Editor’s note: In 2017, the Tribune-Star published a book titled “Legends Through The Decades.” The idea was to pick out the five most memorable athletes and teams from each decade from the 1950s onward.
With live sports at a standstill, we elected to re-run the chapters from the book in excerpts. Understand that the athletes and teams are not ranked. We chose not to rank them and to let them stand on their own as those who produced the most memorable legacies.
We hope you enjoy it!
The names that roll off the tongue when naming Indiana State men’s basketball greats are legends like Larry Bird, Jerry Newsom and Duane Klueh.
A name that doesn’t as easily roll off the tongue is Lenny Rzeszewski, but it ought to. He was the best player on the only ISU basketball team that brought a national championship trophy back to Terre Haute.
Rzeszewski is a spiritual ancestor of the many good point guards ISU has produced since. Recruited by John Wooden before John Longfellow took over as coach, Rzeszewski was one of five players recruited from the South Bend area along with Jim Powers, Dan Dimich, Bob Brady and Bill Jagodzinski.
The 1950 season would be their pinnacle as ISU qualified for the NAIB Tournament for the third straight season – and it would have been ISU’s fourth straight had Wooden not taken a stand and held the Sycamores out in 1947 due to racial segregation aimed at then-freshman Clarence Walker, who was now a senior.
“The Scrappin’ Sycamores,” as the Terre Haute Tribune called them, led wire-to-wire to defeat Delta State 65-59 in the opener. Arkansas Tech was vanquished 87-79 in the next game as Don McDonald scored 26 points. Baldwin-Wallace was then crushed 61-39.
Tampa awaited ISU in the semifinals, and it was a stern test. Tampa led by eight with five minutes left, but an ISU surge carried the day. Rzeszewski scored 21, but Bob Gilbert’s four points in the final 32 seconds clinched the win.
East Central of Oklahoma was ISU’s opponent in the title game. Rzeszewski, plagued by foul trouble, sat for much of the second half, but played the final five minutes. His ball-handling proved crucial as East Central could not pry to ball away from him and ISU secured a 61-57 victory.
The Sycamores were greeted to a hero’s welcome upon their return to Terre Haute. Mayor Ralph Tucker said, “These boys have done more than has been done by anyone in many years for the betterment of Terre Haute.”
Team members were Rzeszewski, Walker, Powers, Dimich, Brady, Jagodzinski, McDonald, Gilbert, Jim Kunkel, Jim Berger, Ed Longfellow, Richard Campbell, Buren Hooper, Max Hungerford, Dick Pattengale, Jack Reece, John Scott, Gene Lambdin and Jim Hans.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at 812-231-4272 or email@example.com. Follow Golden on Twitter at @TribStarTodd.