Late Buckeye Finney fell short of NBA dream but built careers in two fields in Springfield

South grad died at 73 on Sunday after short illness

Jody Finney II learned many valuable lessons from his dad, including this one, which the elder Jody Finney learned from his mom.

“Whatever you’re going to do, do it your best,” Finney II said Tuesday. “Give it 100 percent effort but also learn to have a little bit of skill in what you’re doing. It’s one thing to have effort, to be attacking something, but if you have a little bit of skill, you’re just going to be that much more effective.”

Finney’s dad, who died on Sunday at 73 at his home in Northridge, north of Springfield, after a short illness, had skill on the basketball court. He starred at Springfield South High School and Ohio State University. And he gave effort throughout his life, reinventing himself as a massage therapist in the last 17 years after working 32 years at Navistar.

Finney’s family was also proud of what he did as a pastor for 50 years. He preached to family and friends at services at their home in Northridge and also at the Church of God on Lagonda Avenue in Springfield.

“To the people that really knew him the best and our family, he was really a worshiper and servant of God,” Finney said.

Finney’s life as a preacher began after he fell short of his NBA dream. His son said the Atlanta Hawks planned to draft Finney with the No. 3 pick in 1970. The Hawks called Finney the night before the draft to tell him.

“He was pretty much on cloud nine, thinking all this dedication, the hard work, the suffering, it’s going to happen,” Finney II said. “They told him flat out, ‘You’re going to be our first pick. You fit in with our system and what we were trying to do.’”

However, a last-minute deal allowed the Hawks to draft LSU’s Pete Maravich, who at the same time was considering playing in the ABA. According to reports at the time, Maravich had told the NBA he wanted to stay in the south and would not play for Detroit or San Diego, who had the first two picks. That’s why the future hall of famer fell to No. 3, and the Hawks lured him away from the ABA with a five-year, $2 million contract.

Finney fell all the way to the fourth round where he was drafted by the San Diego Rockets with the 52nd overall pick. He would never play in the NBA. He got another chance in 1971 with the Hawks but was cut before the season.

“A lot of people don’t really know how close he was to getting there,” Finney II said. “At the time, he had a 6-year-old and a 4-year-old, so after that second year of trying, he said, well, I’m just going to stay here at International and work because I’ve got to provide for my family.”

Credit: Staff photo by Marshall Gorby

Credit: Staff photo by Marshall Gorby

Finney’s legacy at the high school and college level was already secure.

A 1966 South graduate, Finney averaged 22.9 points per game as a senior. The News-Sun named Finney the sixth greatest athlete in South High School history in 2008.

Finney then scored 947 points in three seasons with the Buckeyes, averaging 6.7 points as a sophomore in the 1967-68 season. The Buckeyes finished 21-8 that season and lost to North Carolina in the Final Four before beating Houston in the third-place game. Finney led Ohio State with 16 points on 8-of-13 shooting in the loss to North Carolina.

Finney averaged 13.3 points per game in the 1968-67 season and then a career-best 20.7 points per game as a senior in the 1969-70 season.

Finney still holds the Ohio State record for single-season free throw percentage (90 percent, 99-110 in 1968-69). He also owns the second-best mark (119-134, 88.8 in 1969-70). He ranks third in school history in career free-throw percentage (86.2).

Finney remained a big Buckeye fan the rest of his life, his son said, and loved listening to the Bucknuts podcast. He was in good health until recent weeks and had to stay in shape to perform his massage work.

The News-Sun featured Finney in 2011 in a series about people reinventing themselves in a second career. Finney picked up therapeutic massage in his 50s after back problems forced him to leave the assembly line at Navistar International. A massage therapist helped him overcome his pain, and he decided to go back to school to learn massage himself.

“I heard a preacher say one time, if you find something in life that you’re good at, you’re blessed,” Finney said in 2011. “If you enjoy it, I guess you’re doubly blessed.”

According to his obituary, “Finney is survived by his wife of 53 years, Linda Lee (Clayton) Finney; children, Jo Lynn Finney (Brian) Ferguson, Jody R. (Cristina) Finney II, Jan Finney (Warren) Roberds, and Jami Finney (Wayne) Artuso; son-in-law, Alper Sarihan; 9 grandchildren, Alex, Drew and Jillian Sarihan, Brian II and Emma Ferguson, Danica, Joseph and Jocelyn Finney, and Eliana Artuso; brother, Jon (Sheila) Finney; and sister, Jackie Finney. He was preceded in death by his daughter, Jennifer Lee Sarihan in October 2020.”

A gathering of family and friends will take place from 4-8 p.m. Thursday at Littleton & Rue Funeral Home in Springfield. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that contributions be made in Finney’s memory to the Second Harvest Food Bank at 20 N. Murray St. in Springfield.

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