It has been more than 42 years since a chartered DC-3, which carried the 1977-78 University of Evansville basketball team and their new coach, crashed minutes after take-off from Dress Regional Airport, en route to Nashville, Tenn.
The day was Tuesday, December 13, 1977.
There were 29 victims, including Michael Douglas Joyner of Terre Haute South, whose father was a scrappy 6-foot-2 center for Terre Haute Wiley in 1954-55.
And John Ed Washington, the 1976-77 team’s leading scorer and two-time Most Valuable Player from Indianapolis Tech High School;
And Tony Winburn, a 5-foot-8 senior from Jeffersonville, where he was captain of the 1972 IHSAA finalist;
And Bryan Taylor, the 6-foot-5 front liner who made nearly every All-State team in 1975 and led Tell City High School to a 66-10 three-year record;
And Steve Miller, a 6-foot-8 recently married junior center who led the team in blocked shots and was a close second in corralling rebounds;
And Keith Moon, a husky 6-foot-8 sophomore from Kettering, Ohio, whose presence in the paint was difficult, or impossible, for opponents to ignore.
In addition to Joyner, a three-year scoring leader at South Vigo and considered one of Terre Haute’s best high school shooters ever, the Purple Aces boasted freshmen:
Warren Alston, a 6-foot-4 All-State player from Goldsboro, N. Carolina, who averaged 24 points and nine rebounds as a prep senior;
Barney Lewis, Alston’s 6-foot-7 high school teammate;
Mark Siegel, a first team academic Indiana All-State from Pike High School, where his father Ed was head basketball coach;
Ray Comandella, at 6-foot-9, another first team Indiana Academic All-State performer at Munster, where he was coached by former Indiana State star Mike Copper and won two sectional titles;
Kraig Heckendorn, an All-Cincinnati player at Oak Hills, who had earned a starting assignment for the IDU game;
Greg Smith, a walkon from West Frankfort, Ill. where he had earned letters in three sports and averaged 18 points a game in basketball;
Mike Duff, a 6-foot-7 highly recruited prep All-America from Eldorado, Ill., averaged 32 points and 16 rebounds a game during his senior year while compiling more than 1,000 points; and
Joyner, who signed the first letter-of-intent of the Coach Bobby Watson-Evansville regime, was particularly impressive in the state tournament.
Watson and the Joyner family looked forward to four years of competitive basketball. The coach made it clear that he expected his team to be a factor immediately.
A native of Bethel Park, Pa., Watson was co-captain and MVP of the 19764 Virginia Military Institute team that won the Southern Conference and a trip to the NCAA tournament. After a year of high school coaching, he entered the military and was player-coach at Fort Bliss and was named to the All-Army team.
Indiana State, led by sophomore Larry Bird, polished off the Purple Aces, 102-76, before a crowd of 9,653, the largest home crowd of the season despite precarious weather conditions. Rose-Hulman’s home game against Illinois Tech was cancelled.
Watson split up 31 months in Vietnam with an assistant coaching job at the University of Xavier. He served with the famed 101st Airborne Division and was awarded the Bronze Star, the Army Commendation Medal and five Purple Hearts.
Watson’s team at Ferrum Junior College was runner-up to Vincennes in the 1971 NJCAA tournament. He later served as assistant coach at Wake Forest and Oral Roberts.
“The fast break is one phase of our offense,” Watson told reporters before the season opener. “This should be exciting for our fans because people like Alston, Taylor, Duff and Joyner have a license to put it up when they come down the floor and are in their shot range.”
Joyner performed well against the Sycamores, scoring four points while playing head-to-head against Jimmy Smith, three year his senior. One of Joyner’s baskets was a high-arching left-hander from beyond the top of the key.
It was Mike Joyner’s final basket.