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The Grueling Truth - Where Legends Speak / Top 10 Indiana Hoosiers of the 1980s

Top 10 Indiana Hoosiers of the 1980s

Publish Date: 10/30/2023
Fact checked by: Simon Briffa

Top 10

This was the Hoosiers’ greatest decade as they won two National Championships in the decade and in 1984 pulled off an incredible upset of the North Carolina Tar Heels.

10) Daryl Thomas (1983-87)

Daryl Thomas was an excellent example of why college basketball is so popular. Although Thomas was 6-foot-7, he didn’t make a big splash like many of the other players on this list; he worked hard in a minor position his first two seasons and then became a great player his second two seasons.

Season on the Brink chronicled Thomas’s struggle with heartbreak and forced him to move out of his position at center in 1985-1986. But he didn’t give up on the challenge. As a sophomore, Thomas averaged just 5.5 points per match. He gained strength and improved his footwork. His production jumped to 14.5 points. Thomas also shot a career-high 56.1 per cent from floor.

Dean Garrett, at 6’11”, was able to play make it so Thomas could move to the more natural power forward position and he wasn’t required to defend taller players as much. He averaged 15.7 points per game and 5.7 rebounds.

Bob Knight loves to point out Thomas’ pass to set up Keith Smart’s winning jumper against Syracuse in 1987. Or Ricky Calloway’s sarcastic “freak offense pass” in the Midwest regional final thriller against LSU.

Video: NCAA Championship Highlights in Remembrance of Daryl Thomas

NCAA Championship Highlights in Remembrance of Daryl Thomas

 

9) Landon Turner (1978-81)

Turner could have been a Top 5 player on this list if he hadn’t been paralyzed from his chest down in an accident in 1981. This was just months after IU won the national title.

Many NBA executives believed that Turner, at 6-foot-10, was well-placed to be one of the first draft picks in 1982. The U.S. Basketball Writers Association made him an honorary All-American for his senior season, 1981-82. Then Red Auerbach, a friend to Bob Knight, picked him with the last pick of the ’82 NBA draft.

Turner had a difficult time with discipline during his three years at IU. He was a part-time starter, never achieving double figures. Turner’s life improved after a win at home over Northwestern in February 1981. Turner went 4-for-5 on the floor after not playing in the Purdue game. After playing well in the two subsequent road games, Turner earned a start in the Minnesota home game. Starting with the February 21st match, Indiana went the rest of the season without losing.

Turner reached double figures in nine of his 11 last games. Ray Tolbert joined him as a dominant frontcourt at both ends of the court.

Video: 1981. It was a very good year.... Indiana Hoosier Basketball

1981. It was a very good year…. Indiana Hoosier Basketball

8) Dean Garrett (1986-88)

As you read in this list, you will see the comments about how Dean Garrett changed dynamics in the Steve Alford Daryl Thomas-led team of 1987.

Garrett holds many shot-blocking Indiana records. His 3.4 block per season average is almost a block more than any other Hoosier since the stat began being recorded.

Thomas, a native of San Clemente in California, came to IU via the Community College of San Francisco. Thomas was also able to score the basketball. He averaged over 11 points as a junior and scored 16.1 points per match in his last season. Garrett was selected for the 1987-88 All-Big Ten First Team.

Video: January 1989 - Recruits Lawrence Funderburke and Dean Garrett Attend Indiana University Game

January 1989 – Recruits Lawrence Funderburke and Dean Garrett Attend Indiana University Game

7) Keith Smart (1986-88)

Keith Smart and fellow JuCo Dean Garrett arrived together, and it was a great fit for an already strong nucleus. Smart gave Indiana an athletic boost, and Garrett made Indiana stand taller, especially on the defensive end.

Smart was a skilled player. He often used the defensive attention of Steve Alford to drive to the basket and work without the ball. Although he didn’t make a lot of jumpers, he made them at an excellent rate. He was also reliable at the line and made free throws at an 85.6 per cent clip for his entire career. He could also switch with Alford when it came to handling the basketball.

Smart was a legend at the 1987 NCAA tournament. Smart scored 20 points in the second round against Auburn and had 15 assists. This was an Indiana record. Smart’s big game helped IU overcome a 14-point deficit in the first half and win 107-90.

Everyone knows that Smart hit the game-winning shot in the NCAA title match win over Syracuse just seconds before the buzzer. Smart scored 17 of his 21 points during the second half, many thanks to which IU was able to stay alive. He was right in the zone when it was most convenient.

Smart averaged 11.2 points per game that year and shot 51.7 per cent from the floor.

Smart was a senior player when Alford, Daryl Thomas, and other good players had moved on. He scored 13.2 points per match and remained efficient, making 51.8 per cent.

Video: Hoosier Rising - Keith Smart Describes

Hoosier Rising – Keith Smart Describes “The Shot”

 

6) Ted Kitchel (1978-83)

Kitchel was a big forward-sized guy who could shoot the ball well. Kitchel was more than just a good shooter. This is why he was twice named All-American in 1982 and 1983.

Kitchel averaged 9.2 points per game and was a starter for the 1981 title team. Kitchel had the most impressive game that season, scoring 40 points in a win over Illinois. Kitchel made a Big Ten record by making all 18 free throws.

