Nov. 17, 2009

by Pete Spiewak '10

One of the true legends of Hawk Hill, George Senesky was one of the country's best players in the 1940's, and one of the most celebrated players in the history of Saint Joseph's basketball.

Senesky, who played from 1940-43 under head coach Bill Ferguson, led the nation in scoring during his senior season. His 515 points that season established a new collegiate scoring record.

He averaged 22.3 points per game in the 1942-43 season and was awarded the Helms Foundation Player of the Year Award, given to the nation's top player--making him the first of two Saint Joseph's players to ever win a national player of the year award, with Jameer Nelson becoming the second after the 2003-04 season. Senesky was also featured on several All-American teams that season.

"During his time, George was a step ahead of everyone else," Saint Joseph's coaching great Jack Ramsay, who was a freshman during Senesky's senior season, once said.

The son of a coal miner led the Hawks to one of their finest seasons in school history up to that point and one of the best of the Ferguson era when Saint Joseph's finished the year with an 18-4 record in the 1942-43 season.

Senesky was not always a dominant player. As a sophomore, Senesky's shy and passive demeanor carried over on the court. That season, he only averaged 7.4 points per game.

Larry Kenney, the player who previously held the Saint Joseph's single-season scoring record that was later broken by Senesky, was a senior when Senesky first began playing varsity for the Hawks as a sophomore. Kenney once commented that as a sophomore, Senesky appeared to be an average player.

"But later on, his teammates almost completely depended on him," he said.

And that could not have been any clearer than when Saint Joseph's played Rutgers-Newark during Senesky's senior year. He was unstoppable, pouring in 44 points, as he single-handedly outscored the opponent in a 79-33 victory for the Hawks. His performance in that game was a school record for many years, but now stands as the third-highest point total ever scored by a Hawk in one game. It was broken by Jack Egan's 47-point performance in 1961, which was later tied by Tony Costner in 1983.

His overall statistics from that season are even more impressive. He averaged 23.4 points per game, which was a school record and a tremendous output during that era. But maybe the most outstanding thing about his senior year was how much he meant to his team. His 515-point total that season made up 41.6% of Saint Joseph's total scoring. To put that into perspective, Ahmad Nivins, who was one of the all-time greatest Hawk big men and by far the most important offensive player for the Hawks last season, scored 28% of Saint Joseph's points during the 2008-09 campaign.

Senesky also holds the Saint Joseph's record for most field goals in a game, with 19.

Senesky did a lot more than fill the hoop during his time at Saint Joseph's. A well-rounded individual, he truly defined the term "student-athlete."

During the same season that he was named Player of the Year, Senesky graduated first in his class as the valedictorian. He was a cum laude graduate in business and accounting.

To this day, Senesky is honored for his success both on and off the hardwood. Every year, one men's basketball player is awarded the George Senesky Memorial Award for outstanding academic achievement. Last season, Hawk guard Garrett Williamson was given the honor.

Senesky was a humble man of high character. During the Great Depression, 10-year-old George helped support his family by working alongside his father in a makeshift mine collecting coal on the outskirts of his hometown Mahanoy City, Pa., while his father was out of work. Senesky also spent time in the military, serving as a first lieutenant in the Army Air Corps.

He came from a talented basketball family. Head coach Bill Ferguson and the Hawks were more than delighted to have Senesky be a member of the team for three seasons, but it was even more of a delight for the Hawks to have two Seneskys don the Crimson and Gray.

Paul Senesky followed in his brother's footsteps by choosing to go to Saint Joseph's. Paul would become one of the more prolific scorers in Saint Joseph's history, averaging 18.2, 21.0, and 22.8 points per game over his three seasons on varsity. He led the Hawks in scoring for two seasons, and broke his brother's single-season scoring record (although he played in more games).

Today, George's number 4 hangs above the brand new Hagan Arena. As one of just seven men's players to have his number retired on Hawk Hill, Senesky is in an elite group including Jameer Nelson, Mike Bantom and Cliff Anderson. Several key players for Saint Joseph's wore the number 4 after Senesky, including Paul Senesky, Jim Lynam and Billy Oakes. The number stands as one of four retired by the program.

After his excellent collegiate career, Senesky later played professionally for eight seasons for the Philadelphia Warriors of the NBA. He was a part of the 1946-47 Warriors team that won the league's inaugural championship.

Senesky moved on to coaching after his playing career, becoming one of the many former Hawks who have guided NBA teams. He inherited the league's worst team when he took over as head coach of the Warriors. However, in the 1955-56 season, his first as coach, he led Philadelphia to the league championship.

Several Philadelphia legends played under Senesky during that championship season, including Paul Arizin of Villanova, Ernie Beck of Pennsylvania and Tom Gola of La Salle.

In 2000, Senesky was inducted in the Big 5 Hall of Fame, alongside three of the players that helped him lead the Warriors to a championship: Arizin, Beck and Gola.