Border battles: Basketball history rich between Indiana, Kentucky


For some of his Backroads Indiana columns, Mike Barrett likes to feature people who made a name for themselves on the basketball court.

Here are four he recently spotlighted.

Dan Issel and Bob Netolicky

In December 1971, a professional basketball game was played between the Indiana Pacers and Kentucky Colonels at Freedom Hall in Louisville, Kentucky. I loved the ABA and loved both the Pacers and the Colonels (note the red, white and blue basketball).

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In the photo are my favorite players from each team.

No. 44 is Dan Issel of the Colonels, who starred on their 1975 ABA championship team. Issel ended up in Louisville after an All-American college career for the Kentucky Wildcats.

Bob Netolicky still is one of the most loved Pacers ever to wear an Indiana uniform. Big Neto, like Issel, was a sharpshooting forward and rugged rebounder. Both players were about 6-foot-9. Netolicky starred on two ABA championship teams with the Pacers (1970 and 1972). In 1970, he averaged 20 points per game and 10 rebounds.

When the ABA merged with the NBA, the Colonels folded, but the Pacers are still in the NBA. As a big fan of the NBA, I still hope someday, Louisville will have an NBA team. The KFC Yum! Center is NBA-ready and is one of the most fascinating basketball facilities in America.

Mike Flynn

In 1971, Mike Flynn of Jeffersonville High School was the talk of Indiana basketball. When the season was over, he was named Indiana Mr. Basketball.

When Bob Knight was named the head coach of Indiana University in the spring of 1971, he naturally recruited Flynn. But at the time, Knight was an unproven name, and Flynn was set on playing for the University of Kentucky and its legendary coach, Adolph Rupp.

Knight quickly built a national power at IU, and by the spring of the 1974-75 season, Indiana was unbeaten, ranked No. 1 and one win away from reaching the Final Four.

The only game left was with UK in the championship game of the Mideast Regional — a team Indiana demolished earlier in the year. The Hoosiers weren’t at full strength, as All-American forward Scott May was suffering from a broken arm. May started for the Hoosiers that day with his arm in a cast and played only seven minutes.

But no matter what, I have to admit, Kentucky was ready, especially Flynn, who was now a senior for the Wildcats.

As Kentucky upset Indiana 92-90, it was Flynn who was the star of the game — a Hoosier. He scored 22 points on 9-of-13 shooting and was outstanding. He took star IU guard Quinn Buckner out of the game on both ends of the floor.

Today, this game remains my most heartbreaking loss to UK ever. But if we had to lose to Kentucky, I’m glad it took a Hoosier to beat us.

After college, Flynn, a 6-foot-3 guard, played three years with the Indiana Pacers.

Steve Downing

Indiana University’s Steve Downing played like no other before or since … and here’s the story.

In December 1971, the center led the Hoosiers to a 90-89 win in two overtimes over Kentucky.

Downing scored 47 points and grabbed 25 rebounds. I remember listening to this game on the radio as a 12-year-old kid, and it is one of my favorite IU-UK memories.

Downing was super, and no one has ever had a game like it since in the IU-UK rivalry. And no one may ever again since UK won’t play a home-and-home campus series with IU.

Mike Barrett is a local resident with an interest in history. His Backroads Indiana columns regularly appear in The Tribune. Send comments to [email protected].

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