Growing up in Atlanta, Larry Thorpe had opportunities to shine in a wide array of sports, but basketball quickly emerged as his best game.
“I lettered in, like, seven varsity sports. I was always involved in some kind of sport,” the Ozark native and longtime Dothan resident said. “I don’t know why I got in basketball where I could shoot so well.”
Thorpe rode that shooting ability to a sterling collegiate career at Troy University, where he was a part of the ultra-successful John Archer era. It has also earned him a spot in the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame, which will induct its 2015 class Saturday night at 7 p.m. at the Wiregrass Rehabilitation Center.
“I was tickled to death,” Thorpe said. “When they called me and told me I was selected, that was exciting.”
Born in Ozark, Thorpe lived in Dothan until his father’s job with a shoe company relocated the family to Rome, Ga., and then to Atlanta. It was in Atlanta at a recreation center called Grove Park where Thorpe participated in a few sports.
It was also there that Thorpe developed a love for hoops and a foundation for the game.
“I used to play basketball probably every day when I was small. I like it,” he said. “Luckily, I had some good coaches at Grove Park.”
All that playing paid off when Thorpe was in his mid-teens.
“In ninth grade, I was just an average basketball player. Well, in my 10th grade year, I was a starter in high school,” he said. “In my junior and senior year, I led the state of Georgia in scoring.
“For some reason, it was a God-given talent to shoot a basketball. You can’t teach accuracy, and you can’t coach accuracy. It was a blessing to have that talent given to me.”
Later in his prep career at West Fulton High School, Thorpe received scholarship offers from some sizable schools, but Thorpe desired to play somewhere small.
His high school coach, Howard Jenkins, was a Eufaula native and Troy graduate. Jenkins guided Thorpe to Troy, and the rest was Trojan history.
“I chose Troy over a lot of big schools, and I’m glad I did. It worked out great,” he said.
Did it ever, for both Troy and Thorpe. Thorpe was one of several key pieces during a 94-32 stretch from 1963-67, and he averaged more than 20 points per game for the 26-win 1966-67 squad.
“I was a starter for three-and-a-half years, and I played with some great players: Steve Holley, Charles Clark, Tommy Whitehurst,” he said. “A lot of (those players) are in this Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame.”
For all the talent Troy had, Thorpe credited Archer for some of those successes.
“Coach Archer was a great coach, and he would play whoever was playing good at the time,” Thorpe said. “At halftime, he would look at the stat sheet, and if you were playing good you would start the second half.
“If you could play, he would play you, but if you made a mistake, he’d take your butt out and put you on the bench. If you threw the ball away or didn’t play defense, he wouldn’t put up with that.”
Thorpe said a few games in his Troy career still remain vivid in his thoughts: scoring 11 points in overtime to help Troy beat Birmingham Southern on the road in 1967, tallying 38 points against St. Bernard of Cullman and pouring in 22 points against Spring Hill in his freshman season.
That effort against Spring Hill earned Thorpe a starting role – one he held until he graduated.
After college, Thorpe coached one year each at Headland and Wicksburg before beginning a 36-year career as an environmental engineer at what is now known as Georgia-Pacific.
Thorpe still remained involved in sports during that stretch – playing in church and industrial recreation leagues, coaching with some youth-league teams and refereeing with the Southeast Alabama Officials Association.
It is through coaching and officiating that he developed ties to some other 2015 Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame inductees. Thorpe said he coached Richard Shaughnessy’s brother Michael in baseball and officiated games alongside Sonny Raley.
Those relationships, coupled with some he had with past inductees, made his selection to the Wiregrass Sports Hall of Fame even more special.
“Emotions are going to be high. I’ll be nervous, excited, but I’m looking forward to it,” he said. “It’s a big honor for me. It’s by far my biggest achievement for me in basketball and sports.”