One old Cody friend remembers Patrick Flanigin having a near-monopoly on the free milk shakes. The last coach he worked with in Alaska called him “The Hoops Whisperer” because of his power of positive thinking.
Patrick’s death on Christmas from kidney cancer at age 65 was the passing of an old friend who was one of the nicest people on the planet.
Those who knew him for years, or only briefly, felt the same way. Tim Harkins, the University of Wyoming sports information director, met Flanigin in Alaska in 2002 and struck up an email correspondence.
Upon learning of his death 17 years later, Harkins said, “What a great guy!”
Flanigin was gentle and a gentleman while still capable of being a bruiser on the basketball court, and at 6-foot-9 and 230 pounds he could leave a trail of bruises.
I met Patrick in Alaska, going back three decades. He was already mostly retired from playing, but we often chatted about basketball. He talked a good game of hoops too.
Flanigin’s death stirred up old Wyoming stories from Sheridan, Cody and Laramie before he took his act to the pro game.
Flanigin was a Valentine’s Day baby in 1954 and took to basketball about the same time he hit kindergarten in Sheridan.
Retired Cody High School teacher and coach Tim Vannoy lived in the same neighborhood in Sheridan. Tim said his father Spike, for whom the Broncs’ football stadium is named, was best friends with Patrick’s father Al.
Flanigin’s basketball talent was evident early.
“Man, what a shooter,” Vannoy said. “He had a touch you wouldn’t have believed.”
By the end of junior year in Sheridan in 1971, Flanigin was not only a Wyoming All-State star, but a Sunkist All-American selection.
Those with long memories will recall what happened next.
Flanigin did not return to Sheridan for his senior year. Spike Vannoy tipped off Al Flanigin there was a teaching vacancy in Cody, and he got it.
Keeping the family together, dad refused to allow Patrick to finish high school in Sheridan. That triggered controversy.
“A lot of folks thought my father recruited him (Patrick) for basketball,” the younger Vannoy said. “Poor Pat was caught in-between.”
Vannoy remembers quite a hullabaloo. When Cody traveled to Sheridan for a game, his dad the coach had him sit on the bench in uniform though he was basically a JV guy. He speculated his father worried a Vannoy hanging out in the crowd might be hassled.
Amidst what the newspaper described as “boos and catcalls, Sheridan prevailed, 61-57.
Between Sheridan and Cody, Flanigin dabbled in football, but also excelled in baseball.
Dave Beemer, now of Powell, played for the Cody Cubs when Flanigin was a heralded thrower with Sheridan. Beemer was quite proud of a home run he ripped off Flanigin.
Later a basketball teammate, Beemer remembered the controversy of Flanigin’s arrival well. He also remembered a basketball-player contest to hit 10 free throws in a row at the end of practice with a milk shake payoff – and Flanigin winning all the time.
“He would knock them down at the Irma,” Beemer said of the drinks.
Flanigin appeared in the Class of 1972 yearbook sitting down, almost as if his height created a challenge to cope with for the photographer.
After high school, Patrick played a year at Fullerton State, but the coach who recruited him, Moe Radovich, got the head job at Wyoming and Flanigin followed him.
In three seasons for the Cowboys between 1974 and 1977, he averaged 10.3 points per game.
Kevin McKinney, an associate athletic director at Wyoming, handled road radio broadcasts at the time.
“He was a heck of a guy,” McKinney said. “A great sense of humor. He was a very good shooter.”
Good enough to play professionally in Europe and then in the Continental Basketball Association, a forerunner of the NBA G-League. Anchorage had a team in the league, the Anchorage Northern Knights.
The team folded, but Patrick stayed, starting a new career with a maritime shipping company. He was heavily involved in the community, founding a youth sports association, helping organize a new local road run, and serving as president of the Anchorage YMCA board of directors.
That was all so like him, someone for whom giving back was in his DNA.
With his body type, Flanigin was an unlikely long-distance runner. His wife Mary was an accomplished local masters runner. Patrick began gamely entering 10-kilometer races, something that brought a laugh from old Cody friends who knowingly recalled him always fighting a weight battle.
The last few years brought another battle – against cancer – overlapping with five years as a volunteer assistant coach for the NCAA Division II powerhouse Alaska-Anchorage women’s basketball team.
The son of one teammate in the Anchorage City League grew up to be Ryan McCarthy, coach of that successful program. Flanigin went from holding the baby boy to providing coaching wisdom for the grown-up version.
“It was a no-brainer,” McCarthy said of hiring Flanigin. “I thought his biggest attribute for our team was on the mental side.”
Flanigin exuded a positive nature. McCarthy said around the Seawolves they called him “The Hoops Whisperer.”
In early December, McCarthy sensed cancer was winning, beating the friend he had previously said was like a second father.
“It was a blow when he finally told me he couldn’t make it to practice anymore,” McCarthy said. “That was when it really became real.”
A few weeks later, Patrick Flanigin passed away. The best way to honor him, he expressed in his own death notice, would be to attend the Feb. 11 Alaska-Anchorage women’s basketball game.
If all those he touched make it to the arena, it should be a full house.