“Once I saw his picture, I was like ‘Oh wow, that’s him,’ ” said Milstead, a rising sophomore guard at Carroll. “I started going to his office and talking to him with some of my teammates, and he’d tell us all the stories and I realized how much he had done.”
The tales spanned more than 50 years of playing and coaching basketball, beginning with his starring role on one of the area’s first integrated high school teams and culminating this past winter, when the 72-year-old was called upon to lead the Lions following a late-season coaching change.
After spending the past eight years as athletic director at Carroll, Leftwich will retire at month’s end.
“I guess they squeezed a little bit more coaching out of me in the end,” a chuckling Leftwich said recently while cleaning out his office. “But it’s time to step aside and let the younger generation take over. I’ve had a great run. I’ve had fun and that’s why I’ve stayed so long. But now it’s time for a change.”
Initially, the fun came at Leftwich’s expense. With no courts near his childhood home in Northwest, Leftwich didn’t pick up a basketball until seventh grade, when his classmates jeered him for not knowing how to play.
“That was a little more than my ego could take, so that whole summer I didn’t play any other sport but basketball,” Leftwich recalled. “After that, I just stayed with it and started playing with the bigger guys who used to beat me up a little on the court.”
By the time he enrolled at Carroll as a 10th-grader, Leftwich had developed a sweet stroke from the perimeter and a quick first step, leading the Lions to the 1958 City Title Game, where they fell to Cardozo.
The loss morphed Leftwich’s approach to the game. For as talented as the Lions were, boasting the likes of future NBA players John Thompson Jr. and Tom Hoover and former Notre Dame president Edward “Monk” Malloy, none of the other four starters could handle the ball.
Leftwich became the Lions’ playmaker in 1959, beginning a historic win streak that spanned two seasons and included victories against several college freshman teams.
“George was an extremely smart player, which was helpful for me because he taught me how to think the game,” Thompson said. “He could shoot like hell, and I’ve never been around anybody who wanted to win as much as he did.”
Leftwich’s success continued at Villanova. He helped lead the Wildcats and their renowned zone defense to two wins in the 1962 NCAA tournament. By most accounts, Leftwich appeared on his way to the NBA until a car accident that following summer.