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Courtesy ISU Archives

One of Indiana State's most legendary basketball players died on Thursday morning. Dick Atha, who played at ISU from 1950-53, was 88.

Atha, born in Otterbein on Sept. 21, 1931, scored 1,119 career points for the Sycamores as he played for three seasons under the tutelage of then-ISU coach John Longfellow.

Atha was originally going to play at Purdue. He told State Magazine in 2017 that his plans changed when Purdue fired their coach.

“I was from a small town and a decent ballplayer, and no one was really interested in me,” Atha said. “One of our town patrons arranged an interview with the Purdue coach, who ultimately got fired. When I went in to see him, he was standing at the window looking out.

“He finally came over and sat down. I didn’t know whether to talk or spit. I was pretty shook up. He looked at me and said, ‘Young man, why are you coming to college?’ Like an idiot, I said, ‘To play basketball.’ He went ballistic on me.

“That was the end of the interview. I picked up my hind end and ran out of there.”

Longfellow eventually corraled Atha and he became ISU's best player of the 1950s.

Atha led ISU in scoring twice. He averaged 12.3 points in 1952 and 14.3 points in 1953. The 463 points Atha scored in 1953 were the most in a single-season by any Sycamore in the 1950s. 

Atha's 1953 production — the Sycamores finished in third place in the NAIA Tournament in 1953 — made him a Helms Foundation All-American.

Atha was an all-Indiana Collegiate Conference selection in 1951 and 1952.

Atha was also part of the team, coached by Longfellow, who represented the United States in the Pan American Games in Argentina in 1950.

Atha is one of only six ISU players taken in the NBA Draft as he was selected 50th overall by the New York Knicks in 1953. After spending time in the military, Atha played 43 career games from 1955-58 for the Knicks and Detroit Pistons, averaging 3.2 points.

Atha was the last Indiana State player to play in the NBA until Larry Bird debuted for the Boston Celtics in 1979. 

Atha was inducted into the ISU Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1988. In 1999, Atha was chosen to be on ISU's All-Century basketball team.

Atha became most famous in his home area of Benton County as he was a counselor, assistant principal, principal and athletic director at Benton Central after spending 10 years at one of Benton Central's predecessor schools — Oxford.

Atha became famous for his "B-I-S-O-N" chant at Benton Central games and was an avid devotee of Benton Central's athletic teams right up until his death.

Atha did eventually attend Purdue to get his master's degree, but Atha was fond of his playing days at Indiana State.

"My career wasn’t real astounding, but I don’t think I could have ever enjoyed basketball more than I did at Indiana State. I became lifelong friends with the guys I played with," Atha told State Magazine. “My career turned out more gratifying than if I would have gone to Purdue. I feel like that. I’m very happy with that.”

Todd Aaron Golden has been Sports Editor and Indiana State beat writer since September 2004. Born in Milwaukee but an Indiana resident most of his adult life, he previously worked in Jeffersonville, Columbus and Eau Claire, Wis.

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