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SLACKCHAT: IU Athletics Mount Rushmore

Three of our writers put their heads together to debate the merits of some of the most iconic athletes in IU’s history in an attempt to decide which four belong at the top

Northwestern v Indiana
It’s hard to deny that the men’s basketball program is the most iconic on IU’s campus, but how much of a presence did it have in our discussion?
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Auston Matricardi: A common thought exercise is the Mount Rushmore, you pick four individuals who are iconic and represent certain institutions. We’ve decided to make our own Mount Rushmores for IU athletes (read: no coaches allowed) based on our own personal criteria. Let’s just go around and share each of our picks to start and then we’ll go from there. Who’s on your Rushmore Michael?

Michael Dugan: This was extremely difficult for me, and honestly I’ll probably want to change something after I send mine. I have George Taliaferro on there without question, Mark Spitz easily, Lilly King and Calbert Cheaney. I have my personal reasons, but I’m open to having my mind changed, too.

AM: All very reasonable selections. What about you Jacob?

Jacob Rude: Well I share two of the picks Michael did in Calbert Cheaney and Mark Spitz. My other two though are staples for the two most prominent sports programs in Isiah Thomas (IT) and Anthony Thompson (AT). I’m not sure either particularly need much explanation. Both had individual success and as much team success as would be reasonably expected (this is me making excuses for the football program on AT’s behalf). I expected to put up a bit more of a fight for Cheaney and maybe Spitz and figured these two would be more of the shoo-ins, personally

AM: So we have one unanimous pick. I’ve got Mark Spitz in my group as well along with Lilly King, Scott May, and Kyle Schwarber. Spitz doesn’t really need an explanation but I’ll give a brief one so we can move on from him to another athlete. 8 NCAA Titles, 7 golds at the 72 Olympics, 9 golds in his career and he set dozens of world records. He was the greatest Olympian ever before Michael Phelps hopped in the pool.

JR: You’re going to have to argue hard for your Schwarber pick.

AM: I thought about a lot of names for my fourth pick. IT, AT, Taliaferro and Bill Garrett among others, but I settled on Schwarber for a few reasons. He more or less put IU baseball on the map. He’s the undisputed face of that program in the public eye right now. He led the Hoosiers to their first and only College World Series, he won four Big Ten titles, was a two-time All-American, and went on to be the fourth overall pick and a World Series Champion. You go to IU baseball games and see Cubs Schwarber jerseys all the time, it’s a commonplace thing and it’s interesting to me because you don’t see that too often with other sports. You don’t see Isiah Thomas Pistons jerseys in Assembly Hall. Overall for me it was just the amount of impact he had on The Brand for IU because he was that good of a player.

JR: I don’t disagree with putting IU baseball on the map but even that is relative to me. I don’t want to disparage his accomplishments but we still aren’t really a program in the national conversation. Maybe we will be one day and he’ll be seen as the guy who kicked that off. But for me, it feels more like recency bias. And I find it really hard to argue him over IT or AT

MD: That’s fair. Brand growth was a big part of mine, name recognition too. Everyone knows all four of mine within the IU athletics community, and that’s probably true of Schwarber too. I also went back and forth with Tyra Buss too. That’s not a super decorated program and she’s on top for a number of categories and was the leader of a team that hung a postseason banner. And everyone knows her.

JR: If we’re talking faces of programs, though, IT is one of those for IU basketball. Obviously Bob Knight is still the face but IT, partially due to his NBA success, still captained a national title team and went on to have one of the more decorated careers in the program’s history. While Tyra and Schwarber are both faces of programs, I’d say that’s an argument you can make with IT with a lot more titles and accolades to back that up

AM: Honestly I have a hard time relating IT to IU. In my head he’s a Detroit Piston first and foremost and a Hoosier as an afterthought which might be wrong and might show my age, but that’s why I picked Scott May over IT in my group. I also wanted to have more diversity than two swimmers and two basketball players in my group which is why once I decided to have May in the group I dropped IT from my consideration.

