Indiana Basketball: The 5 Most Disappointing Players in Hoosiers' History
Quick, Indiana basketball fans: name the player in this picture.
If you recognize him (think mid-90s), does the sight of this guy fill you with exasperation?
Every college basketball program has had those players who, for whatever reason, didn't fulfill expectations or left the fans wanting more when their careers ended. IU is no exception.
When the demands are measured in national titles, disappointment is tough to avoid. These players, though, still make Hoosier fans sad or angry, depending on their circumstances.
(By the way, if you don't recognize our cover athlete, check out slide No. 3.)
5. Larry Bird
It's hard to be truly disappointed in a guy who never played a game in cream and crimson, but Indiana fans could only wonder what could have been when they look back at Larry Bird's Hall of Fame career.
The guy who singlehandedly dragged Indiana State to an undefeated run until losing the 1979 national championship game was on scholarship at IU for 24 days in 1974. The small-town boy wasn't ready, though, for the sheer size of the IU campus and the number of people that surrounded him.
It didn't help, as Bird detailed in his memoir, "Drive," (mentioned here in the Bangor Daily Press) that IU veterans like Kent Benson hazed him for his country dress and speech. Bird disappointed his mom more than anyone when he dropped out and returned to French Lick to temporarily work as a garbage man.
Hoosier fans can't be too upset, since that 1974-75 team was unbeaten until Scott May broke his arm, then swept to a perfect championship season in 1976. Still, ponder the prospect of two perfect seasons and another year of a Benson-Bird duo after that. Those mid-'70s Hoosiers could have been college basketball's most dominant dynasty not based in Los Angeles.
And by the way, Kent Benson's NBA career included a lot of abuse at Bird's hands. (See 7.0 on Bill Simmons' immortal Vengeance Scale.)
4. Lyndon Jones
Lyndon Jones (no. 4, front row with ball) became a Hoosier alongside his Marion High School teammate and co-Mr. Basketball winner Jay Edwards. The two collaborated on three consecutive state championships and were expected to continue those winning ways when they both committed to play for Bob Knight.
Edwards weathered a stormy career, but still enjoyed tremendous individual success, setting a national freshman record for three-point accuracy and winning an All-America selection as a sophomore. It was then that he left for a short-lived NBA career.
Jones' career spanned all four seasons, and the Hoosiers were successful during that term. IU won 93 games and two Big Ten titles with Jones on the roster, but to say he was a major contributor is a large exaggeration.
The 1988-89 Big Ten title season was Jones' high-water mark. Then a sophomore, Jones averaged 8.4 points and 3.4 assists per game, playing as the third wheel in a three-guard lineup with Edwards and senior Joe Hillman.
That season, Jones had more points and as many assists as he had in his final two years combined. He lost an expected starting job with the influx of a touted 1989 freshman class, and was never again anything more than a role player.
3. Sherron Wilkerson
Sherron Wilkerson of Jeffersonville (Ind.) High School was yet another in the long line of Indiana Mr. Basketball winners to commit to Indiana University. Names like the Van Arsdale twins, George McGinnis, Kent Benson, Steve Alford and Damon Bailey had won the honor and draped themselves in glory at IU.
Wilkerson didn't even make it to Bloomington before he lost his Mr. Basketball mantle. He was stripped of the honor after walking off the Indiana All-Star team for being benched during a game against the Kentucky All-Stars. That was a prelude to a brief IU career that featured two controversies for every highlight.
As a freshman in the 1993-94 season, Wilkerson found himself at the center of a firestorm when he and Bob Knight literally butted heads on the sideline after Wilkerson was yanked from a game against Michigan State. In the NCAA tournament, Wilkerson suffered a devastating broken leg that would eventually cost him the entire following season.
In January 1996, Wilkerson was arrested after police were called to investigate a domestic disturbance at an off-campus apartment complex. Knight's punishment was swift and severe, dismissing Wilkerson from the team effective immediately.
Few Mr. Basketball winners struggled as painfully in Bloomington as Sherron Wilkerson, but he is resurrecting his career as a coach. The coming season will be his second as an assistant to former IU teammate/fellow lightning rod Pat Knight at Lamar University.
2. Tommy Baker
Another Jeffersonville native, Tommy Baker came to IU in 1977 fresh off a spring of international basketball glory. That April, he competed in the Albert Schweitzer Tournament, a de facto Under-18 world championship event held in West Germany.
Baker's teammates included future NBA players like Darnell Valentine, Eddie Johnson and a tall kid from Michigan who would one day be known simply as "Magic."
The Hoosiers, for their part, watched the wheels fall off after Scott May, Quinn Buckner and the nucleus of the 1975 and '76 teams departed. With only Kent Benson returning, IU slumped to 16-11 in 1976-77.
Baker, a point guard who contributed 13 PPG in high school, was also a member of the first McDonald's All-America team alongside future Hoosier teammate Ray Tolbert. With all those accolades, the expectations were great for Baker as the heir apparent to point guard Jim Wisman.
None of it ever materialized.
Baker averaged 3.1 points and 2.6 assists per game as a freshman, then became one of three players dismissed from the team in December of his sophomore season. No official reason was given at the time, but widespread Hoosier marijuana use was later revealed.
Baker became an All-OVC performer at Eastern Kentucky and was a third-round pick of the San Antonio Spurs in the 1981 NBA draft, but never entered a professional game. Legal woes and health problems preceded his death in 2010.
1. Delray Brooks
In this picture stand a Hall of Fame coach, a future Hall of Fame coach and a guy who bolted from Indiana because he wasn't getting enough playing time. They're celebrating one win in a run to the 1987 Final Four, an event in which Indiana won its most recent national title.
Delray Brooks was a 1984 co-Mr. Basketball in the Hoosier State as well as the USA Today National Player of the Year. He and Danny Manning were the only two high school players invited to try out for the U.S. Olympic team.
Once he reached Bloomington, however, all the accolades may as well have been bestowed on someone completely different. Brooks started 12 games as a freshman, but averaged a mere 3.6 points per game. The following season, his scoring dipped to 2.4 in 13 minutes per game, and Brooks had had enough.
He left for Providence, where he formed a terrific trio with point guard Billy Donovan (above left) and coach Rick Pitino (above center). The Friars fell one game short of getting Brooks a national championship shot against his former school, one that he claimed he would approach as just another game.
Brooks ended his Friar career as a 14-PPG man, a strong step up from his disheartening Hoosier production, but still not enough to earn him any NBA looks.