Jim Rankin had one of the most impressive runs of any basketball player in Clinton County history.
During the 1958-59 season, Rankin poured in 30 or more points eight times, a figure surpassed by only four players during the pre-consolidation era.
The eight games is matched by Sabina’s Phil Snow in 1963-64 and Kingman’s Dale Jones in 1962-63.
The four players who bettered Rankin’s eight-game feat are New Vienna’s Larry Terrell (12 games of 30 or more in 1956-57), New Vienna’s Dean Cluxton (11 games in 1953-54), Clarksville’s Ralph Robinson (10 games in 1961-62) and Port William’s Don Fields (9 games in both 1956-57 and 1957-58).
All six of the aforementioned players are in the Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame.
Now Rankin joins them in the hallowed shrine.
“I wouldn’t take anything (in trade) for my high school years,” said Rankin.
Rankin and his Jefferson High School Cardinals were among the best in the county at the time. During Rankin’s three-year varsity tenure, Jeff was 43-13 on the small gym floor located in southwest Clinton County.
That record gets more impressive when you consider:
• 5 of those losses were by three points or less.
• 22 of the wins were by 20 points or more.
The Cardinals were county champions in 1959, the school’s final year as a high school before consolidating with the Blanchester Local School District.
Rankin, who outscored every center he faced in 1958-59 except one, was a power plant down low for the Cardinals. While a dominant scorer, Rankin also was known for his passing, defense and rebounding.
“My advantage at the time, of course, was rebounding,” he said. “I scored most of my points on my own under the basket. I was never a great jumper but I had great timing.”
When he wasn’t putting up hay on farms in the area, Rankin fine-tuned his game of basketball mostly with a basket on the barn at Mongold’s grocery store in downtown Westboro.
“It was right in my back yard,” he said.
After being stunned by Port William (Jeff was second, PW third in regular season) in the 1958 county tournament, Jefferson stormed back in the 1959 tournament for the win, defeating Port 53-52 in the championship game. With three future Hall of Famers in Don Fields, Don DeVoe and coach Vernon Hooper Sr., Port William was a heavy favorite.
“They got all the recognition,” Rankin said.
But in the end, the Cardinals came out on top on Dave Garrison’s game-winning basket in the final seconds. To Rankin and his Jeff teammates, the outcome wasn’t a surprise.
“We knew we had a shot at it,” he said. “They only beat us by two in league (regular season).”
Port defeated Jefferson 82-80 in overtime during the regular season at the Liberty Township gym. The county tournament was contested on a neutral court in Xenia.
Rankin said Lefty McFadden, a Clinton County Sports Hall of Fame inductee, was ready to get him a place with the University of Cincinnati or University of Dayton basketball teams.
“I didn’t get very good grades in school but he said they could work with me, a tutor and such,” Rankin said.
Rankin didn’t go to college but wonders what might have been had things been different during his high school days.
Even though he is believed to hold the Jefferson track and field records in the high jump, discus, shot put and broad jump, Rankin says there is no question what his passion was as an athlete.
“I just loved basketball so much,” he said. “If it hadn’t been for basketball, there’s no telling where I would have ended up.”
Reach Mark Huber at 937-556-5765, via email firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wnjsports