Georgia basketball loses all time great Bob Lienhard

Georgia basketball (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images)
Georgia basketball (Photo by Mike Comer/Getty Images) /

Georgia basketball lost its first marquee player and perhaps still the best basketball player to run the Stegman floor when Big Bob Lienhard died yesterday at the age of 70.

The Georgia basketball family lost one of the greatest all time Bulldog cagers. Bob Lienhard died yesterday in Italy at the age of 70.

Along with Dominique Wilkins, Big Bob Lienhard is one of only two two-time Georgia basketball All-Americans . Like Wilkins a generation later, Lienhard’s decision to accept a basketball scholarship to play at the University of Georgia in 1966 was a recruiting coup.

High school All-American

Playing in the New York City Catholic League, Lienhard competed at Rice High in Harlem against Lew Alcindor, the player that would later be known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The Rice team included future Marquette All-American Dean Meminger and future Fordham All-American Charlie Yelverton, and for at least one of Lienhard’s years was widely considered the best high school team in the country.

Related Story. Georgia basketball counting on wildcard Jordan Harris. light

Lienhard gained high school All-American honors, and during their high school days, only Alcindor was a better center. Lienhard was considered on a par with future St. Bonaventure great Bob Lanier.

Legendary South Carolina basketball coach Frank Maguire told the Palm Beach Post, “I’d say if we had Bob Lienhard, we could win the ACC.”

Georgia basketball’s biggest recruiting coup

Then brand new Georgia basketball head coach Ken Rosemond enticed Lienhard to Georgia. While Lienhard’s decision to migrate south to a school that had just hired it’s first full-time basketball coach ever was national news, it was logical to Lienhard. “I wanted to go where I could play 40 minutes [a game],” Lienhard told Mike Tierney of the

Not only did he play, he played in every varsity contest during his three years of eligibility. He averaged 14.9 rebounds a game, still a school record. Even now, over 50 years later, he owns every Georgia rebounding record, and it’s not close. His career total leads by 200 despite playing only three years.

Lienhard has 13 of the 20 top rebounding games in Georgia basketball history. He has three of the top five rebounding seasons in Georgia basketball history.

Underrated scoring

The big man could score, by the way, having the highest season and career scoring totals of three-year Georgia varsity players. He ranks sixth on the season average list and is tied for seventh with Vern Fleming on the career list. Lienhard is second in field goal percentage (.632) and eighth in field goals made (235). He is still second in field goal percentage (.597), fifth in field goals made (663), ninth in career free throws made (333) and eleventh in free throws attempted (487

In 1968 he did not miss any of his 11 shots against Georgia Tech.

Lienhard’s impact was recognized during his day, earning All-SEC honors three times to go with his two All-American honors. In 1970, he was joined on the All-SEC squad by Pete Maravich, Dan Issel, Neal Walk and Bill Justus.

The fledgling American Basketball Association came calling after Lienhard’s junior year. Despite a stunning salary offer, Lienhard did things his own way, same as when he chose to play in Athens, and stuck around for his senior season.

The first Bulldog basketball heartbreak

Before Lienhard arrived in Athens, Georgia endured 17 losing basketball seasons. Lienhard led the Dawgs to winning seasons each of his varsity years. The Bulldog basketball’s pied piper, Lienhard pushed the Dawgs to within a roll of the basketball of the SEC championship. Then, once more, he made a maverick choice, passing on the NBA after being drafted by the Phoenix Suns to play professionally in Italy.

Next. Tom Crean's savvy builds a powerhouse staff. dark

With the SEC championship lost and the NIT bid taken away by Pete Maravich in a final game Bulldog loss in the Coliseum, the promise of consistent Georgia basketball glory faded away as it has so many times since.

The Dawg Nation reveres past Bulldog post players Alec Kessler, Lavon Mercer, Terry Fair and now Yante Maten,  but Lienhard is rarely recalled. That’s a shame. He was the greatest of them all.