Shootin’ the Stars: The walk to the top always features different steps

Shootin’ the Stars: The walk to the top always features different steps


By Mike Beas

Indiana has celebrated a total of 195 boys state basketball champions, and, in snowflake fashion, no two have been alike.

We’ve had dominant teams that were supposed to win it all and did. There are the programs that weren’t supposed to get out of sectional that wound up cutting down the nets four Saturdays in a row. And we’ve had squads that flew under the radar for about 15 games, punched the gas late and took home the big trophy.

Therein lies the ongoing charm of the start of each and every postseason. You think you know, but you just don’t know.

It would be somewhere in the zip code of impossible to analyze every state champion, especially since none of us were around to witness pre-Great Depression ball clubs such as Wingate, Crawfordsville and Lebanon.

However, one can bet the ranch and whatever farm implements are nearby that similar ingredients were poured into each titlist. It could be community support, an administration willing to provide what’s needed to be successful, players who have built a cohesion from growing up together, a favorable sectional draw and more.

And, yes, a smidge of good, old-fashioned luck is never discouraged.

Think of some of the classic buzzer-beaters that helped shape the boy’s tournament into what it’s become. We’re talking Bobby Plump’s movie-inspiring jumper from the right wing in 1954, the late Stacey Toran banking in a 57-foot heave at the horn in a 1980 semifinal that nearly knocked Market Square Arena off its foundation, Luke Zeller’s near-half-courter against Plymouth in 2005 and Gordon Hayward’s close-range flip-in three years later.

Are there more? Of course. But if you’re searching for a starting five, there’s four. Maybe throw in Jon Ogle’s midair catch-and-release along the baseline to give Carmel the championship in 1977 over East Chicago Washington.

As for finding the most-talented state champs since 1911, well, that another toughie.

The mid-1950s Crispus Attucks ball clubs led by coach Ray Crowe and the great Oscar Robertson certainly need to be mentioned, though they are rivaled by the 1969 Washington Continentals (George McGinnis, Steve Downing, Wayne Pack) and 1971 East Chicago Washington Senators (Junior Bridgeman, Pete Trgovich, Tim Stoddard).

In the 1980s, it would’ve been difficult to find a more-imposing squad than the 1987 Marion Giants (Jay Edwards, Lyndon Jones); the following decade gave us the 1995 Ben Davis Giants (Damon Frierson, James Patterson, Courtney James), while the 2006 Lawrence North Wildcats (Greg Oden, Mike Conley) aren’t taking a historical backseat to anyone.

Finally, we’ve been given state champions that gave us a singular star surrounded by the perfect cast of role players. The Scott Skiles-led Plymouth Pilgrims immediately come to mind, as does Damon Bailey leading the 1990 Bedford North Lawrence Stars into the Hoosier Dome to take down Southport and, later, Concord.

One year later, with Damon-mania slowly being reduced from a full-throated roar, Gary Roosevelt and eventual Indiana Mr. Basketball Glenn Robinson knocked off the Alan Henderson-led Brebeuf Braves beneath the dome’s Teflon roof.

State championship teams either create legends or pad the reputation of players who have already achieved such lofty status. Even the venues themselves play a starring role be it Butler/Hinkle Fieldhouse, Market Square Arena or, most recently, Gainbridge Fieldhouse.

The annual boy’s tournament is a 114-year-old revolving door of schools, coaches, players, fan bases, pre-finals hype and so much more. Some claim the current class system has watered down what used to be but attend a state final and observe what it means to run onto that hardwood with a championship on the line.

Memories remain vivid. The echoes are forever.

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