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February 22, 2014

FURFARI COLUMN: Jim Ritchie was WVU standout in Jerry West era

MORGANTOWN — Jim Ritchie, a resident of nearby Pt. Marion, Pa., was an outstanding basketball player at West Virginia University on the highly successful teams in 1958-59, 59-60 and 60-61.

The 6-foot-4 forward helped the Mountaineers to records of 29-5, 26-5 and 23-4. The Philadelphia native also played one year on a freshman team and was redshirted as a sophomore.

The 1958-59 team lost a heartbreaking 71-70 game to California in the final of the 1959 NCAA Tournament at Louisville, Ky. That’s still the closest WVU has come to winning the national championship.

“It’s a game I’ll never forget,” Ritchie readily admitted during an interview on Wednesday. “It was a really great game.”

He also recalled a memorable game against New York University 98-69 in a runaway on Feb. 8, 1960. Ritchie had a career night with 19 points and 14 rebounds.

But NYU got even with the Mountaineers, knocking them out of the 1960 NCAA Tournament quarterfinals by 82-81 in overtime.

Coach Fred Schaus had guided West Virginia to a record six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances. Nearly all of his teams were extremely talented and well-coached.

In his senior season, Ritchie was coached by George King, who had been an assistant to Schaus. Ritchie was named a team captain in 1960-61.

While the two came in the same year and played on the freshman team, Ritchie played only two seasons of varsity competition with all-time great and eventual Hall of Fame superstar Jerry West.

“I certainly enjoyed my years at WVU,” said Ritchie, who earned honors as a standout player at Upper Darby High School in the Philadelphia area.

Asked how it was playing basketball for Schaus, Ritchie replied:

“He was a really terrific coach. He knew the game, and he did an excellent job of translating his knowledge of the game to us. He actually had us play better than most teams because he had exceptional talent.”

He added that Schaus, a WVU All-America star himself in the late 1940s here, also was very personable in directing the WVU program.

Schaus’ teams dominated basketball in the Southern Conference. So much so, WVU set an NCAA record of 44 consecutive regular-season league wins.

Ritchie shared in part of that streak which started in 1956 and ended in 1960. He also had a hand in winning Southern Conference titles and the 1960 Sugar Bowl basketball tourney championship.

He graduated in June 1961 with a degree in physiology and economics. Ritchie then decided to remain in the Morgantown area and spent 33 years in an administrative position with Monongalia General Hospital. He retired two years ago.

Jim and his wife Beverly have been married for about 33 years. They still reside in Pt. Marion, where he served five years as that town’s mayor.

The Ritchies have two grown children. Jim Jr. is an attorney in Spartanburg, S.C., and daughter Pamela Daymes works for the Dan Marino Foundation in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

For his three-year WVU career, Ritchie played in 92 games (65 starts). He made 208 of 656 shots from the field (43.9 percent) and 216 of 334 free throws (64.7 percent). His rebounding total was 560 (6.1 average per game), and he scored a total of 792 points.

He had 92 assists. He also had his career-high average of 11.6 points for 27 games as a senior.

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