Indiana Basketball: Ranking the 10 Most Exciting Hoosiers Ever

Scott HenryFeatured ColumnistFebruary 4, 2013

Indiana Basketball: Ranking the 10 Most Exciting Hoosiers Ever

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    Basketball is, when well-played, one of the world's most exciting sports played by some of its most gifted athletes.

    At a program with a tradition as illustrious as Indiana's, waves of gifted athletes have passed through and played some tremendous basketball while wearing the cream and crimson.

    Whether your taste is for the explosive dunker or the silky-smooth jump shooter, the Hoosiers have had players of every style, capable of bringing crowds to their feet. Seats at Assembly Hall, and the Gladstein Fieldhouse before it, haven't seen as much use with these 10 players on the court.

10. Quinn Buckner

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    Quinn Buckner arrived too early for the stat sheet to accurately depict his true impact.

    A tenacious defender, Buckner averaged two steals per game in his senior season (1975-76), the first year that steals were officially kept. Isiah Thomas is still the only other Hoosier to average two thefts a game in any single season.

    As a playmaker, he also remains one of IU's best, producing for others at a prolific clip. Buckner's school record for assists stood for 24 years, and he remains second by only three dimes.

    An iffy shooter, Buckner was still ever-present as a threat to produce in transition, many of which began off his lightning-quick hands.

9. Jay Edwards

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    When Jay Edwards (pictured, No. 3) arrived in 1987, the IU fanbase was anxious to see a repeat NCAA championship. It didn't happen, but Edwards certainly tried to do his share.

    The .536 three-point percentage Edwards recorded in 1987-88 is an NCAA freshman record that still stands today. The following season, he dropped in 20 points per game, earned All-America honors, and most importantly for our purposes, began cultivating a reputation as a late-game assassin.

    Last-second bombs over Michigan and Purdue helped propel IU to a Big Ten championship. One of Indiana's most feared pure shooters, Edwards' career .481 three-point percentage is still second in school history. His .563 effective FG percentage speaks to his sheer efficiency.

    The Hoosiers were never truly out of a game as long as Edwards was in it.

8. George McGinnis

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    George McGinnis played only one season in Bloomington, packing as much accomplishment into it as anyone not named Carmelo Anthony.

    McGinnis didn't win a national title like Melo did, but he did accomplish a feat that only four other men have managed: he led the Big Ten in both scoring and rebounding in the same season. Averaging just short of 30 points and 15 rebounds, McGinnis helped lead the Hoosiers to a 17-7 record, missing out on an NCAA tournament berth when the team essentially revolted against coach Lou Watson.

    A thunderous offensive rebounder, McGinnis kept a lot of possessions alive and frequently produced points off of his teammates' misses.

    The physical gifts with which McGinnis was endowed would have made him one of the greatest college players of all time if he had stayed around. His blend of strength and skill would have been much more noticeable if today's statistics were kept in the early '70s.

    McGinnis averaged more than 3.5 assists and almost two steals per game as a three-time All-Star in both the ABA and NBA.

7. Mike Woodson

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    Mike Woodson didn't quite break new ground by scoring 2,000 points at Indiana, since Don Schlundt had hit the mark a quarter-century prior. Still, the feat was even more impressive since Woodson missed half of his senior season after back surgery.

    Had he kept his 19.3-PPG average and played in the missed games, he would have passed Schlundt for the school's all-time scoring record. When he returned, Woodson dropped in 20 points per game and pulled the Hoosiers away from the pack to a Big Ten title.

    His work in those late games was so strong that he was named Big Ten MVP and an All-American despite the seven-week absence.

    Capable of changing the game on either end, Woodson remains fifth in school annals in both scoring and steals.

6. Steve Alford

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    For a player who washed out of the NBA due to a lack of athleticism, Steve Alford had no problems performing as a collegiate athlete.

    Renowned for his smooth shooting touch from long range, Alford was not only rangy with his shot, but delivered it with deadly efficiency. It's tough to be a career 53 percent field-goal shooter on long jumpers alone, reminding us that Alford's mid-range and penetration games were underrated strengths.

    Alford would have easily surpassed 2,500 points had the three-point shot been introduced before his senior season. Thankfully, it was there in his final college appearance, the 1987 NCAA championship game. Alford drained seven three-pointers to keep the Hoosiers close and set the stage for backcourt mate Keith Smart's heroic shot.

    Alford is not only still the No. 2 scorer in IU history, but he's also still second in steals, passed by only two thefts when Dane Fife caught him in 2002. When the mid-'80s Hoosiers needed a play made, Alford made enough of them to cement himself as one of the program's pre-eminent folk heroes.

