CHESTERTOWN — Thomas J. Finnegan joined an exclusive club last month when the basketball court at Washington College, where he starred as both a player and coach, was formally dedicated in his honor.
Affectionately known as “Finn Man,” he has followed in the footsteps of Shoremen icons J. Thomas Kibler and Edward L. Athey ‘47, hall of fame coaches who also have facilities named in their honor.
The dedication ceremony was held Saturday afternoon, July 24 when Finnegan’s former players, coaching contemporaries, family, friends and fans filled the bleachers in the college gym.
Finnegan ‘65 was seated out on the court, along with former player and assistant Scott Jones ‘89, current head men’s coach Aaron Goodman and Athletic Director Thad Moore. As a backdrop, banners celebrating Finnegan’s four coaching appearances in the NCAA Division III Tournament — 1984, ‘86, ‘89 and ‘90 — hung from the rafters.
Moore and Goodman offered congratulatory remarks, and a letter was read from Finnegan’s successor Rob Nugent, who emphasized that Finnegan’s impact and legacy went far beyond basketball.
Jones, who played four years for Finnegan and right out of college was an assistant on the 1989-90 team that finished third in the country, introduced the honoree.
Lettering in cross country, soccer, basketball and baseball, Finnegan is arguably the greatest athlete ever to suit up for the Shoremen, Jones said.
A native of Newark, N.J., Finnegan transferred to Washington after starting out at Division I Seton Hall in New Jersey.
He averaged 29.5 points in 38 basketball games from 1963-65, and was named to the small college All-America team in both seasons.
He was a prolific scorer, eclipsing the 1,000-point milestone (1,120) in only two seasons — long before the NCAA universally adopted the 3-point line in college basketball. He still holds several program records.
As a coach, Finnegan was a task master and a master of the game of basketball, according to Jones.
“But the biggest thing,” Jones said, speaking directly to Finnegan, “is you had the ability to instill a belief, a confidence that we were the better team, the most prepared team, and that we would go out there and be successful.”
Finnegan has no peer as a basketball coach here; his 378 career wins over 29 seasons are the most in program history.
As he walked to the podium at the July 24 dedication ceremony, Finnegan received a standing ovation.
“Thank you from the bottom of my heart. I’m deeply touched,” he said.
Finnegan thanked his players, assistant coaches, team managers and Chestertown fans.
He singled out Ed Athey, who brought him in as a basketball player and then brought him back as the head coach in the fall of 1970; Joan and Elmer Horsey; Mike Hart, his assistant coach of 18 years; WC coaching colleagues Fred Wyman, Holly Bramble and Don “Chatty” Chatellier; friends Neil Brayton, Bob Pritzlaff and Lou Farino; and many, many all-star players.
“It was a wonderful career,” he said. “It had its ups and downs and peaked in the middle.”
Drafted by the Chicago Cubs and Boston Celtics, Finnegan aimed for a career as a professional athlete.
If that didn’t pan out, coaching was his backup plan.
Finnegan lost his first 17 games as Washington’s coach, and finished 3-20 in that first season.
He had his first winning season in 1976-77, and after that went about putting together a hall of fame career.
The high point came in 1989-90 when the Shoremen (25-6) set a program record for wins in a season and reached the Final Four. Washington edged Calvin in the national consolation game, 87-86, rallying from 17 points down with 17 minutes to go.
Finnegan (378-325) stepped down as coach at the conclusion of the 1999-20 season.
He continued to serve as a professor of physical education here until his retirement in 2015.