The University of Memphis officially dedicated its new Larry Finch Plaza to the former coach and ABA star with a ceremony at its Park Ave. campus Thursday afternoon.
The ceremony, which included the unveiling of a larger-than-life statue of Finch in his Memphis State athletic prime, also saw Memphis mayor, Jim Strickland, declare Oct. 28 Larry Finch Day.
“This plaza recognizes the life that embraced the values of our university and celebrates the positive impact he had on countless lives in Memphis and well beyond Memphis,” said UofM president, David Rudd.
Hundreds of people gathered at the event to honor Finch, drowning the room in a sea of blue and grey and red and gold. Among those present were Finch’s widow and other family members as well as members of the Melrose High Alumni Association, the famed school in Orange Mound where Finch got his start in the 1960s.
“Oh, he was a dynamite, and I was a cheerleader, so I got to cheer him when he was playing,” said Hazel Glover, a Melrose High alumna who grew up one street away from Finch.
Finch was a shooting guard for the school, eventually going on to lead the Golden Wildcats to a third-place finish in the 1969 TSSAA state tournament during his senior year.
After graduating from Melrose, Finch accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Memphis, then Memphis State, and played for its team for three years. His stint as a Memphis Tiger earned him an appearance in the 1973 NCAA national championship against UCLA where he finished with 29 points and was selected as a second team All-American. Finch also helped the Tigers achieve an overall 63-21 record.
The Los Angeles Lakers selected Finch in the fourth round of the 1973 NBA draft, but Finch stuck to his roots, opting to stay at home and play for the Memphis Tams and Sounds of the American Basketball Association until his retirement the following year.
Finch transitioned to coaching in 1977, yet it wasn’t until four years later he returned to the Bluff City to become an assistant coach under Dana Kirk. In 1986, he took over as head coach, launching a campaign to become one of the greatest coaches in University of Memphis history.
In addition to steering the Tigers to six NCAA tournaments bids, including reaching the Final Four in 1985 and the Elite Eight in 1992, Finch was also responsible for recruiting current head coach and former Orlando Magic star, Penny Hardaway as well as former Los Angeles Clippers point guard, Elliot Perry.
Hardaway, who took over as head coach in 2018, said his ultimate goal is to honor his former mentor by leading the Tigers back to the Final Four, something that Finch never got the chance to do as a head coach.
“To be here today, not only having the Larry Finch center but to have this plaza with his statue out front that I get a chance to drive by every day, just understanding what this is about and never losing sight of the total goal,” he said.
And just like the plaques surrounding Finch’s statue that chronicle his life as a player and a coach, his widow, Vicki, stood before the crowd and told the story of Larry Finch, the husband, and Larry Finch, the father.
“My husband loved basketball from the day he started playing to the day that he died. It was embedded in his heart, soul and mind and it was a talent God blessed him with,” she said.
Vicki, in looking beyond her husband’s passing, highlighted the seeds that he planted in Memphis and the basketball world.
“To come from this small community, a community that raised him, that mentored him, and to come and see a statue in his honor, I thank all of you,” she said.
The statue of Finch that now sits at the plaza bearing his name. "Though I know he loved me and his family, my husband had a passionate, love affair with basketball that I learned to accept and encourage," his widow Vicki said.
A member of the Melrose Alumni Association watches as speakers reminisce about Finch. The school has been the alma mater for several pro athletes, including current Dallas Cowboys running back, Tony Pollard.
University of Memphis head coach, Anfernee "Penny" Hardaway fighting back tears as he speaks about Finch. Hardaway was recruited by Finch in the 1990s and went on to play professionally from 1993 until 2007.