Jon Teitel's "Forgotten Legends": Northwestern State's John McConathy

    
June 17th, 2012
In the most recent installment in his "Forgoteen Legends" interview series CHN writer Jon Teitel spent some time with Northwestern State great John McConathy. The McConathy family has become synonomous with Northwestern State over the year, and John was the one who got things rolling. McConathy is one of three All-American players in the history of the program, averaging 21.6 points per game in 1951.

Jon Teitel: After you hitchhiked 50 miles to the Northwestern State campus to try and join the team Coach Lee Prather said that he did not have a spot for you, but you hung around campus for a few days and eventually were given a scholarship on a day-to-day basis. Why was it so important for you to make the team, and were your parents worried when you did not return home that first night?

John McConathy: They were not worried because they knew I was going to campus to try and get into the school. My older brother was there on scholarship so I needed financial help as well. I was only 5-11, 165 pounds; I was a late-developer. They had offered a scholarship to someone else, but after the guy did not show up Coach Prather said he would give me an opportunity one day at a time due to my persistence. I did not play at all as a freshman but grew to 6-5, 200 pounds as a sophomore. I finally got to start halfway through my junior year and became all-conference as a senior. Coach Prather retired after my junior year and became the school's president.

JT: You played basketball and ran track in college. Which sport did you enjoy the most, and which one were you better at?

JM: I was a high-jumper who could get up to about 6-4, which was not too bad, but I enjoyed basketball the most.

JT: In 1951 you averaged 21.6 ppg and were named All-American. What did it mean to you to win such an outstanding individual honor?

JM: It was fantastic and a tremendous honor. I was only the second All-American in school history. I even got to play for Coach Adolph Rupp at the College All-Star game in Chicago.

JT: In 1951 you were drafted fifth overall by Syracuse. Did you see that as a validation of your college career, or the realization of a lifelong dream of reaching the NBA, or other?

JM: It was a dream come true. I was the only small-college player to get drafted that year. The money was not real great back then because the NBA had only been around for a few years at that point. I got around $6,000, while George Mikan made $25,000 and Bob Cousy made $15,000. I got to room with Hall of Famer Dolph Schayes at Syracuse.

JT: You only played 11 games in the NBA because you had to return home to National Guard meetings. What is your favorite memory from your time in the NBA?

JM: The Korean War was going on and my mother called me up and told me that I was AWOL! People would applaud when you dunked back then but now it seems like they dunk on every shot. My greatest thrill was when we played against Minneapolis with Mikan, Hall of Famer Jim Pollard, etc. Teams would put on pre-game exhibitions for the crowd, but I was a nervous rookie so I just dunked the ball several times.

JT: In 1960 as head coach at Bossier (Louisiana) High you set a state record with 41 wins, the last of which was a five-point win over De La Salle in the state title game. How big a deal was it to beat the three-time defending state champions, and what did it mean to you to win the title?

JM: De La Salle had won it several times: the New Orleans schools always had the best athletes. I was fortunate to coach there for six years as well as be the assistant principal. We had a fantastic team and good talent. It was a real shot in the arm for this area. They still write about it even today!

JT: Your son Mike was an All-American player at Louisiana Tech who scored over 2,000 career points and is the current coach at Northwestern State. What made him such a great scorer, and why did he decide to go into coaching?

JM: My two other boys also played basketball but Mike was a tremendous competitor. I will take a little credit for all three of them. I told them to devote the time it takes to become a good player. Mike had decided to go to Louisiana Tech and was later drafted by Chicago. I retired because Mike wanted to become a coach and I did not think it was fair for him to get a job while I was in the administration. He works with his kids to be the best they can on the court but also graduate and make a living. I have spent the past 25 years as chairman of a bank.

JT: Your brothers George and Leslie and grandchildren Michael and Logan also played at Northwestern State. How much is your family revered on campus, and do you hope the next generation follows in all of your footsteps?

JM: My older brother was the one who helped me get started there and George was a great all-conference player as well. It means a lot to us that Mike is there as coach. He has a lot of people pulling for him. My grandchildren were smaller point guards but were very knowledgeable. Logan ended up buying the house behind us so I get to see him every day.

JT: Your #14 jersey hangs in the rafters of the Prather Coliseum. Where does that rank among the highlights of your career?

JM: We have only had three All-Americans in school history so there were not a lot to pick from! I am proud of it.

JT: When people look back on your career, how do you want to be remembered the most?

JM: I was less than forthright but gave the best I had. I really paid a price to get to play and Coach Prather was extremely pleased with the way I developed.

John is also on Jon's list of best pro players in Southland history.

Central Arkansas: Scottie Pippen (1988)
Lamar: Clarence Kea (1981)
McNeese State: Joe Dumars (1986)
Nicholls State: Gerard King (1999)
Northwestern State: John McConathy (1952)
SE Louisiana: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
Sam Houston State: Frank Gates (1950)
Stephen F. Austin: James Silas (1973)
Texas A&M C.C.: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
Texas State: Jeff Foster (2000)
UT Arlington: NO ALUMNI IN ABA/NBA
UTSA: Devin Brown (2003)