Former Bonnies star Stith dies

Updated: June 15, 2010, 12:58 PM ET
Associated Press

OLEAN, N.Y. -- Tom Stith, a prolific scoring small forward who led St. Bonaventure to its first NCAA tournament berth in 1961, died after a lengthy battle with cancer and kidney problems. He was 71.

Stith died Sunday at a Long Island hospital, his daughter, Karin Stith, said Tuesday. His death was first announced by St. Bonaventure on Monday.

Born in Virginia, Stith and his family relocated to New York City, where he became a high school star before eventually turning the Bonnies into a national basketball powerhouse a half century ago. He is regarded as the Bonnies' second-best player behind Bob Lanier, and the player who put the program on the national map.

"We are deeply saddened with the passing of Tom Stith. Tom was a first-class guy that helped put St. Bonaventure basketball on the national landscape," athletic director Steve Watson said. "We extend our condolences to his family in this time of loss."

Tom Stith followed his brother, Sam, in attending St. Bonaventure, choosing the small-town western New York school because of its Franciscan background after both played high school at St. Francis Prep. At St. Bonaventure, the brothers played together from 1958 to 1960 and became the most prolific scoring tandem in school history.

From 1958 to 1961, Tom Stith led the Bonnies to a combined 65-12 record and three postseason berths, including two NIT appearances. At 6-foot-5, he was described as having "a silky smooth" playing style with a near-perfect left-handed scoring touch, and was regarded as one of the top high school players to ever come out of New York City.

Stith finished as the Bonnies' career scoring leader with 2,052 points, and still holds the school's single-season record by averaging 31.5 points in 1959-60.

A two-time Associated Press All-American, Stith still ranks fourth on the school's scoring list, and is one of two players to reach the 2,000-point plateau in only three seasons. He also ranks 11th in school history with 691 career rebounds.

He was selected second overall by the New York Knicks in the 1961 NBA draft. Stith played two seasons with New York before his career was cut short by tuberculosis.

"I wouldn't say he missed [basketball] because he was always involved in sports," Karin Stith said of her father, whom she credited for influencing his two grandchildren to be active in sports. "He was a brilliant, wise and philosophical person, who was loved by his family and friends. Right up to the end, he was a very, very strong person. He will be loved and missed by everyone."

She said her father joined his brother in owning and operating a restaurant in Queens. Tom Stith then worked in sales before he retired.

He is survived by his wife, Gladys, two daughters, Karin and Lisa Stith, and two grandchildren, Justin and Alana.


Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press