Hoosiers on court


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

Here are two he recently spotlighted.

Marion Pierce

In small communities across Indiana, the stories of high school basketball legends are told over and over again.For almost six decades, the story of Marion Pierce from tiny Lewisville never gets old.

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Pierce played for Lewisville from 1958 to 1961 and was known as the “Henry County Hurricane.”

To understand the story of Pierce, we must first understand Lewisville. During Pierce’s playing days, the school enrollment never exceeded more than 85 students. The population of the community was less than 400 citizens, but like many small-town communities of those days, the local high school basketball team was the heart and soul of everything.

Pierce was a big kid, standing 6-foot-4, and was known for a beautiful jump shot. When Pierce graduated from Lewisville in 1961, he had scored 3,019 career points — the first player in the history of Indiana high school basketball to reach the 3,000 mark. His record stood until Damon Bailey broke his mark in 1990.

His work ethic is as legendary as his scoring. Rainy days never stopped Pierce from practicing. He would simply put on a raincoat and shoot hundreds of shots during a downpour. His father owned a junkyard, and at night he would practice using the headlights of an old car. When the battery went dead, he would use another car.

As a freshman for the Lewisville Bears, Pierce averaged 20.2 points a game, and then led Indiana in scoring three straight years. His sophomore year, he averaged 34.6, followed by a junior year of 36.4. His senior year, he scored 38.2 points a game. His single-game high was 64 points in one game against Union Township his sophomore year. In that one, he scored 50 points in the second half.

With all of the publicity Pierce received for his scoring, it was winning the 1961 New Castle Sectional that brings the small community its greatest pride. Playing in the world’s largest high school gym, tiny Lewisville cut the nets down after beating mighty New Castle. And eight years later, Lewisville High School closed its doors as part of a consolidation into Tri High.

After high school, Pierce played one year of college basketball at Lindsey Wilson Junior College. That season, he averaged 32 points a game and scored 79 points in one game.

Of all of the Indiana basketball legends out there, this is the guy I’d like to meet.

Gregg Popovich

Gregg Popovich’s basketball accomplishments are equal to if not greater than iconic Indiana basketball legends like Oscar Robertson, John Wooden and Larry Bird, but most people don’t even realize he’s from Indiana.That’s right. One of the greatest coaches in the history of sports is a Hoosier.

Popovich was born in 1949 in East Chicago. He played Indiana high school basketball for Merrillville High, where he graduated from in 1966. He played college basketball for Air Force Academy and participated in the 1972 Olympic basketball tryouts.

Popovich is best known as head coach of the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA, where he has coached the Spurs to five NBA championships. Only Phil Jackson, Red Auerbach and Pat Riley have won more. He owns the NBA record for consecutive winning seasons as a coach at 19.

Earlier this year, Popovich was selected to become the next men’s basketball coach of the U.S. Olympic team for the 2020 Olympics. Not too bad for a boy from Indiana.

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