The best way to open a can of worms is to select your all-time Indiana high school boys basketball team and share it with readers.
Good thing we like a debate, because you likely have your own opinion as to Who’s The Best!
That’s just the way it is with diehard fans who like to relive Hoosier Hysteria.
I’m one of those diehard fans who thoroughly love what we’ve called “Our Game’’ for many years.
I’ve been a big fan since I was 12, when my dad took me to see the famous Jimmy Rayl-Ray Pavy shootout at the old Church Street gymnasium in New Castle.
I started keeping stats and writing locally about Howard County sports for The Kokomo Tribune when I was 16.
So, as you can imagine, in my nearly 55 years of covering high school and college sports, well, yeah, I’ve seen more than just a few outstanding athletes roam the hardwoods of Indiana.
A few years back we celebrated 100 years of IHSAA-sanctioned Hoosier basketball. There was even a parade showcasing players in open-air trucks from various modern day state championship teams down through the years. Wow, what a memory!
Indiana hoops fans constantly compare championship teams of yesteryear in the old single-class format to the current multi-class title teams.
Many fans and former players still yearn for the old days of the winner-take-all format, while most current high school players may be too young to remember the zenith of Hoosier Hysteria.
Debating the merits of Indiana's best players is different. There's not much debate when it comes to factoring in the high school, college and pro success of individual players. The strongest argument can clearly be made for 1956 Crispus Attucks of Indianapolis graduate Oscar Robertson.
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound smooth-as-silk Robertson is the best all-around player in Indiana's history, and arguably, in the game's history. Nobody who ever dominated on all three levels can match his combination of scoring, rebounding and passing.
Robertson was a trailblazing phenom who led Crispus Attucks to a 45-game winning streak, a state record that lasted until the 2006-2007 season, when Lawrence North won 50 straight. The “Big O’’ was a three-time college basketball national player of the year at Cincinnati and left for the NBA with a then NCAA record 2,973 points.
At the pro level, of course, he's the only player to ever average a triple double for an entire season (30.8, 12.5, 11.4) in 1961-62. In his first five NBA seasons, Robertson averaged 30.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 10.6 assists per game.
All I know of Bobby Plump and 1954 Milan is THE SHOT to beat Muncie Central at the buzzer. And even though he was crowned Indiana’s Mr. Basketball, from what I hear he might have been a better baseball player, at least in college at Butler.
Sorry I wasn’t around to talk about legends like Clyde Lovellette, Bobby Leonard, Johnny Wooden and Willie Gardner and Hallie Bryant (later a member of the Harlem Globetrotters), just to name a few.
But I did see Damon Bailey play in front of 41,046 fans at the Hoosier Dome in 1990. As good as Damon Bailey was, and, yes, he WAS good, he might have been the most over-hyped high school player I can recall.
Bailey’s legend grew from the Bobby Knight recruiting stories. He was never able to live up to the hype. Not sure he was always utilized the right way in the Knight system.
But he certainly made a name for himself in high school, finishing as the career scoring leader with 3,134 points. He also went on to coach girls basketball, leading BNL and his daughter to a 27-1 record and the Class 4A state championship in 2014.
In high school, Bailey was adored by many. Some of my media friends even thought Bailey would rank among the top 5 or at least the top 10 high school players ever. I don’t have him quite that high. But, again, he was darn good.
So, here’s my list of 50 players (with a couple listed as ties) with years they graduated:
1. Oscar Robertson (Crispus Attucks, Indianapolis) 1956
2. Larry Bird (Springs Valley, French Lick), 1974
3. George McGinnis (Indpls. Washington), 1969
4. Rick Mount (Lebanon), 1966
5. Greg Oden (Lawrence North, Indianapolis), 2006
6. Glenn Robinson (Gary Roosevelt), 1991
7. Jimmy Rayl (Kokomo), 1959
8. Ron Bonham (Muncie Central, Muncie), 1960
9. Louie Dampier (Southport), 1963
10. Steve Alford (New Castle), 1983
11. Jim “Goose’’ Ligon, 1962
12. James Blackmon (Marion), 1983
13. Kyle Macy (Peru), 1975
14. Ray Pavy (New Castle) 1959
15. Eric Gordon (Indpls. North Central), 2007
16. Pete Trgovich (East Chicago Washington), 1971
17. Scott Skiles (Plymouth), 1982
16. Junior Bridgeman (East Chicago Washington), 1971
17. (tie) Tom/Dick Van Arsdale (Manual), 1961
18. Zach Randolph (Marion), 2000
19. Damon Bailey (Bedford-North Lawrence, 1990
20. Shawn Kemp (Concord), 1988
21. (tie) Jay Edwards/Lyndon Jones (Marion), 1987
22. Mike Woodson (Broad Ripple), 1976
23. Chandler Thompson (Muncie Central), 1988
24. Mike Conley Jr. (Lawrence North), 2006
25. Gary Harris (Hamilton SE), 2012
26. Cody Zeller (Washington), 2011
27. Romeo Langford (New Albany), 2018
28. Sam Drummer (Muncie South), 1975
29. Jim Bradley (East Chicago Roosevelt), 1970
30. Caleb Swanigan (Homestead), 2015
31. Willie Long (Fort Wayne South), 1967
32. Kent Benson (New Castle), 1973
33. Bobby Wilkerson (Anderson Madison Heights), 1968
34.Jared Jeffries (Bloomington North), 2000
35. Deshaun Thomas (Fort Wayne Bishop Luers), 2010
36. Billy Shepherd (Carmel), 1968
37. Dave Shepherd (Carmel), 1970
38. Zak Irvin (Hamilton SE), 2013
39. Billy Keller (Indpls. Washington), 1965
40. Landon Turner (Indpls. Tech), 1978
41. Ray Tolbert (Anderson Madison Heights), 1977
42. Steve Downing (Indpls. Washington), 1969
43. Oscar Evans (Indpls. Shortridge), 1968
44. Monte Towe (Oak Hill), 1971
45. Dave Colescott (Marion), 1975
45. Tom Coverdale (Noblesville), 2002
46. Ryan Cline (Carmel), 2015
47. Matt Holba (Guerin Catholic), 2015
48. Dan Palombizio (Michigan City Rogers), 1981
49. Jimmie Webb (S.B. Adams), 1973
50. Don Curnutt (Tipton), 1965
And, remember, whether or not you agree, well, Hoosiers love a debate. So all is good.
*—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.