Remembering Canisius legend and NBA champion, John McCarthy


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – There are many things John McCarthy will be remembered for as his basketball career made him a legend at Canisius College both as a player and coach. Then there’s his time in the pros where he won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics.

But to those who knew him best, those things aren’t what they remember the most.

“What comes to mind for me is he was a true gentleman on and off the court. He played to win, he coached to win but he was always a gentleman and never got full of himself,” Richard Walsh explained.

John McCarthy sits on the bench during one of the games he was head coach of Canisius. (Photo provided by Canisius College)

Walsh played for McCarthy his freshman year at Canisius during the 1966-1967 season. That was McCarthy’s last year as head coach of the Griffs and even though he only played for him for one season, he says it was a memorable one.

“He was intense I mean South Buffalo’s known for tough guys and he’s number one probably on that list but he was very fair. I got a chance to play a lot as a freshman. We didn’t have the best team so he was very fair. I got into coaching myself later on and used a lot of those attributes, passed the ball a lot, good defense so just tough, hard-nosed basketball,” Walsh explained.

McCarthy passed away at age 86 on May 9th but the memories and stories won’t ever go away.

“When we played University of Detroit, crazy Dick Vitale was just getting his start and I’ll never forget my sister went to college in Detroit and my brother-in-law wen to the University of Detroit so it was kind of neat for their little brother. And I had a pretty good game blah, blah, blah and afterwards I met my sister and Coach McCarthy went out of his way to say hello and say some nice things so I would have to say he was a gentleman and very humble. If anyone ever brought up his accolades he would always defer that,” Walsh said.

John McCarthy (#11) during his playing days with the Griffs. (Photo provided by Canisius College)

McCarthy played at Bishop Timon High school before solidifying himself as one of the greatest Griffs’ basketball players. He was the team’s leading scorer in two of his seasons at Canisius and helped lead the Griffs to two NCAA Tournament appearances that saw four wins. He is also ranked 24th on the Griffs’ all-time scoring list.

John McCarthy being honored last November as one of Canisius’ 16 greatest players as part of the school’s 150th anniversary celebration. (Photo provided by Canisius College)

He then went on to became just the second Golden Griffin in program history to be drafted by an NBA franchise when the Rochester Royals selected him in the fourth round of the 1956 NBA Draft.

McCarthy also played for Cincinnati, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and finished his NBA career with Boston where he won an NBA championship as the Celtics beat the San Francisco Warriors in 1964.

Before leaving the NBA completely, he returned but this time as the head coach of the Buffalo Braves. Then three years later, he took over as the head man of Canisius where he coached for three seasons.

“It is always dangerous territory in athletics to talk about the best, but John McCarthy was clearly one of the best, if not the best, basketball players to come through Canisius College,” Canisius President John Hurley said. “I was proud to welcome John to center court this past November as we recognized our Sesquicentennial all-time Canisius team and renew our relationship that began 45 years ago when I was a student sportswriter for The Griffin and he was the Canisius coach. He was a key part of a golden era of Canisius basketball and he will be missed.”

McCarthy was also inducted into the Canisius Sports Hall of Fame in 1967 and the Greater Buffalo Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

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