The magnitude of honor didn't sink in with Jim Master at first.
They called him and told him he was going into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame this year, some 32 years after he played at Harding High School. Never one to shy away from a shot, Master doesn't shy away from recalling his somewhat blasť first reaction.
“I thought nothing of it,” he said. “I assumed if you were Mr. Basketball, you get in the damn thing. I didn't even say anything to my brother about it.”
Weeks later, Master ran into Kyle Macy, another former Indiana prep basketball star. Macy congratulated Master.
“I said 'Thanks,' and Kyle says, 'Jim, it's a big deal,' and that's when it kind of hit me,” Master said.
What followed was a snowball of congratulations, from former teammates and friends from around the country, from people he hadn't heard from in years. He talked with his old high school coach, Harlan Frick, and others. The outpouring of well-wishers was a “beautiful thing,” Master said. “I was surprised and humbled by how many people I heard from.”
As Master took more time to reflect, he became both more sentimental and more appreciative of the honor.
Preparing his speech for the Hall of Fame awards dinner, which takes place Wednesday in Indianapolis, Master explored memories he hadn't dwelled on in the years since he settled in Lexington, Ky., where he now works for Hilliard Lyons wealth management.
“When I go back and reflect and remember, what an unbelievable childhood for me and my family,” he said. “Indiana high school basketball started for me when I was 5 years. …When I think about Indiana basketball, 'magical' is the word I would use.”
Master played two years for Harding, transferring to the school from his family's hometown of Plymouth. His father had a business office in Fort Wayne, and his parents moved here for his junior and senior year. He was Indiana Mr. Basketball in 1980 and earned a scholarship to the University of Kentucky.
At Kentucky, Master played on three Southeastern Conference champions and went to the 1984 Final Four.
But he's being honored for those high school years, and he credits Frick and his family for making his two years at Harding among the best in his life. Master said he had met Frick through a coaching relative of Frick's at Plymouth and the idea of moving to play in Fort Wayne became a possibility. Master said his father let him decide whether he wanted to move to Fort Wayne.
“It was my summer going into my junior year,” Master said. “I remember sitting on a park bench and my dad coming up and saying, 'We need to make a decision. What do you want to do?' Thank God I said 'I think we should move.' ”
Master said he wouldn't recommend such a transfer to others today, but believes it was the best decision he and his family could make.
“If God had come down and said, 'This is how I want it to work out,' it couldn't have worked out any better,” Master said. “Harlan Frick and his family had a massive amount to do with that. He was a great coach, in my opinion.”
Master's playing career ended after college. He stayed in Lexington and was a bachelor for years before getting married at 47. He and his wife, Sheila, have a 3-year-old son, Leo.
“I waited a little late in life, but having a little boy is great stuff,” Master said. “Maybe because I'm older, more financially secure. Now I'm just trying to be Father of the Year.”
Master said he looks forward to reminiscing with other Indiana honorees at the dinner Wednesday. Master was drafted by the NBA's Atlanta Hawks and went to training camp with the Indiana Pacers, but never played pro basketball here or abroad. “I have zero regrets about not trying to continue playing after that,” he said.
Now, in his memory bank that has been fully tapped into, he savors those high school days.
“I played in two Elite Eights, I played with Michael Jordan when we won the Pan American gold medal, but my favorite time was playing Indiana basketball,” he said. “Playing in the semistate at the (Memorial) Coliseum, I thought it was the coliseum in Rome. It was a big, big thrill. …That was pretty magical stuff.”