5. Jimmy Rayl

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    Jimmy Rayl doesn't have the name recognition of a Pete Maravich or perhaps even fellow state scoring legend Rick Mount, but he is a similar performer in that his career-point totals would have been tremendously boosted if he had benefited from the three-point line.

    Rayl himself estimated that 60 percent of his shots came from beyond 20 feet, and even that fraction would still constitute more baskets than most players make in their careers.

    The Hoosier legend averaged 27.5 PPG as a junior and senior after barely contributing in his sophomore year. He remains the only Hoosier to break 50 points in a game, dropping 56 against Minnesota in 1962 and Michigan State the following year.

    In the Minnesota game, he led a furious rally to force overtime, in which he coolly drained a 30-footer for the win. Against Michigan State, Rayl equaled his record with more than three minutes left to play, but coach Branch McCracken pulled him so as not to antagonize the routed Spartans.

    The IU program has had 57 games of 35 or more points from a single player. Rayl recorded 10 of those, three more than the program's all-time scoring leader Don Schlundt.

4. Victor Oladipo

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    Only a junior on this season's Hoosier team, Victor Oladipo is still etching his name into the memories of fans watching him today.

    Seemingly every time he steps on the court, Oladipo is capable of making a play that fans will talk about the next day. Whether it's sinking a dagger of a shot, making crucial steals or throwing down highlight-reel dunks, the Maryland native is a playmaker of the first rank.

    Oladipo leads the Big Ten in field-goal percentage, eFG percentage, true shooting percentage and steals, ranking in the top 20 nationally in each. The strong percentages are bolstered by his ability to spark transitions through turnovers and convert them into uncontested slams which threaten to pop the roof off of Assembly Hall.

    On a team less offensively diverse, Oladipo could assert himself as a 25-PPG scorer, but he wouldn't get to create as many breathtaking plays if he were the defense's sole focus.

3. Greg Graham

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    At one time, the Hoosiers' 1989 recruiting class was considered one of the best ever. That's not just the best for Indiana, that's the best anywhere.

    Of the bunch, unheralded Calbert Cheaney became the jewel, but McDonald's All-American shooting guard Greg Graham was close behind.

    Graham was, as coach Bob Knight said in his autobiography, "a good scorer but a mediocre shooter when he came to Indiana." Graham was always able to get to the basket, play above the rim and harass opposing ball-handlers, but his shooting did need improvement.

    By his senior year, that improvement was so successful that Graham led the Big Ten in both field-goal percentage and three-point percentage. He's still the only guy to accomplish that double. When star forward Alan Henderson went down with a knee injury in 1993, Graham went from a player who had never scored more than 25 points in a game to one who averaged 25 a night to make up for the loss.

    If one is seeking a template for the improvement that Victor Oladipo is currently making, there may not be many better examples than Graham.

2. Calbert Cheaney

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    Calbert Cheaney was a player who didn't impress Bob Knight at first glance, but he gradually grew on the coach enough to get offered a scholarship.

    From there, all he did was lead the Hoosiers in scoring all four seasons, make three All-America teams and set a career Big Ten scoring record that still stands. Kent Benson and Don Schlundt are IU's only other three-time All-Americans.

    Cheaney scored from anywhere, making nearly 56 percent from the floor and 44 percent from long range. He recorded a whopping 13 games of 30 or more points, making him the clear leader of those early-'90s Indiana teams which featured a host of other offensive weapons.

    Even with the likes of Greg Graham, Damon Bailey and Alan Henderson available, the entire game ran through Cheaney.

1. Isiah Thomas

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    Over only two seasons in Bloomington, Isiah Thomas did all there was to do. He started every game he played in. He led the team in scoring twice while also setting single-season assist and steal records that still stand at IU.

    To cap it all off, Thomas led the Hoosiers on a dominant NCAA tournament run, crushing opponents by an average of more than 22 points per game en route to Bob Knight's second championship. Thomas won the Final Four Most Outstanding Player award to boot.

    Thomas' quickness and court vision led him to a Hall of Fame career in the NBA, but his distinguishing characteristic may have been the sheer determination that made him so much more successful than the multitude of bigger players he faced in both college and the pros.

    Hoosier fans could come to Assembly Hall and know that when they were going to see Isiah Thomas play, they were going to see a player leave his guts—and his opponent's—on the court if that's what it took to bring home a victory.

     

    For more from Scott on college basketball, check out The Back Iron, home of the exclusive Back Iron Index and Bracketometry, telling us which teams SHOULD be in the NCAA tournament come March.