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April 8, 2014

Waltman remembered for integrity as much as coaching ability

Long-time ISU coach died Monday at 72

TERRE HAUTE — Royce Waltman helped the United States win Olympic basketball gold, stood on the podium as an assistant coach on Indiana’s 1987 national championship team, and returned Indiana State basketball to winning ways and NCAA Tournament relevance.

But for as good a coach as Waltman was, news of his death brought to mind to those that knew him the integrity with which he carried himself as man.

Waltman, 72, died Monday night as he succumbed to cancer and other ailments after a long fight.

“He was obviously a very, very smart basketball coach. He’s as smart as it gets when it comes to X’s and O’s, but when you talk to people, they talk about how he was a person,” said former Indiana State forward Matt Renn, who played for Waltman from 1997-2001. “He was honest and a great guy. He was the perfect coach I could ask for. He was tough and he held guys accountable. I couldn’t have asked for a better fit. He was a terrific person.”

Nate Green, the 2000 MVC Player of the Year under Waltman, put it succinctly.

“It’s easy to say, but he lived his life by having a fierce commitment to do the right thing,” Green said.

ISU coach Greg Lansing worked for Waltman on his staff from 1997-99 and again during Waltman’s final season in 2006-07.

Lansing credited Waltman with “saving” his career twice — when Waltman kept him on his first ISU staff in 1997 and when he brought Lansing back in 2006. Lansing, who had remained close with Waltman in recent years, was emotional Tuesday when asked to assess the man.

“He was as well-respected as anyone I’ve ever known — as a coach and as a man — and that’s saying something. That’s Coach Waltman. He was widely viewed as a good a coach as there was at that time, but it was more than that. He had an unbelievably high character in how he lived his life,” Lansing said.

That character is what defined himself and defined his teams not just at ISU, but at his other coaching stops.

Waltman coached ISU from 1997-2007. When Waltman arrived in Terre Haute — after successful head coaching stints at DePauw (99-38) and the University of Indianapolis (89-49) — ISU had not had a winning season since 1980.

Waltman changed all of it. By 2000, ISU won the MVC regular season championship and earned its first NCAA Tournament bid since the Larry Bird era. The Sycamores repeated the NCAA feat again in 2001 and went a step further as it defeated Oklahoma 70-68 in overtime in a first-round contest.

Waltman was treated for bladder cancer shortly after ISU’s NCAA Tournament success and the Sycamores were not able to maintain their winning ways. Waltman compiled a record of 124-165 in his 10 seasons at the Sycamores’ helm and his contract was not renewed after the 2007 season. The only coach in school history with more victories and seasons coached was Duane Klueh with 182 wins in 12 seasons.

The press conference he gave at the Missouri Valley Conference Tournament after his dismissal went public became iconic in college basketball circles. Besides famously criticizing ISU for handling his exit, “with the deft touch of a 20-mule team,” Waltman’s statement on the state of college athletics has proven to be prophetic.

“I can’t get a head coaching job, because if you get fired for cheating you can get rehired, but if you get fired for losing it’s like you have leprosy. Young coaches need to bear that in mind. Cheating and not graduating players won’t get you in trouble, but that damn losing will,” Waltman said.

Waltman commanded universal respect around the MVC and his passing was met with sadness among his peers.

“He was one of my favorite coaches and one of my favorite characters in the conference during the nine years I was at Missouri State. I’m humbled and proud to call him a very good friend,” Southern Illinois coach Barry Hinson said.

Waltman has his own coaching tree. Besides Lansing, Waltman coached Clemson’s Brad Brownell when Brownell played at DePauw. He had current Missouri-Kansas City coach Kareem Richardson on ISU’s staff from 1999-2002 and had current Mississippi State coach Rick Ray on ISU’s staff from 1997-2004.

“I think first and foremost is that I wouldn’t be where I am without Coach Waltman. He took a chance on me as a Division II graduate assistant. I’ve always been thankful to him for giving me that chance,” said Ray, via phone interview on Tuesday.. “One thing I harken back to — and I’ve been fortunate to work for some good coaches like Matt Painter and Brad Brownell — but when people ask me where I learned my basketball? It’s Coach Waltman.”

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