O-ver rat-ed clap clap clap clap clap. The 1960-61 team walked into the season ranked fourth in the nation to begins things. They were a team that finished 20-4 the previous season and once again second overall, this time behind Ohio State. The Hoosiers looked to be in a pretty good position as they returned near 7 footer Walt Bellamy who average 22 points and 14 rebounds per game as a junior and guard Herbie Lee to be senior leadership and run the point. Most basketball purists would say that is all you need. If you have someone to run the offense and the post threat to keep defenses honest you’re in great shape. Turns out that wasn’t so.
The 61’ Hoosiers started off the year strong winning 6 of their first 7. The only game they did drop was the third game of the season to #3 Detroit in Detroit. There’s no shame in a two point loss on the road to a top 3 team. Unfortunately as positive as the season started it was all downhill from there. After a neutral court win over Stanford, the Hoosiers dropped eight of their next fourteen games. Truly it was a disappointing season. When you’re expected as a national title contender and finish fourth in your respective conference it is hard to glean too many positives. Again, Indiana only played 24 games and finished 15-9.
There is however one positive to take away from this season and that is the career of Walt Bellamy at Indiana University. He may not have led IU to any form of solidified greatness, but he is one of those players that contributed a ton to Indiana’s legacy while he was here. Walt Bellamy was born in New Bern, North Carolina and chose to play at Indiana because of the Hoosiers stance on accepting Blacks to the university. Bellamy was quoted in 2007 as saying the reasons he chose to play at Indiana, "Indiana at the time was the closest school to the South that would accept African-Americans. It was an easy transition for me to make. Not that I was naive to what was going on in Bloomington in terms of the times, but it didn't translate to the athletic department or the classroom. Every relationship was good."
The relationship between Bellamy and Indiana turned out to be mutually beneficial to both parties. Bellamy ended up graduating in 1961 with the most rebounds ever for an Indiana Hoosier in a three year career. He still holds 4 school records in that rebounding category. He holds the record for most rebounds in a season (649), most rebounds in a single game (33!), most double-doubles (59) and the previously stated three year career record. Those kind of numbers were good enough to earn him All-American status in both his junior and senior years.
Bellamy left Indiana after he graduated in ’61 and was immediately drafted first overall in the NBA draft by the Chicago Packers. He was Indiana’s first #1 overall pick and their first Rookie of the Year selection. Bellamy went on to have a 14 year long Hall of Fame career in the NBA where he averaged a double-double throughout.
The 1960-61 team was a very big disappointed if you guy in accordance to their pre-season ranking but in the end, the ’61 team did at least birth a Indiana legend in Walt Bellamy. That certainly is something positive to take away from it, but let us all hope that history does not repeat itself this year. Certainly it would be great for Cody Zeller to be an All-American and go on to become one of professional basketball’s superstars, but I do not want to finish fourth in the conference and have a sub-par tournament experience. It was fine in 1961 when most of us weren’t around or conscience of college basketball, but all of us are now and the disappointment of a similar finish could cause clinical depression.