All-time Indiana All-Star countdown: No. 3, George McGinnis

All-time Indiana All-Star countdown: No. 3, George McGinnis

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All-time Indiana All-Star countdown: No. 3, George McGinnis

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In conjunction with the 75th year of the IndyStar Indiana All-Stars, we are counting down the top 75 boys Indiana All-Stars through the years. Selections are made based on the entirety of a career, not solely on high school. Here is No. 3

The numbers seem too otherworldly to be true. But, yes, George McGinnis did score 53 points and grab 31 rebounds in the Indiana-Kentucky All-Star game at Freedom Hall in 1969.

Then again, a lot of the things the 6-8 McGinnis did seemed otherworldly.

“I refereed his eighth-grade games and he made a move that was so quick and so coordinated, I couldn’t believe my eyes,” said Jerry Oliver, his coach through his junior year at Washington.

McGinnis was well ahead of his time as a strong and athletic 6-8 forward who could do it all. He was also a football star at Washington and likely could have had a career in college – and possibly beyond – in that sport, as he was an All-American tight end and defensive end.

But basketball was his sport, and he played it unlike nearly anybody who came before him.

“Big guys didn’t dribble the ball when I was a kid,” McGinnis said in 1992. “The big guys were just kind of bruisers, banging people around. They didn’t really handle the ball. I was kind of unique for my era because I was one of the few big guys who could put the ball on the floor and do some things with it.

“It made it tough for guys who were guarding me. If I came out on the floor with the basketball, it was foreign territory for most guys. It was a factor in my being effective.”

The 1968-69 Washington team is considered one of the greatest – if not the greatest – in Indiana high school basketball history. The Continentals scored 90 or more points 19 times that season, as McGinnis averaged 32.7 points. He and Steve Downing formed an intimidating presence inside, and Wayne Pack, Louis Day and Jim Arnold rounded out a talented starting lineup.

“Sheer talent,” McGinnis said of the Continentals. “That’s what I remember the most. We played with such force.”

Washington went 31-0 that season under first-year coach Bill Green. The Continentals survived arguably the toughest four-field team in State Finals history, rallying to defeat unbeaten Marion 61-60 on a late shot by Downing. McGinnis scored 35 points that night in the championship as Washington won 79-76 over Gary Tolleston.

“To me, that team and Attucks (in 1956) had to be the two best teams (of all-time),” Green said in 2009. “You can’t say you’re the best if you don’t win it.”

McGinnis was named Mr. Basketball after the season, wearing the No. 1 jersey for Indiana into the All-Star series that summer vs. Kentucky. He posted 23 points and 14 rebounds in a win at Hinkle Fieldhouse. After the game, Kentucky All-Star Joe Voskuhl had some choice words for McGinnis.

“I think he’s overrated, I really do,” Voskuhl told the Louisville Courier-Journal. “Oh, he’s good, but he’s overrated.”

McGinnis came out with abandon in the game at Freedom Hall to prove Voskuhl wrong. Indiana won the game, 114-83.

“It gave me a ton of incentive,” said McGinnis, who has talked to Voskuhl over the years. “Back in those days, we didn’t have AAU or any other outlet in the summer other than to play in the All-Star game. So once he said that, I was really fired up. It seemed like everything was going in.”

McGinnis signed to play at Indiana for coach Lou Watson out of high school, along with teammate Downing. Freshmen weren’t eligible at the time, so it wasn’t until 1970-71 when he made his debut. In just his third college game, McGinnis had 38 points and 20 rebounds in a 95-93 overtime loss to Kentucky.

Indiana finished 17-7 that season, as McGinnis averaged 29.9 points and 14.7 rebounds. He scored 30 points or more 13 times. After the season, McGinnis decided to leave the college ranks and play professionally.

“I was in a pretty dire financial hardship,” he told the Bloomington Herald-Times in 2006. “My dad (Bernie) was killed in a construction accident the year before I came to IU (just a few weeks after watching his 53-point All-Star game). My parents were both from the South, with no education. My mom (Willie) had no health insurance. For me to stay in college two more years would have prolonged her suffering.”

McGinnis signed with the Pacers in 1971. In his first season, as a 21-year-old rookie, he averaged 16.7 points and 9.7 rebounds to help the Pacers win an ABA title.

“They don’t come along with all the tools that George had,” Pacers coach Bob “Slick” Leonard said in 1992. “He was a terrific rebounder. He could score inside and outside. He could lay the ball on the floor. He could run the floor. He had it all.”

McGinnis was a huge star for the Pacers the next three seasons, making the ABA All-Star team in 1973, ’74 and ’75. He averaged 27.7 points, 13.9 rebounds and 4.0 assists in those three seasons, winning another ABA championship in 1973. He led the league in scoring in 1975 and was named co-MVP of the league with Julius Erving.

McGinnis signed a six-year, $3 million contract with the Philadelphia 76ers after the season. He could hardly bring himself to leave Indianapolis.

“I was supposed to leave in the morning,” he said in 2000. “But I didn’t leave until that evening. I was so emotionally torn that I just didn’t want to go. I remember driving there from Indianapolis and looking at this big ‘ol place. … I felt like a fish out of water. It was so big, so intimidating, and I was so young.

“Walking around that city at first and not being recognized was a new experience for me. I was thinking, ‘Why don’t these people recognize me?’ I didn’t like it at first, because I fed off that attention. It had never happened like that here.”

McGinnis spent three seasons with the 76ers, averaging 21.6 points and 11.5 rebounds in that stretch. He was twice named to the All-Star team. The 76ers made the NBA Finals in 1977, but lost to Portland in seven games.

McGinnis was traded to the Denver Nuggets and was named an All-Star again in 1979. He was dealt back to the Pacers midway through the 1979-80 season. He played for the Pacers through 1982 and was waived in training camp the following year at age 32.

“These guys today are able to play way beyond that,” McGinnis said in 2008. “That’s all because of the nutrition and the sports medicine. I wish it had been better when I played.”

In his 11-year NBA and ABA career, McGinnis averaged 20.2 points, 11.0 rebounds and 3.7 assists. He was a six-time All-Star. He had his No. 30 retired by the Pacers and was named to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1995.

“When I was playing in high school, I never thought about the hall of fame, let alone the possibility I might one day be inducted,” McGinnis said at the time. “This means you were thought about and considered to be among the best to play in our tradition-rich state.”

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