William & Mary

Giermak rooting for Thornton to break his record

  • Celebrating success
    Celebrating success  In 1947, Giermak (left) was named the most outstanding player in the Southern Conference tournament. This photo, from a year later, shows him with coach Barney Wilson and teammate Jere Bunting, who had just received the same honor at the '48 tournament.  Courtesy of Swem Library
  • An outstanding career remembered
    An outstanding career remembered  President Paul Verkuil with Chet and Dorothy Giermak at ceremony retiring Giermak's jersy, January 23, 1988 at halftime of W&M vs.UNC-Wilmington game.  Courtesy of Swem Library
Photo - of -

Chet Giermak ’50 will not be on hand Wednesday night as Marcus Thornton makes what is presumed to be the final step toward eclipsing Giermak’s career scoring record of 2,052.

But Giermak’s son, Bill ’73, who lives in Norfolk, plans to be in Kaplan Arena to see if William & Mary’s senior guard can score the 14 points he needs to dislodge Giermak’s name from a mark that has stood for 65 years, longest among NCAA Division I schools.

The Tribe’s game against CAA rival Towson begins at 7 p.m., and can be viewed and heard live on www.TribeAthletics.com.

“I never imagined the record would last this long. In those days, they never stopped the game at 2,000 or 1,000 points,” Giermak, 87, said. “You mostly read about things like that the next day in the newspaper.”

After an all-city high school career in Chicago and a year in the Navy, Giermak came to William & Mary as a walk-on – he never received a full scholarship, he said, because he had the GI Bill to fall back on. By the time he left, his fingerprints were all over the Tribe record book.

In addition to the career-scoring mark, he scored the third-most points ever in a Tribe game, 45 against the University of Baltimore in 1949.

“I had 18 at the half and I kind of knew that a good game was possible,” he said. “But I never knew until I read the paper the next day how many points I had. Believe me, I was far more interested in the ‘W’ than I was in my point total. We all were.

“That’s one of the things I like about Marcus: He can get any shot he wants, and he can make any shot he takes. But he’s still a team player. He doesn’t hog the ball.”

Giermak, a lanky 6-foot-6 center, was known for an all-but-unstoppable hook shot. It was the main weapon that helped him claim five of W&M’s top 56 scoring games, lead the team in scoring from 1948-50 and compile the fifth- and sixth-highest single-season scoring averages in school history.

While Thornton will make school history as soon as he scores 14 more points, Giermak shyly admits to a historic creation that revolutionized the game.

“I don’t like to talk about myself,” he began, “but I invented the ‘skyhook.’”

Made famous by Hall of Fame player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar of the Los Angeles Lakers, the skyhook is a shot that begins so far behind the shooting player’s head that it is impossible for an opponent to block.

“It was 1946-47, and we were playing in the Southern Conference,” Giermak explained. “I was a 6-6 center playing against 6-9, 6-10 guys from North Carolina and Duke and Wake Forest and Seton Hall. They all were blocking my shot. So I developed the hook shot, took a year or so to refine it, and never had another shot blocked.

“I took it between five and 15 feet from the basket -- never more. A three-point shot wouldn’t have done me any good. I was never out there.”

Bill Giermak jokes and says, “I don’t know how much he sky-ed, but I remember listening to a Cincinnati Royals game way back and the announcers got into a discussion of hook shots.

“One of them – Ed Kennedy – says on the air, ‘About 15 years ago there was a college kid from William & Mary named Chet Giermak, and he had the best hook shot I’ve ever seen.”

Legendary coach Red Auerbach, cutting his teeth with the Washington Generals before moving on to the Boston Celtics, approached Giermak about playing in the National Basketball Association. Giermak told him he wasn’t sure that’s what he wanted to do.

“Auerbach told me, ‘Well I’m not wasting a draft choice on you if you’re not sure,’” Giermak recalled. “He said, ‘Call me when you know what you want.’”

Giermak was drafted by the Rochester Royals (now Sacramento Kings), but he never tried to play in the NBA.

The Giermaks have a long-standing, loving relationship with the College. Bill is one of four siblings to attend the university, joined by Mary Lou Nexsen ’75, Patricia Millea ’77 and Lynne Johnson ’86. Chet’s granddaughter, Haley Johnson, is a member of the Class of 2015.

In addition, several years ago, Giermak and his late wife endowed a basketball scholarship at the university.

“It was as much to pay back the school for what it did for me as it was for basketball,” he said. “I received a tremendous education at William & Mary.”

Giermak is sad he won’t be on hand to see Thornton break his record – but he is glad that it is finally being done.

“And from what I hear about Marcus, he’s a great young man and deserving of the record,” Giermak said.