Georgia basketball legend, former state legislator dies at 92

Garland Pinholster, the pioneer behind basketball's wheel offense concept, former Oglethorpe University coach and athletic director and former Georgia state legislator, passed away at 92 years old at his home in Ball Ground, Ga., on Sunday morning.

"Young men look ahead, old men look back," he told FOX 5 Sports in January. 

And there is quite a life to look back on, as FOX 5 Sports profiled earlier this year.

Pinholster was a part of the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame's class of 2020 inductees and was also inducted into the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame, the Oglethorpe Athletic Hall of Fame and the University of North Georgia Athletics Hall of Fame.

At Oglethorpe University in 1956, he took over an unfunded men’s basketball team that had reportedly lost to a YMCA group. In 1963, Pinholster took his Stormy Petrels to the semifinals of the NCAA Division II tournament. He also coached the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team that won a gold medal at the 1963 Pan American Games.

In what seems like a short tenure between 1956 to 1966 at Oglethorpe, Pinholster became a legend.

“He has been the mentor and the icon and the North Star of our Oglethorpe University for so long,” said Director of Men’s and Women’s Golf Jim Owen.

Among his career highlights, he was especially proud of encouraging the first racially integrated basketball game played in Georgia – the 1961 Oglethorpe versus Rhode Island game – a 64-47 win for Pinholster’s Stormy Petrels.

"(Rhode Island) told me that they had a black ball player, and I said, 'We really do not care. Oglethorpe was founded in 1835, and to my knowledge, no student of any creed, race or color has ever been turned down at this college, if you see that as an oasis of acceptance,'" Pinholster told FOX 5 Sports. "I was a Southerner, and some folks looked at them a little skeptical. And I kind of wanted to prove a point that we were open-minded and would measure anybody on their ability and their talent, not any other way other than that."

Later in life, Pinholster owned Matthews Supermarkets in Atlanta. He also served six terms as a Georgia State legislator for Cherokee and Pickens Counties and as a member of the Georgia Department of Transportation. He was an enthusiastic supporter of the Rotary who served as president of the Atlanta Rotary and was named Rotarian of the Year at one point. Pinholster had also served as a board member for the Boy Scouts, Goodwill Industries and Associated Groceries.

The youngest of 12 children, Pinholster was born on Feb. 19, 1928 to Bertha Elizabeth Parker and James Henry Pinholster. Raised in Clyattville, near the Florida border, his memories of childhood included picking cotton, growing tobacco, the year Georgia Power ran an electrical line through his family’s small home, and being assigned as a teenager to drive German prisoners of war to work on a Georgia peanut farm after World War II.

According to family lore, he hitchhiked to Dahlonega, Georgia, to pursue his undergraduate degree. At the University of North Georgia, he played basketball for the Cadets from 1948 until 1950, when the team won the state title. Pinholster went on to serve as a Lieutenant in the U.S. Army and as a high school basketball coach. He raised five children with the late Caroline Isbell Roberts.

Once social gatherings are safe again, the family said it will make plans for a remembrance event with former members of the Stormy Petrels team – a lifelong group of friends that Pinholster called his “boys.”

The family said donations to the Garland Pinholster Fund for Academic and Athletic Excellence at Oglethorpe University would be welcomed in his honor.