My memories of little Milan High beating big Muncie Central for the Indiana State High School Basketball Championship in 1954 brought back other legendary stories that I was lucky to witness.
In order to play Muncie Central for the championship, Milan had to play and beat another great team in the semi-finals. That school was Crispus Attucks High School, an Indianapolis all-black high school.(remember this was 1950s, before Civil Rights Act or bussing). The next year, 1955, Crispus Attucks won the State Championship and became the first black school in America to win a state title open to all schools, regardless of race. This great team came back again the next year, 1956, and not only won the State Title again, but became the first Indiana state champion team to complete a season undefeated. This tremendous Attucks team was led all three years by one of the greatest players ever, Oscar Robertson.
If you want to understand the commitment and the passion to basketball at the high school level, just check out the Indiana high school gymnasiums. 9 of the 10 largest high school gyms in the country are in Indiana and 18 of the largest 20. 17 of these gyms seat over 6000 folks with the largest in New Castle, Indiana seating 9,325. It’s not unusual to have every seat filled at every home game.
Now, what does this commitment of schools, parents and young boys bring to the mix? Do Indiana kids have any shot at playing in the pros? What if we compared the Indiana kids to other states?
The only way I could figure those numbers was take the populations of each state and then see how many guys got into the pros. I know that’s counting women into a man-debate, but none of these states have an unequal percentage of women.
I took 5 states to compare to Indiana; Texas, California, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
Texas has a population of 25, 700,000. Through the end of last basketball season, there have been 129 NBA/ABA professionals from Texas. That would break down to 1 in 200,000 get to the pros.
California has a population of 37,700,000. The professionals from here number 322. That breaks down to 1 in every 117,000.
Pennsylvania population is 12, 800,000 and that state has sent 170 players to the professional ranks. That means 1 in every 75,000 citizens of PA got to the pros.
Illinois considers itself a hot-bed of high school basketball and they are right. The population of Illinois is 12, 870,000. 210 guys from Illinois have played or are playing in the pro ranks. That means 1 in every 61,000.
Indiana has a population of 6, 500,000. BUT, they have a total of 149 young men who have played or are playing pros. That breaks down to 1 in every 43,000.
I know that is a weird way of reducing the odds of playing basketball in Indiana and becoming a professional, but it becomes fair when you use every state and do the same math.
To me it means that Indiana is plain crazy about their high school basketball. They hire the best coaches, apply the most pressure to win and have high expectations of their young boys.
I only wish they and the other states had the same expectations in Math, English, Science and the Arts.