Virginia natural asset in an effort to insure that you went to the state university to follow the Hall of Famer West.
You learn quickly that easy and fun don’t go together.
Oh, Thorn was up to the task. He was a three-time All-American in basketball and one of the best baseball players in the Southern Conference, right up until a teammate hit him in the head with a throw in what would be the final baseball game he ever played.
How good was he?
He was the second player drafted in the 1963 draft, right behind Duke All-American Art Heyman, ahead of Hall of Fame players Nate Thurman and Gus Johnson. That is the same draft position West had, being selected after a player who gained quite a bit more fame and fortune that Heyman, however, in Oscar Robertson.
Rod Thorn had a plan then and it didn’t include being an NBA lifer.
“No,” he said the other day as he attended Bob Huggins’ Fantasy Camp for the first time when asked if he expected to make basketball a career as he has. “It’s like I’ve been a kid my whole life, because I’ve been involved with basketball.
“I was going to go to law school when my playing career ended, but I had a chance to become an assistant coach and did that instead.”
Playing in the NBA was fun, but he came to learn it wasn’t easy. His first season he was a member of the All-Rookie team for the Baltimore Bullets, but it was a good thing he rented and never bought, for he was traded following that first year and in an eight-year career which did not blossom like West’s he played also with Detroit, St. Louis and Seattle.
That’s when the offer came to coach and Thorn put law school on hold. Who knew how closely he would be a witness to — and sometimes quite heavily involved in — professional basketball history…