Mar 20, 2015; Charlotte, NC, USA; The Georgia Bulldogs band performs before the game against the Michigan State Spartans in the second round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament at Time Warner Cable Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports
Georgia has had only two two-time All-American basketball players – Dominique Wilkins and Bob Lienhard.
In 1966, Georgia’s recently hired first full time basketball coach, Ken Rosemond, recruited Bob Lienhard, a High School All-American. It was a recruiting coup of national significance.
Playing against Lew Alcindor in the tough NYC Catholic league, Lienhard earned his High School All-American accolades on what was the best high school team in the country, Rice High in Harlem. The team included future Marqutte All-American Dean Meminger and future Fordham All-American Charlie Yelverton. Lienhard’s decision to ignore offers from established basketball schools was shocking. Lienhard is the Dominque Wilkins of his Georgia basketball generation.
A three-time All-SEC selection, in 1969 Lienhard was All-SEC with greats Pete Maravich, Dan Issel ,Neal Walk and Bill Justus.
Lienhard is widely considered on a par with St Bonaventure’s great Bob Lanier as the second and third best centers in the country during his time. Only one center was considered clearly better than “Big Bob” – Lew Alcindor, the guy that became Kareem Abdul Jabbar. Frank Maguire, at the time South Carolina’s head basketball Coach, told the Palm Beach Post, “I’d say if we had Bob Lienhard, we could win the ACC.”
Why did Lienhard come south to a fledging basketball program in Athens? “I wanted to go where I could play 40 minutes [a game],” Lienhard told Mile Tierney of the AJC.com,
He didn’t always play 40 minutes, but at Georgia, he played in every varsity game his three varsity seasons, averaging over 20 points and 14 rebounds a game each year. After nearly 50 years, he still owns every Georgia rebounding record, and it’s not even close. Lienhard has ten of the top 14 rebounding single game totals in Georgia history, the top two rebounding seasons and leads the career rebound total by almost 200 despite playing only 3 years.
Lienhard has the highest season and career scoring totals of three-year Georgia varsity players, ranking sixth on the season average list and tied for seventh with Vern Fleming on the career list.
In 1968 he did not miss a shot in a game against Georgia Tech.
Before “Big Bob” arrived in Athens, Georgia had 17 losing basketball seasons. At Georgia, he played on winning teams each of his three varsity years. He was Bulldog basketball’s pied piper and Rosemond built a team around him that eventually rose to a third place SEC finish Lienhard’s senior year, one basket away from the SEC championship.
But while post players Alec Kessler, Lavon Mercer and Terry Fair are revered, Lienhard is rarely recalled.
The ABA tempted Lienhard after his junior year with a six-figure bonus offer. Legend has it his mom told the Carolina Cougars general manger “where to go” and hung up. Another legend had Lienhard recruited off the playground in New York – no doubt not true, but he was probably observed at the famed Rucker Park cages where street ball was a little more than a few guys who got together in the evenings for some 21.
After college, he brushed off the NBA for a two-year contract to play in Italy. The rest is history – he loved the city of Cantu and the people of Cantu loved him. Georgia fans should too.
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