Photo provided
Dave McCollough
Photo provided Dave McCollough

Time to take trip down memory lane and reminisce:

When you talk Indiana high school basketball and the top players, the conversation often turns to the best teams and top coaches down through the years. 

And there’s plenty to debate over, for sure. Usually is. Probably always will be.

Some fans, of course, still yearn for the old days of the single-class winner-take-all format, while current high school players are too young to remember the depths of fever-pitch excitement and nostalgia and sweaty palms that Hoosier Hysteria produced. 

Ever put a number on the great teams and great players and great coaches you’ve seen?

I know I’ve seen many in my 54 years as a sportswriter.

Here are a few that come to mind.

The best team ever?

I'm pretty sure that team played in the old single-class format. Maybe the 1956 Crispus Attucks Tigers, led by "The Big O,' and the first Indianapolis team to go unbeaten (31-0) in high school basketball?

Maybe the 1969 Indianapolis Washington team, led by George McGinnis and Steve Downing and Wayne Pack and Jim Arnold. That team also went 31-0?

Maybe the 1971 East Chicago Washington Senators, whose starting five all earned Division I scholarships on their way to a 29-0 season? They we’re led by Junior Bridgman, who had a pretty fair NBA career, and Pete Trgovich and Tim Stoddard.

(Trgovich, who played collegiately at UCLA, was not honored as Indiana’s Mr. Basketball. I still don’t understand how that happened.) 

I’ve had the privilege of seeing performances by so many great high school teams, just so many so many great teams during my 54 years (and counting) of writing about sports in Hoosier land.

Marion's 1985 undefeated state championship team that went 29-0 and was led by co-Indiana Mr. Basketball recipients Jay Edwards and Lyndon Jones was one of them.

East Chicago Roosevelt, which overcame Carmel David Shepherd’s then-record 40 points in the 1970 State Championship game, was another one. 
Since we've switched to Class Basketball, I would think that Lawrence North could make a good argument as being the best. 

That team set a record with 50 straight victories while stringing together three state championships, capping off the 2006 season with a 29-0 record and the USA National No. 1 ranking.

That team also had 7-foot Greg Ogden — who spent a year at Ohio State along with LN teammate Mike Conley, Jr., — who was the No. 1 player selected in the 2007 NBA draft by the Portland Blazers. Unfortunately injuries hampered his career. Conley, however, remains a NBA star in backcourt for the Memphis Grizzlies. He also was drafted in the 2007 draft by Memphis with the overall pick.

The first state championship where I had a front-row media seat with The Kokomo Tribune was in 1969 at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Those Indianapolis Washington Continentals were really good. I mean, really good!

I saw the East Chicago Senators play a few times. That was a complete team. Strong, physical, great athletes, lightning-quick. I saw them score off of two straight fast breaks against the Kokomo Kats in that unbeaten '71 season...and the ball never once hit the floor until dropping through the net. It was a numbing experience.

You really cannot imagine how impressive that was. The Senators won 102-60 on that cold winter night in East Chicago. A stunning, simply stunning performance over what was a pretty good Kokomo squad.

So, yeah, that E.C. Washington team that the late John Molodet coached would probably be my choice. I'm pretty sure I'm not alone in that selection.
I'm also quite sure that not everyone likely would agree as to whom the best coach to grace a Hoosier land bench.

That's understandable. There are many, many coaches worth mentioning, some even great…So many personalities, too . . .  But it's difficult to single out one coach as being the best.

Here's some of my thoughts, things that come to mind through my many travels; some good, some a tad volatile, but many very interesting in the coaching circles:

The most colorful coach? Former Anderson skipper Norm Held, hands down. He liked to wear red or green pants and vice versa. He was a whiner on the court at times, but a nice guy, and very approachable off of it.

Former Guerin Catholic coach Pete Smith, a 2-time state champion coach, might be the best coach when projecting such a self-controlled demeanor. Oh sure, he could get hot, but he handled himself possibly better than any coach I've known. He was a gentleman coach with much style and charisma. Pete also stood out when he wore his purple sports jacket during his championship years in 2012 and 2015. I’m not sure if he ever wore that purple jacket other than in “Big Games.’’

Former Brownsburg coach Steve Brunes was probably the most high-strung, explosive coach I've come across. Veins popped out once he jumped up off the bench. I'm sure those who knew him probably thought he was a heart attack waiting to happen. 

John Molodet was a solid disciplined coach and a good friend of the press media. He would always invite the media to dinner when his teams played in Kokomo. When I became sports editor of the Michigan City News Dispatch in 1975, Molodet would oftentimes invite me to join him and his coaches for a late-night dinner in Hammond. 

He used to take me to his favorite watering hole when I was in the Region. It also was the first time I ever saw a police dog on duty and a bartender with a shotgun. Still, he knew how to throw a party, as well as coach. A great guy . . . Still miss him, as do many others, I’m sure.

