CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- One of the more underrated basketball coaches in our state's history has been former WVU assistant Gary McPherson.
McPherson, a 1954 graduate of Green Bank High School, has had an amazing basketball life. He played at Washington & Lee from 1954-58 when it was a scholarship Division I program in the Southern Conference and had two stints as a WVU assistant coach, first under Sonny Moran and then under Gale Catlett.
McPherson was also the head coach at VMI from 1964-69 and he upset WVU twice, a 92-90 win in Beckley in 1968 and an 87-84 win at the WVU Field House in 1969. He has two of only five VMI wins in what used to be an every-year series.
Earlier this year, McPherson reflected on an unlikely Mountaineer hoops comeback when he was coaching for Moran in the early 1970s.
"In 1971-72, I was the top assistant for Sonny. It was a very hard and emotional year," recalls McPherson. "In December of that season, one of our best players, Larry 'Deacon' Harris, was killed and Sam Oglesby was paralyzed in an automobile accident. Harris was a great young prospect from Charleston High who still holds some state rebounding records. We also lost post player Bob Hornstein and Deacon's high school teammate, Levi Phillips, who stopped playing. We were down to just a handful of scholarship players.
"Near the end of the season we were tired and worn down. We had great leadership with guys like Curtis Price. We also had Wil Robinson, who is the best shooter I have ever seen at WVU, but we only had about seven or eight scholarship players.
"The previous season, one of our players was Mark Dawson from Huntington East. He was diagnosed with a heart murmur and the doctors made him stop playing. Late in the year, when he saw we only had six or seven players, he came up to us and said he could get cleared if we wanted him to try to help us out. He joined the team for the final six games of the season."
On March 1, 1972, WVU was trailing Virginia Tech 82-79 with seconds to play in Cassell Coliseum in Blacksburg, Va. There was no 3-point shot in those days and McPherson remembers the wild finish.
"Tech led the whole game. Don DeVoe was their coach and they were very good. They would win the NIT the next season and they had an All-American who went on to be a great NBA player in Allan Bristow," recalled McPherson. "With time running out, Curt Price made a steal and then made a deep shot from the corner that cut the lead to 82-81.