As a junior, he was Indiana’s leading scorer with 19.6 points per contest.

Kitchel made the Big Ten’s first three-point line work in his senior year. He made it look effortless from that distance and hit 21 for 32 on the shot, an incredible 65.6 per cent rate.

Kitchel’s senior season was cut short when he hurt his back during the regular season. Kitchel was never the same.

Video: Indiana Basketball Weekly:Guest Ted Kitchel, W/Collin Hartman and Steve Risley

Indiana Basketball Weekly:Guest Ted Kitchel, W/Collin Hartman and Steve Risley

5) Randy Wittman (1978-83)

Wittman was a crucial member of the 1981 national title team and a starter, but as a fifth-year senior, everything really happened for Wittman in 1982-83. Wittman, a cerebral player and a favorite of Bob Knight, won Big Ten Player of the Year in 1982-83. He averaged 18.9 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.9 assists and shot a career-high 54.3 per cent from the floor.

The 1982-83 Big Ten team won the title, despite Ted Kitchel’s back injury during league play.

Wittman was a ferocious player on the court. He played a program record 4,699 minutes, including 40 minutes in 45 games.

Wittman, a 6-foot-6 shooting guard from Ben Davis in Indianapolis, was more than a good shooter. Wittman was also a skilled ball handler. This ability allowed Isiah to play off the ball on occasions for the 1981 title team. He was also an excellent defensive player.

Wittman averaged 10.4 points per game for the 1981 championship team. His jumper just before the halftime buzzer gave Indiana a huge momentum boost and gave them the lead at the end of the game against North Carolina.

Video: 1981 NCAA Mens Basketball Final Four Highlights

1981 NCAA Mens Basketball Final Four Highlights “Indiana Celebration”

4) Ray Tolbert (1977-81)

Tolbert was the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player in 1981. He was also the NCAA championship team’s only senior starter. Tolbert was a star throughout his career, achieving double figures in all four seasons.

Although he never averaged more than 12.2 points per game, Tolbert (6’9″) was an outstanding defender and blocked 155 shots during his career.

In his MVP season, Tolbert shot a record 58.8% mark on the floor.

Tolbert and Landon Turner performed a remarkable defensive job during the NCAA tournament run of 1981. They put the clamps on Al Wood, James Worthy, Sam Perkins from UNC, and the heralded Maryland pair of Buck Williams, Albert King.

Video: House of Hoosier with Ray Tolbert! Bob Knight and Mike Woodson stories and great IU memories!

House of Hoosier with Ray Tolbert! Bob Knight and Mike Woodson stories and great IU memories!

3) Jay Edwards (1987-89)

Jay Edwards, despite having some issues off the court Jay Edwards was great on the court from the moment he arrived in Bloomington.

Edwards was the Big Ten Freshman Of The Year 1987-88. He averaged 15.6 points per match and shot 53.6 per cent on threes. This is an NCAA record for freshmen.

This was only a warm-up. As a sophomore Edwards became an All-American. He averaged 20.0 points per game, hitting several crucial shots in the final minutes of games. This helped IU win the Big Ten title. This was a considerable achievement considering that Illinois and Michigan were also in the Final Four that season.

Unfortunately, IU lost the Sweet Sixteen to a Seton Hall team which nearly won it all.

Video: Jay Edwards buzzer beater

Jay Edwards buzzer beater

 

2) Steve Alford (1983-87)

Although he wasn’t as nationally ranked as Isiah Tomas, there was still a lot of hype surrounding the New Castle, Indiana native. He averaged 37 points per game as a senior and won Mr Basketball.

Alford was a true freshman who scored 15.5 points per game, including a Big Ten record and an Indiana record 91.3 per cent at the free throw line. His team stunned No.1 North Carolina led by Michael Jordan, in the Regional semi-finals. They then lost in the Regional Finals to Virginia.

Alford averaged more than 22 points per game in his last two seasons and was instrumental in leading Indiana to the 1987 National title. Alford was the ideal man to use the three-point line in the 1986-87 season. Alford made 202 threes that year, and he knocked them down at a remarkable 53.0 per cent. He holds the IU record for most threes made in a single season with 107. His sophomore season’s 92.1 per cent shooting from behind the line is still the IU record.

Video: Dickie V...Steve Alford Michigan IU 1986.....

Dickie V…Steve Alford Michigan IU 1986…..

1) Isiah Thomas (1979-81)

It was easy to choose Thomas as the best. Thomas is the greatest player ever to wear a Hoosier uniform throughout his entire basketball career.

Although his time in Bloomington was short, Indiana won the regular season Big Ten title in those two years. In 1980-81, Indiana took home its fourth national title.

The 1981 championship team was unique because it won all its NCAA tournament games by an average of 22.6 points. Thomas’s play was a significant reason. He scored 19 points and made a few big steals in the title game victory over North Carolina, which featured future NBA stars Sam Perkins and James Worthy. Al Wood was also on the team. After the game, he was the obvious choice to win the Final Four MVP award.

Video: Isiah Thomas on things he learned from Coach Bob Knight in 1981 in Fort Wayne, IN

Isiah Thomas on things he learned from Coach Bob Knight in 1981 in Fort Wayne, IN

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