MD: I agree with the first part honestly.

AM: (the olds clamor to pull us by the ear)

JR: To be fair, we are only a basketball and swimming school.

MD: You’re not wrong.

AM: Jacob pls don’t disrespect men’s soccer like that.

JR: I tried really hard to find someone from the soccer program that wasn’t Yeagley that stuck out. It’s odd there hasn’t been a player that sticks out above the rest. I guess that speaks volumes of the coaching, though.

AM: I personally considered Todd Yeagley and Ken Snow, Snow particularly. Two natties, four AA nods, two Hermann trophies. That’s a good resume.

JR: If we included coaches, Yeagley would be a shoo-in. I want to circle back to AT though.

AM: Yeah if coaches were involved Jerry Yeagley would be in hands down. Let’s talk AT.

JR: Because he’s supremely underrated. He probably should have won the Heisman except IU sucked so much they couldn’t even make a bowl game with him his senior year. He won the Maxwell and Walter Camp Awards as the best player. He was second in the Heisman voting in probably the closest vote ever. I know IU football is infuriating but it’s hard not to have the program’s damn near Heisman winner on the list.

AM: The problem with AT is that IU football is a myth actually. It’s a story told by parents to scare children. On a serious note AT is extremely deserving. If you’re gonna go with a football player on the list it has to be either him or Taliaferro.

JR: So my question is, why Lilly King over him? That’s another that feels a bit like recency bias.

MD: I think, as sad as it may be, the programs mediocrity in recent years has kinda made some fans forget about how good AT was. It’s totally out of his control. On the King note, Olympic medals are just so hard to compete with.

AM: Michael pls go off re: Lilly King


There it is. Take it all in.

AM: I had her on my list because she’s breaking records left and right, winning gold medals, becoming the first woman (not the first Hoosier, not the first American, the first human woman) to do the things she’s doing.

MD: She captured an entire country for a moment in time. You just can’t compete with that. As a sophomore, might I add.

AM: As quickly as I put Spitz on my list, King followed. I thought they were both unquestionably in.

MD: In a sport that’s measured by individual success directly compared to other humans as much as any, she has some awards and accolades that literally cannot be topped by any human alive. Or dead, for that matter.

JR: I probably underrated how much gold medals play into account. At least relative to you guys. Circling back to something Auston said earlier, though, I associate IT with IU. I’m just not sure who I would take off the list to put on King. AT was my last selection but for all the reasons I stated, even if IU football is a myth (which it is), he’s the greatest character to me. But then again it’s hard to say to Lilly King “Go win more medals before I consider you” so maybe I just missed on that one.

AM: I also took into account that she’s doing all of this at a young age and has plenty ahead. By the time she’s done swimming she could be the greatest breaststroker of all-time.

JR: So I guess my argument to Michael then is why George Taliaferro over AT?

MD: I just can’t overlook his bigger than football off-the-field accomplishments.

AM: Yeah that’s the same reason I considered Bill Garrett. The social/societal impact of their individual careers could count for a lot depending on what you value.

JR: I won’t argue that aspect. I was considering more on-court/field impact when making my Mt. Rushmore so that’s why I went with AT. In hindsight, I might leave him off for King but if I had to choose between the two, personally I would go with AT.

MD: And that’s totally fair. Different criteria, even if by just a slim margin, can end with totally different answers. I can’t argue against it.

AM: Let’s circle back to one more thing. You guys each had Calbert Cheaney on your lists. I thought about him but ultimately went with Scott May. One of you make the case for the former and then I’ll make the case for the latter.

JR: Well he’s the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer, for one.

MD: There is that. That’s a thing.

JR: Like IT, he’s a guy I immediately associate with IU basketball. He’s maybe more of a “face” of the program than IT. A four-year guy that contributed at a high level for each season. Won just a laundry list of awards. The only thing he didn’t do was win a national title but that was through no fault of his own and even then, he made the Final Four.

AM: That might be splitting hairs but that’s ultimately a big part of why I went with May. This is another reason.