Human InterestUncategorized


I don’t have an official tally of the players who chose to play basketball at Indiana University and later transferred elsewhere, but the number exceeds fifty. Of course, I’m talking about a period of over sixty years so if at least one player left every year, it could easily be close to one hundred. I don’t know if IU has more transfers out than the average, but it seems like it.

Bob Knight became head coach at IU in 1971. It was in that year the lens of controversy began to focus on disgruntled players and disciplinary issues that served as catalysts to increase the number of young men seeking a better opportunity elsewhere. The Knight era lasted 30 years and exposed dozens of players who felt they made a mistake coming to IU. Following Knight were Mike Davis, Kelvin Sampson, Tom Crean, and Archie Miller, all of whom were plagued by young men restless to be stars. And with the disastrous transfer portal in place today, it is certain the trend will not soon end.

I think the most important player who committed to IU, but left was Larry Bird. In the Fall of 1974, Bird spent 24 days as a IU student-athlete, but because of the size of the campus, the anxiety-provoking crowds of students, and hazing at the hands of Kent Benson, “the hick from small town French Lick” dropped out of IU and enrolled at Indiana State University. A few years later, his ISU team lost the NCAA Championship game to Michigan State and Magic Johnson. Can you imagine what Bird could have done as a player at IU. I also can’t imagine how he would have dealt with the coaching of Bob Knight. I think this shy, young man would have been overwhelmed by the “no-exceptions discipline” Knight demanded, and probably would still have left, just a few weeks or months later than he did. 

There are a lot of basketball players who have left Indiana, so there’s no way can I claim to provide you with a comprehensive list. Finding a definitive list online is a difficult task in itself. Those lists I found were limited to a specific time or a specific reason. I have taken highlights from those sources and tried to compile them in an organized and interesting format. Again, I make the disclaimer that this is not a comprehensive list of former IU players.

After the Larry Bird departure in 1974, IU won 1976 NCAA championship, and should have also won it in 1975 were it not for Scott May breaking his arm in a late-season game at Purdue. From the ‘75-‘76 team, three players departed. Mark Haymore transferred to U of Massachusetts, and Bob Bender went to Duke, both for more playing time, while Rich Valavicius went to Auburn after claiming he couldn’t take Coach Knight’s constant badgering.

Several years later, other disgruntled players were Neil Reid, Jason Collier, Luke Recker, John Flowers, and Steve Hart. These five were the most memorable players, but there were many others who are not. The Neil Reid situation was the worst. Reid transferred to Southern Mississippi after being at IU from 1994 to 1997. He was constantly berated by Coach Knight, but the major incident, caught on video, was the time at practice where Coach Knight grabbed Reid’s throat in a choke hold. This along with being forced to play several games with an injured shoulder ultimately led to his transfer.

Jason Collier was a 6’11” star from whom great things were anticipated. He was at IU from ‘96-‘98, and because he never was able to accomplish the level of play expected by Coach Knight, transferred to Georgia Tech. His time at Tech was productive leading to a five-year NBA career. 

Luke Recker, an Indiana Mr. Basketball, played for IU from ‘97-‘99. He transferred to Arizona because of conflicts with Coach Knight. However, before he actually played for AZ, he and his girlfriend were in a serious auto accident that left her paralyzed. She was in a rehab center in Iowa so to be close to her, Recker transferred instead to Iowa where he played for Steve Alford. 

As I mentioned in a previous blog, trouble with the law led to the dismissal of several players. In  1978 while playing in a tournament in Alaska, someone obtained marijuana, and 8 players smoked it in a hotel room. Later, Tommy Baker, Don Cox, and Jim Roberson were dismissed from the team while five others (Mike Woodson, Ray Tolbert, Phil Isenbarger, Eric Kirchner, and Landon Turner) were all put on probation. 

Sherron Wilkerson was Indiana High School Mr. Basketball his senior year. As a result, he was the #1 player on the Indiana high school all star team. During one of the two games vs. Kentucky high school all-stars, the coach benched Wilkerson, to which he took exception. Wilkerson defiantly left the bench and went to the locker room and didn’t return to play. Wilkerson’s troubles continued when in the ‘93-‘94 season, Coach Knight head butted him in a moment of anger, but the incident that caused his dismissal was an arrest for a domestic disturbance at his girlfriend’s apartment. Sherron Wilkerson was never to be seen in an Indiana University jersey again.

Another tough case was Jay Edwards, co-Indiana High School Mr. Basketball in 1987. He was a great player for Coach Knight but his off court activities defined him more than his talent. Poor academic performance led to a five game suspension in Dec ‘87, and he temporarily lost his scholarship. In the Fall of ‘88 he failed a drug screen testing positive for alcohol and marijuana. Edwards entered the 1989 NBA draft which probably was welcome news to Coach Knight.

Other Knight-era notables are John Flowers from Ft. Wayne, whose athleticism never translated to great on court performance. He was constantly in the “dog house” and played only brief stints because he was error-prone. He left for UNLV. Lawrence Funderburke had moments of greatness, but ultimately transferred to Ohio State just to spite Coach Knight.

By my probably inaccurate count, Indiana has had at least 13 players leave early for the NBA draft. All of those mentioned subsequently had successful NBA careers. There are many others who played in the NBA, but I’m omitting them because the stayed at IU 3 years or longer. Those players leaving early are George McGinnis (1971 NBA draft), Isiah Thomas (1981 draft), Jay Edwards (1989), Kirk Haston (2001), Jared Jeffries (2002), Eric Gordon (2008), Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo (2013), Noah Vonleh (2014), OG Anunoby and Thomas Bryant (2017), Romeo Langford (2019), Jalen Hood-Schifino (2023). As I mentioned, there are dozens of other IU players who were, or are, in the NBA, but I omitted them because, like Trayce Jackson-Davis and Mike Woodson, they stayed at IU more than 2 years. 

Unfortunately, athletes of today play college basketball just to showcase their talent to professional team scouts and use the time to prepare for the next step, a professional career and fabulous wealth. Their ultimate goal is to be an NBA lottery pick, get rich, and mature into a star player. You hear about athlete’s who made millions during their careers but have nothing to show for it because they mismanaged their money or some unscrupulous agent stole it from them. And then there are the Michael Jordan’s and Magic Johnson’s who are worth billions. 

There will always be those players with bigger-than-life egos who butt heads with the coach and other authority figures. I sincerely hope the young man, Mgbako, isn’t one of those who is constantly on the edge, whose off court indiscretions get more attention than his on court performance. I hope he averages 25 points and 10 rebounds every game, has a 4.0 GPA, and is president of the student body.…and marries one of Mike Woodson’s daughters. How more perfect could he be? I’m dreaming, of course, but you never know. Maybe the employees at Taco Bell mis-heard what he said, and maybe he didn’t understand what the police meant when they told him to move his vehicle. I doubt it, but we can only hope!

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