TERRE HAUTE —
When Royce Waltman left Indiana State University as its head basketball coach in 2007, there was a sense of disappointment in the community that covered a broad spectrum.
Waltman’s tenure as coach started with such hope and promise, and after back-to-back trips to the NCAA tournament in 2000 and 2001, he was seen as a savior to a program that had sunk to the depths of irrelevance since that magical run in 1979 led by Larry Bird.
But then the tide began to turn. Waltman encountered serious health problems, and recruiting efforts that had proved so successful in his early years at ISU went sour. While everyone wanted the ISU basketball resurgence to continue, it began to fade. Waltman’s last four seasons produced losing records, and when his contract expired at the end of the 2007 season, the university elected not to renew it.
It was a bitter time, in part because Waltman was so roundly respected for his integrity and honesty at ISU, in Terre Haute, around Indiana, and throughout the country. Yet his program was no longer producing positive results on the win-loss ledger, where coaches are ultimately judged.
Despite the bad ending at ISU, the man who found so much joy and success as a coach in college basketball throughout his long career rebounded and spent his final years as a color commentator for Indiana University basketball. It was a perfect fit for a man who knew so much about the sport and who was so well liked and respected.
Waltman died on Tuesday at age 72 after a recurring bout with cancer followed by a stroke.
Judging by the heartfelt comments coming out of Terre Haute since the news of Waltman’s passing surfaced, he left a lasting, positive legacy here, despite the on-court disappointments of his final seasons. That speaks well to the type of person he was — genuine, sincere, witty, intelligent and humble. Even during his program’s successful times at ISU, he remained grounded and full of humility.
Overall, the record books will report that Waltman was a good coach. But the memories and tributes being shared around the community of his decade here show that he was an even better man.