City playground’s new namesake Stone a hoops legend

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Pro basketball player George Stone, center, back in his Covington days at William Grant High School with teammates Willie Hinton, left, and and Bobby Storms, right. The photo is from the book "9th Region Royalty" and is used with permission from author/editor Terry Boehmker.


COVINGTON, Ky. - If this were a boring press release, it would begin like this: 

On Saturday, Covington renamed a rebuilt basketball court in the Old Seminary Square neighborhood after George Stone, a former resident of the city who died in 1993.
But this isn’t a boring story, it’s a fascinating one.
Why else would the renaming ceremony have attracted so many people, including the D1 Northern Kentucky University basketball team and its head coach, John Brannen? (More on the Brannen connection later).
In other words, just who was George Stone?
Let’s answer that question with out-of-order flashback vignettes:
Flashback No. 1: Game 6 of the 1970 ABA Finals between the Indiana Pacers and the Los Angeles Stars.
(You remember the ABA, right? Believe it or not, at one time the NBA was considered the stodgy, mainstream, plodding league. The ABA - with its 3-point shot ... the Slam-Dunk contest ... its red, white and blue basketball ... and players like Dr. J, The Iceman, The A-Train, and Skywalker - was its flashy, free-wheeling "outlaw" cousin.)
The heavily favored Pacers featured Tom Thacker, the 1959 graduate of Covington’s William Grant High School who is widely considered one of the greatest players in Northern Kentucky history. Like ever.
Thacker scored 11 points in game 6 as the Pacers won the game and the title.
But for Covington residents, Thacker’s triumph was bittersweet.
That’s because playing for the upstart Stars was another William Grant legend who had graduated in 1964. He scored 28 in a strong effort in the final game and led the Stars with 24.7 points per game in the championship series.
That Grant alumnus was George Stone, who had grown up over near the railroad tracks on West 10th Street.
All agreed: For a city the size of Covington to have two of its former high school players in the pro league’s championship series was an amazing achievement.
The next year, 1971, the Stars moved to Utah and won the ABA title, with the 6-foot-7 Stone again a key player.
Stone wound up playing four seasons in the ABA, averaging 13.6 ppg and finishing with the league’s 10th best shooting percentage from the 3-point line.
“Tom Thacker was considered the superstar for Covington Grant, but after he left, George Stone just picked up the mantle,” said Terry Boehmker, who has covered local high school basketball for 40 years, most notably for The Kentucky Post. “I always wanted to write about him but I never could track him down.”
Stone’s high school career is featured, however, in Boehmker’s book, called “9th Region Royalty.” (More on that later as well.)
Flashback No. 2: 1967 NIT (college) quarterfinals.
It was a high-scoring game, with players just flying up and down the court at the legendary Madison Square Garden.
The Thundering Herd of Marshall University destroyed the Nebraska Cornhuskers, 119 to 88, setting NIT single-game records for points and field goals.
Their leader?
George Stone.
He was unstoppable in that game, scoring 46 points on 20 of 38 shooting, which was an NIT record at the Garden. He also grabbed 11 rebounds.
Stone played three years at Marshall, averaging 22.4 points a game and ranking even today as one of its leading scorers. He is in their sports Hall of Fame.
He also hit 82.7 percent of his free throws during his career, and for years Marshall gave an award named after Stone to its best shooter from the line.
Among the winners? NKU’s head coach, Brannen, who played at Marshall in the mid-’90s.
Flashback No. 3: 9th Region High School championship games, 1963 and 1964.
In 1963, William Grant High School (which was in the Greenup Street building that now houses the Lincoln Grant Scholar House) lost to Newport Catholic in the finals, 57-42. The next year, there was a different outcome. From Boehmker’s “9th Region Royalty”:
“The William Grant Warriors celebrated their fourth and final 9th Region championship following a 67-57 win over Holy Cross in the 1964 title game. One year later, the segregated high school for African-American students in Covington was closed and its students were integrated into public schools.”
Stone had 18 points for the Warriors.
William Grant won its first game in the state Sweet Sixteen tournament but lost in the quarterfinals to Louisville Seneca, which was led by future NBA Hall of Famer Wes Unseld. Stone was named to the Sweet Sixteen all-tournament team.

 Stone in his Los Angeles Stars uniform.

In memory of Stone, Covington Mayor Joe Meyer read a long proclamation at the court’s dedication on Saturday, which was part of the reopening of Annie Hargraves and Basil Lewis parks.
A piece about the event was picked up by The Herald-Dispatch newspaper in Huntington, W.Va., where Marshall is located.
Naming the court after Stone was appropriate on a number of levels, said Kenny Shields, who coached for 39 years in Northern Kentucky, including 16 years as NKU’s head coach, and also has a book about high school basketball. Back in the early ’60s, Shields worked during the summers for the parks and recreation department at the City of Covington, which routinely held basketball tournaments on its playgrounds.
“George was an outstanding player,” Shields said of those outdoor tournaments. “There was some really good basketball being played on those playgrounds. Even Dave Cowens (a later NBA MVP and Hall of Famer) got picked up by one team.”
“I remember George well ... and I remember that basketball court well,” Shields said.
Stone reportedly died of a heart attack in 1993 at his home in Columbus, Ohio.
In the coming weeks, a plaque officially recognizing “George Stone Basketball Court” will be installed.
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