Today we will look at the greatest basketball coaches in Indiana basketball history. I know John Wooden was from Indiana, but I am talking about what these coaches did while coaching in the state of Indiana. I know Wooden coached at Indiana State and did well, but I don’t think he did well enough to break this top ten. High School, College, and Pro coaches will be on this list. My guess is that if I do this list five years from now, Matt Painter will be on it.
To this day, Digger is the only coach to lead the Irish to the Final Four, as he did in 1978. Phelps may be best known for upsetting the UCLA Bruins and ending their 88 game winning streak. While Phelps was at Notre Dame they were known for upsetting highly ranked teams that dared to play at Notre Dame. Phelps was a great recruiter and built a very good program at Notre Dame.
Tony Hinkle was Butler university as he coached three sports and won over 1,000 games in those three sports combined while at Butler. He is the reason the Hinkle Fieldhouse still stands and bears his name. Hinkle was also the inventor of the Orange basketball. Up until Hinkle came out with the orange ball, basketballs were brown.
Gene Keady, for two decades, went blow for blow with Bob Knight; the difference between the two? Tournament success, Knight had these successes Keady did not. Keady took over during Knight’s heyday and gave Knight fits as he won six Big Ten Titles. Keady’s teams were always hard-nosed and fun to watch.
Butcher was an outstanding player in High School and College. He turned down an offer from Boston Celtics to return to his southern Indiana hometown to coach…four unbeaten seasons, seven regional championships…in 1970 and ’75 semistate championships that gave the Lions two trips to the Final Four…the ’75 team, which included Butcher’s son, Bill, went undefeated to the state championship game, where Marion won out.
Outside of Reggie Miller, Leonard is probably the most loved Pacer in history. He led the Pacers to three ABA Championships and was a huge reason the Pacers made the transition from the ABA to the NBA. Leonard and his wife authored the telethon that would sell season tickets and eventually got the Pacers into the NBA.
I know Stevens was only at Butler for six short years, but in those six years, he took the Bulldogs from playing in the Horizon conference to the Big East. He made the Bulldogs a mainstay in March Madness and led the Bulldogs to two straight championship game appearances, and almost beat Coach K and Duke at the buzzer of the first one.
Green started his coaching career with 6 seasons at Sacred Heart H. S. and four at Cathedral … victories were hard to come by. Still, fortunes changed when he landed the varsity coaching job at Indianapolis Washington in 1969 … won the state championship with one of the greatest teams in IHSAA history … moved to Marion, where Giants won back-to-back titles in ’75 and ’76 … a 5-year sabbatical followed, before returning to Marion in ’81 … he then became the second coach to win three straight state titles 1985-1987, giving him a record six championships. Green was an outstanding coach who affected many lives in his communities.
McCracken broke the color barrier when he recruited Bill Garrett to Bloomington. Mccracken won the Hoosiers their first National Championship in 1940 and followed it up by winning it again in 1953. He also led the Hoosiers to four Big Ten Championships and put Indiana University on the map as a college basketball power.
Talk about innovation; Lambert had a lot to do with the formation of the NBA. He is also the coach that taught John Wooden. While at Purdue, he won 11 Big Ten Titles and was the man that is generally credited with the invention of the fast break.
There has never been a better basketball coach anywhere than Bob Knight. Three NCAA Championship while at Indiana. People forget that the Hoosiers had not even made it to the NCAA tournament in over a decade before Bob Knight. Knight had the Hoosiers in the Final four two years after arriving. Throw in 11 Big Ten Titles and you have the man that sits at number one on this all-time list.
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