The last time I talked to Paul Poff was ironically his last day working at Schmitt Furniture a few years ago. He was a longtime staple there before retiring. He was a people person, which made him a great salesman, and everyone knew him.
He was hard to forget.
Poff died Christmas Day at the age of 86. His obituary in the newspaper was only a few sentences in length, but the thrills he gave many during his basketball career would fill a book.
Poff, known by friends and admirers as “Paulie,” was a New Albany High School basketball legend, graduating in 1951. At one time he held the school’s all-time scoring record with 1,026 points before Dave Bennett broke it in 1981.
Poff was a scoring machine, and along with his brother Walter, Joe Dean, Spider Murphy, Bob Clayton, Ed Siegel, Don Loughmiller and others, built a dynasty at New Albany under Hall of Fame Coach Gordon Raney. Poff was an all-state guard and was selected to the Indiana All-Star team after his senior year.
He played two years with older brother Walter. The two were known across Southern Indiana and beyond. New Albany advanced to the state finals during Poff's junior year, 1950, and to the semistate the following year.
“We could both shoot it pretty good,” Walter said this week from his Florida home. “It was a wonderful time then playing at New Albany.”
Poff went on to play three years at Indiana University. And while Romeo Langford may be the only former New Albany player to make an NBA roster, Poff grabbed headlines for being a member of the 1953 NCAA championship team at IU.
While most knew him for his hardwood excellence, Poff may have been a better person than he was a basketball player. It was hard to find anyone who didn’t like “Paulie.” Even though I had interviewed him a few times, and we talked briefly through the years, we were not best friends. But you would have thought we were when I would run into him at Schmitt’s or at an event. And I was not alone.
"Paul was just a fine person," said former teammate Loughmiller. "He had great character. We had some fine basketball teams while he was playing."
Bennett said he remembers how kind Poff was after he broke his scoring record in 1981. He said Poff attended the game and presented him with the game ball.
"My biggest thrill was when he was at the game to present me the game ball. He didn't have to do that," Bennett said. "He was such a genuine sweet guy."
Opponents would have disagreed with Bennett's quote 70 years ago, when Poff was draining jumper after jumper.
Poff was an all everything at New Albany — all-sectional, all-regional, all-semistate and all-state — and all-around great guy. While he played on the 1953 NCAA championship team, he was not the star of that squad — and he was fine with that. That IU team was led by Don Schlundt and Bob Leonard. Poff did play in 13 games for the Hoosiers in 1953, averaging 3.1 points per game.
While proud of his accomplishments, Poff never bragged or built himself up. He admitted during an interview years later that he was just a role player at IU. He didn't care; he was part of a team that made history.
What made the Final Four in 1953 even more impressive was that three former New Albany players and teammates — Poff for IU and Loughmiller and Don Belcher for LSU — played on college basketball's grand stage.
Poff was named to the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and New Albany High School Hall of Fame. And he leaves behind a lasting legacy in his hometown.
"We were so proud to play basketball at New Albany," Walter Poff said. "It was a wonderful thing."
Paul Poff is survived by a wife, two daughters and four grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 1, at the Market Street Chapel of Naville & Seabrook Funeral Homes in New Albany. Visitation will be from 2 to 3:30 p.m. before the service.
"Paul was just a nice guy, and it's good to be able to say that about somebody," Loughmiller said.
— Assistant Editor Chris Morris can be reached at 812-206-2155 and firstname.lastname@example.org.