By Mickey Furfari
Times West Virginian
Rod Thorn was one of West Virginia University’s greatest two-sport athletes in its history.
As a guard in basketball, he led his team to a combined record of 70-18 in 1961-62-63 under the late coach George King. He also starred in baseball all three years. The late Steve Harrick piloted those teams to a 66-21 mark.
Together those two teams amassed an impressive record of 136-39 (.777) while Thorn was in school.
While he was born in Weirton, Thorn grew up in Princeton and attracted nationwide attention in that city’s high school. He was the state’s No. 1 basketball superstar.
Thorn was heavily recruited. He could have gone anywhere. But the West Virginia Legislature declared the youngster was a Mountain State natural resource and he decided then to attend WVU.
Thorn was a three-year all-state selection at Princeton High, and he was given No. 44 to wear on his jersey at WVU. That was the number the legendary Jerry West had worn in the previous three seasons. It now has been retired by the university.
“I did enjoy my years at WVU,” Thorn said in a recent interview. “We were good (as a basketball team). But we were not great.
“Yeah, I enjoyed it very much during my four years in Morgantown.”
He played in all 82 games as a starter, averaging 35.9 minutes per game as a Mountaineer.
He ranked No. 7 among all-time scorers with 1,785 points (21.8 points per game), No. 8 all-time in rebounding with 912 (11.1 per game), and No. 5 all-time in 30-point scoring games (17).
Thorn, who played on a freshman team in 1960, also made 690 field goals in 1,539 attempts (44.4 percent), and cashed 481 of 568 free throws (70.6 percent).
Thorn set seven school records which stood for several years.
He made four prominent All-America first teams and was elected in 1992 to the second annual class for induction into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame. He was already a member of the West Virginia Sports Writers Hall of Fame.
A second-round draft selection in 1963, Thorn played eight years of professional basketball. That included both the ABA and three final years in the NBA.
Before leaving WVU, Thorn was chosen as the Southern Conference Athlete of the Year in 1963. He was a member of two NCAA basketball teams and also three NCAA baseball clubs.
Thorn, who’s 71 years old, has been highly respected for nearly a lifetime of administrative roles in the National Basketball Association. That included executive vice president of basketball operations for 15 years in the league.
He had started his career in coaching, then became involved with numerous organizations as a general manager, vice president and finally club president.
After serving as the top man for the New Jersey Nets for many years, he’s now in his third year as president of the Philadelphia 76ers.
“I’ve been in the NBA every year since 1963, except for two years,” Thorn said. “So I’ve been in every kind of this business and I’ve enjoyed all of it.”
Rod and wife Peggy have been married for 49 years. They currently reside in downtown Philadelphia. But they still have a home in Rye, N.Y., and one in Florida.
Mrs. Thorn spent a year at WVU but graduated from University of Detroit, one of the cities in which Rod played pro ball.
“I ended up graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in political science,” Thorn noted. That was because he was playing in Seattle for the Supersonics.
However, WVU gave him an honorary degree.
The Thorns have a son, J.J., who is a high school teacher in the Richmond, Va., area. They also have twin daughters. One works in the NBA office and the other is a lawyer who’s practicing in Washington, D.C.