Muncie Central's late Bill Harrell was an outstanding and demanding state championship coach. He loved to chomp on an unlit cigar during off-the-court chats. Harrell won a state championship in Kentucky and then came to Muncie Central to win three more. He knew how to prompt a smile.
Bill Green had a great deal of charm. He smiled a lot, which was easy to understand. After all, he won six state championships. Green likely still marking X’s and 0’s on a court in the sky. He was both an innovative defensive and offensive coach. Marion also named its gymnasium Bill Green Arena.

Carmel's Scott Heady was Mr. Intense (probably like he still is while after his last 2 years  coaching at Marian University). He stalks back and forth from one end of the bench to the other. You see the scowl on his face and you think he's losing. On the contrary, he's always been a big winner in high school, winning 2 state titles at Carmel, and is now notching many ‘W’s’  at Marian. He’s simply a masterful defensive coach.

Lawrence North's Jack Keefer, a four-time state champion coach, and former North Central coach Doug Mitchell, winner of two state titles, might be the best at working the refs. At times both were also quite entertaining, too. Really animated. They hollered at times, and then were known to give the striped shirts a pat on the behind. Mitchell, especially, displayed a lot of gusto.

Mitchell, a Hamilton County native who retired a year ago after 25 years coaching the Panthers, is one of only 4 coaches to coach 4 Indiana Mr. Basketball recipients. 

The coach who had the most impact on me (as a 16-year-old who was a year away from entering the newspaper business) was East Chicago Washington's Johnny Baratto. Just when it appeared many of us watching TV at home thought that the Kokomo Kats were on their way to advancing to the final game to play for a second straight state championship in 1962. 

Wrong.

The most unbelievable thing happened in that game, and it was a dagger to the heart. The Senators trailed by 13 points entering the final quarter of the afternoon game. Baratto was irate. He went berserk. He lunged from the bench, took off his suit coat, threw it to the floor, and then stomped on it. Actually, he repeatedly stomped on it.

That was the first time I saw a team motivated in such a stunning manner. It worked: Senators 74, Kats 73. 

OK, now on to some of my favorite coaches just to be around:

The late Michigan City Elston coach Doug Adams and former Noblesville coach Dave McCollough (now at Shenandoah) and Kokomo’s Basil Mawbey (he’s been around and still calls himself a free agent) were “Old School’’ and I thoroughly enjoyed interviewing them.

Former Carmel coach Bill Shepherd was one of the most wholesome and caring and effervescent coaches I've known. A great family man who did just about everything around his family, and a true gentleman on and off the court. He passed away in March 2019. He was 91.

Steve Witty, the two-time state champion Ben Davis coach and the current Executive Director of the Indiana Basketball Coaches' Association, as well as President of the Indiana Basketball Coaches Association, was down to earth, friendly and very professional. He once told me I was his favorite sportswriter. Joking, I'm sure; but I was OK with that, you know.

One of the most appreciative and supportive coaches I’ve had the pleasure of working with is Hamilton Southeastern girls basketball coach Chris Huppenthal, who picked up his first girls state championship plaque in 2019. Heck of a coach and a good guy who truly seemed to like my writing skills and the job I was doing covering sports. Yep, I’m OK with that, too!

But the one coach I believe that really captured the essence of Hoosier Hysteria is former Pike coach Ed Siegel. He was a heck of a Devil on the floor (and he could turn a shade of Red Devil red). Yet, he was a pussycat off the floor. 

I remember a story about former Purdue coach Gene Keady, who could lock his jaw and aways wore his game face on and off the bench. Mack Gadis, who played 4 years for Keady, was asked if Keady ever scared him. Mack said with a chuckle and a big smile, “No, remember I played for Ed Siegel!’’
Mack worked that into his Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame acceptance speech last month. Nice tongue-’n-cheek touch.

I'm not so sure any high school basketball coach loved the game more than Siegel did. He was very passionate about it and still is. A real hoot, to be honest.

He once read the riot act to his team behind locker room doors. I was there, and heard it. So volatile, he even scared me. I was glad to get out the gymnasium door.

Once I got back to the The Indianapolis News to write my game story, I received a call from Coach Siegel. I had not met him at this time. He said he didn't know I was waiting to talk about the game. He simply wanted to apologize for his behavior. 

Most coaches wouldn't call sportswriters about such things — not then, not now.

That's something I'll always remember. It was pretty cool.

Coach Siegel remains very active in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame and he was wildly popular with those who knew him on the bench...Even the striped shirts. Well, popular with some of them. 

I really enjoy seeing him at the Hall of Fame meetings . . . and sharing some stories. 

Unfortunately, he’s also had some health issues the past couple of years. They’ve slowed him down somewhat Still, his mind is sharp. He can still talk The Game and reminisce with the best of ‘em!

Yes, Siegel was quite a special and highly motivated coach . . . and now he’s much more of a mild-mannered spectator . . . yet, I’m guessing he probably still reacts to a bad call when he sees one!

-Mark Morrow, a Hall of Fame Indiana sportswriter, has resided in Hamilton County since 1989. You can follow him in The Times, and on Twitter at mmediamarko12. He can be reached at mediamarko5@gmail.com or by calling 317-460-8018.