TERRE HAUTE —
It seems like every time I’m around Royce Waltman, I have to brace myself.
I braced myself at the end of Waltman’s ISU tenure. I sat there, front row, at a press conference at the Scottrade Center after Waltman lost his final game as ISU coach in the 2007 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament in a quarterfinal.
I had already reported that Waltman’s contract would not be renewed, but ISU had not officially announced it, and had no plans to until the following Monday. Another reporter asked Waltman to confirm my report.
I squirmed. I knew my report was 100-percent accurate — unfortunately, it was a poorly kept secret as ISU’s higher-ups at the time talked about it openly and Waltman himself had told me off-the-record he was gone — but the internal agreement was for all parties to keep on the down-low until announced.
Waltman could have stuck with the official party line, but he didn’t. He said the report was “very accurate” and went on to have a press conference that pulled no punches against ISU’s handling of his situation or the state of college basketball in general.
By no means am I trying to imply that Waltman did what he did for my benefit. Waltman is honest and 100 percent genuine. What he said at that press conference was truth, and it wasn’t in his character to evade the truth.
For completely different reasons, I braced myself again on Saturday at Hulman Center. ISU honored its 2000 Missouri Valley Conference championship team and its 2001 Missouri Valley Conference Tournament championship team during halftime of Saturday’s 58-54 victory over Buffalo.
As ISU’s 2000 and 2001 greats were introduced to enthusiastic cheers from the 3,927 fans at Hulman Center, I wondered what the reception for Waltman would be like.
Time heals a lot of wounds, but had enough time elapsed to ensure that ISU’s fans would give Waltman the warm reception he deserved? Once again, I braced myself, fearing that the losing seasons he had late in his ISU tenure would still be too fresh in some fans’ minds.
I should have had more faith in ISU’s faithful.
Before Waltman took a step on the Hulman Center hardwood, a roar came from the crowd that was as loud or louder than any one of the players received before him — ISU heroes Matt Renn, Michael Menser and Nate Green included.
The standing ovation was well under way as Waltman made his way out to center court to greet players from his greatest teams. Waltman nodded to the crowd and gave kind of a half-wave that seemed to indicate he was as surprised by the out-pouring of support as anyone was.
“I wasn’t thinking much about the reception I might get, but to be honest, I was surprised by how warm it was. It felt really good,” said Waltman, who is currently doing color commentary on Indiana University’s radio broadcasts.
It was a standing ovation Waltman never really got to experience when he was the coach here. ISU has only been to three NCAA Tournaments in its Division I era, and Waltman was in charge of two of those teams.
I thought the way Waltman’s career ended robbed him, and ISU’s fans, of a chance to thank him for the success he brought to the Sycamores. On Saturday, that oversight was corrected.
“It was long overdue for coach Waltman to have a reception like that. It was great,” Green said.
Waltman greeted fans before and after the ceremony, many of whom he hadn’t seen since his 2007 departure.
“When things go the way my tenure went, you have mixed feelings, but the more time goes by, you tend to dwell on the positives,” Waltman said.
It wasn’t just Waltman who got to bask in the glow. Former players Larry Ashley, Matt Broermann, Terence Avery, Kelyn Block, Menser, Renn and Green, as well as former managers Joe Crowley and Chris Bartlow, were all feted with appreciative cheers from the ISU faithful.
It hasn’t really been that long since these players made Sycamore memories. Many of them had their post-ISU overseas playing careers just recently end, so it was the first time many had a chance to reflect on what they did in an ISU uniform.
“It’s crazy. It doesn’t seem like its been 10 years. It’s surreal coming back to see everybody. It was fun to sit down, relax and relive a lot of those years,” said Block, who is legendary for having lost three teeth in a 2001 NCAA Tournament game against Oklahoma, only to return in overtime to get a steal and a layup to help the Sycamores defeat the Sooners 70-68. Block is an assistant coach at Indianapolis Pike.
For some of the players, being around the ISU program is just a part of their daily routine. With Greg Lansing as head coach — Lansing was an assistant coach from 1995-99, just missing the NCAA Tournament teams — players like Green are fixtures at ISU practices. Renn is a radio color commentator, and Menser is closest of all as he is Lansing’s brother-in-law.
“Coach Lansing coached under coach Waltman. You see a lot of the same philosophies with them.
“They were all a part of getting us here. There’s a lot of us who are still around the community and who are a part of Sycamore basketball,” Menser said.
It was a fun day for ISU fans to remember and appreciate one of the Sycamores’ greatest teams … and the feeling was reciprocated by the former players.
“To have the community embrace us as they did today, it felt like it did 10 years ago to run on the court,” Menser said.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at (812) 231-4272 or email@example.com. Ceck out Golden’s Down In The Valley blog at blogs.tribstar.com/downinthevalley.