George Lynch, catalyst of 1970s Craig basketball teams, heads to Hall of Fame
JANESVILLE—George Lynch should have realized he had special basketball talents when he was asked to join “the older guys” during summer sweat league as he was going into eighth grade.
That was the last thing on his mind as he was about to enter the YMCA to face the likes of Tim Paterick, Bob Luchsinger and John Bobzien.
He first had to stir up the courage to get on the court.
“It was really scary,” Lynch recalled. “There were all these high school guys who were really good, and I got to play with them the entire summer.
“It was really scary.”
The experience paid off. When Lynch got to high school, he started as a sophomore on the Janesville Craig High basketball team. He finished with two all-Big Eight first-team honors and was second-team all-state his senior year.
His accomplishments have earned him a spot in the Janesville Hall of Fame. He will be inducted along with Joe Kaster, Eric Burdette, Shawn Fredricks and Joe Dye in ceremonies at the Janesville Country Club on Saturday, May 10.
Lynch always was moved up a grade in basketball while growing up. He went to St. Mary School, and the Janesville parochial league honed his skills.
The second youngest of the six children of George Sr. and Marge Lynch, George started as a sophomore on Stan Dufrane’s Craig varsity team when that was rare. As a ninth-grader at Marshall Junior High, Lynch set a school single-game scoring record of 34 points, breaking Paterick’s record of 25 points, while helping Marshall go undefeated.
“I must have been a scoring guard,” Lynch said, chuckling and remembering that year.
That summer he spent at the YMCA as an incoming eighth-grader helped him make the transition to a starter as a sophomore.
“I could pass it, and (the high school players) really helped out a lot,” Lynch said. “They told me not to get nervous. It was pretty competitive.
“I lived at the Y.”
Lynch made all-Big Eight honorable mention as a sophomore in 1975-76, finishing as the seventh-leading scorer in the Big Eight.
“I think I scored more points as a sophomore than I did as a senior,” he said. “I think I must have been really fast getting up and down the court.”
The Cougars’ season records improved as Lynch got older.
After a .500 season as a sophomore, Lynch led a team that had 12 other juniors to the 1977 state tournament.
After a slow start to the season, the Cougars rolled late with three juniors and seniors Brad Mair and Rich Green starting. The late surge included beating No. 6-ranked Beloit, 76-65, in the Big Eight Conference finale that evened Craig’s regular-season record at 9-9.
Lynch then hit all 12 of his free throws to help beat Parker in a regional semifinal. The Cougars then beat the Big Eight champion Purple Knights for the second time in two weeks in the regional finals and got past Burlington, 56-54, and Kenosha Tremper, 81-75, in the sectional to earn a trip to Madison with a 13-9 record.
“We had a good team that peaked at the right time,” Lynch said. “You could just feel the momentum.”
Neenah ended the Cougars’ dream ride at the state tournament with a 73-50 win. Lynch scored nine points.
“We got smoked right away,” Lynch said. “I was so nervous. I remember my first layup in warmups, I don’t even think it hit the rim.”
Lynch was a first-team all-Big Eight pick and finished with 342 points, leading the team from his point guard spot.
With all those juniors becoming seniors, the Cougars were expected to shine in the 1977-78 season, and they did not disappoint.
With Lynch again running the show, Craig won its first 19 games, becoming the first Craig team to go undefeated in the regular season. One of Lynch’s best memories is beating Madison West, 108-67, one of three games the Cougars registered 100 or more points.
Craig shared the No. 1-state rating with Neenah. Gyms were packed and doors locked an hour before the varsity games began, especially for games against Beloit.
In the regular-season finale at Beloit, Lynch scored 21 of his 23 points in the second half, including 15 in the final quarter, to help the Cougars pull out a 74-61 victory.
But just as the Cougars had ruined Beloit’s season the year before, the Purple Knights bit Craig in the regional final, 69-67, at Craig. The No. 1-ranked Cougars fought back from a 69-61 deficit with 1:26 left to fall just short.
“He took over and almost pulled us through, just like he had so many times in the past,” DuFrane said of Lynch after the bitter loss.
Lynch added his second straight all-Big Eight honor and was a second team all-state pick.
The 5-foot-10 guard shot 67 percent from the field his senior season, making 126 of 188 attempts.
He finished with 885 career points, making 53 percent of his field-goal attempts.
But his leadership qualities are what DuFrane and his teammates remember.
“He was really an excellent leader,” the 82-year-old DuFrane said from his Mesa, Ariz., home Friday. “He could maneuver inside and dish it out. Point guards have to penetrate and dish.
“He made sure everybody got the ball.”
Mark Martin was Lynch’s backcourt mate the final two seasons after he moved to Janesville their freshman year.
“We really had nice chemistry,” Martin said. “I like to say every point I ever scored came off an assist from him.”
The three-year starter controlled the Cougars’ offense.
“He was the motor that kept us going,” Martin said. “He led by example. You couldn’t have asked for a better teammate.”
Lynch went on to play four years at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, which was an NAIA school then. He suffered two sprained ankles as a freshman and then contributed to a 1979-80 team that finished eighth in the prestigious 32-team single-elimination NAIA national tournament as a sophomore.
He started at point guard his final two years at Loras.
His leadership skills never left. After working several sales jobs, Lynch decided to use his acquired skills to go on his own.
In 1994, Lynch started MMPR Promotions in Janesville with his former grade-school coach Charlie Knipp. With the help of Cal Rabas and the late Ken Hendricks and his wife, Diane, Lynch developed the promotional products company.
Now in his 20th year, Lynch has expanded the River Street building to more than 25,000 square feet and has 25 employees.
Lynch and his wife, Amy, have two sons, Nicholas, a freshman at Craig, and Jacob, a seventh-grader.
Lynch spends many hours coaching his sons in baseball and basketball.
Jacob is on a seventh-grade traveling team.
Nicholas, who is 6-foot-3, played on the Craig sophomore basketball team as a freshman.
He only had to look to his dad if he had any reservations about making that jump.