Daryl Thomas added yet another chapter to the tradition of Indiana basketball

Men's Basketball vs. Stetson, 1987 Championship Team recognized at halftime. 1987 team signed autographs prior to the game. 12/04/11_Mike Dickbernd
Indiana University basketball players (from left) Todd Meier, Daryl Thomas and Steve Alford celebrate winning the 1987 National Championship after beating Syracuse in the Superdome in New Orleans. (Photo courtesy of Indiana University athletics)
Former Indiana University forward Daryl Thomas drives on a Louisville defender during his career with the Hoosiers. (Photo courtesy of Indiana University athletics)

The current Indiana University men’s basketball recruiting class was still in diapers the last time the Hoosiers were relevant nationally at this time of the year.

In 2002, which is the last year that the Hoosiers advanced to the Final Four, the prohibitive favorite to win the 2018 Indiana Mr. Basketball award (and highly-coveted Indiana prospect), New Albany High School senior Romeo Langford, couldn’t even pronounce “ball,” let alone dribble one.

But none of that prohibits the Indiana program from being able to lay claim that it has a storied tradition that spans generations.

“That has to do with the fan base and kids being raised with the traditions there,” Floyd Central High School basketball coach and Indiana native Todd Sturgeon told News-Sentinel.com.

Indiana basketball has been relevant from Floyds Knob to Fremont since 1901 and whether the Hoosiers endure another 16-year Final Four drought or Hoosier coach Archie Miller morphs into the next championship-caliber coach won’t alter that.

IU basketball remains massive in this state; win or lose; and News-Sentinel.com has the online traffic numbers to prove it.

There are a couple of reasons for that presence:

• Indiana University has been, is, and always will be, a basketball-centric school, and

• The Hoosiers have a championship tradition that spans multiple generations, even if it hasn’t been during the life span of the youngest Hoosiers.

Former Indiana University forward Daryl Thomas came to Bloomington for the former and contributed to the latter.

Thomas passed away at the way-too-young age of 52 Wednesday morning, as he suffered a heart attack. His death was announced by Montini Catholic High School in Lombard, Illinois, where Thomas served as the boys basketball coach.

“The Indiana University men’s basketball family is devastated to learn of the passing of 1987 National Champion Daryl Thomas,” the university said in a release. “Our prayers go out to his family, friends, teammates and coaches and all others who he had an impact on throughout his life.”

Thomas signed with legendary Hoosier coach Bob Knight out of St. Joseph’s High School in Chicago in 1983 and his collegiate journey wasn’t exactly smooth.

Like many of the Indiana players, he was challenged verbally, early and often, by Knight, which was detailed in the best-selling book “A Season on the Brink,” by award-winning author John Feinstein.

The Hoosiers advanced to the 1984 NCAA Tournament in Thomas’ freshman season, but struggled to just 19 wins in 1985 and competed in the NIT, a particularly difficult year for the players in the Indiana program.

As a junior, Thomas helped his team win 21 games and get back to the NCAA Tournament, but the Hoosiers were upset in the opening round by Cleveland State. However, the work put in paid off in 1987 as the Hoosiers knocked off favored UNLV and Syracuse in the Final Four to win the national championship, of which Thomas played a huge part.

Trailing 73-72 in the final moments of the championship game, Thomas caught a pass on the left block as the clock ticked down. However, he had the presence to see an open teammate (guard Keith Smart) on the wing ready to catch-and-shoot, so Thomas hit him with a pass and Smart buried the game-winner.

“Not very many players are remembered for the shot that they didn’t take,” Sturgeon said of Thomas. “That is a pretty unique legacy.”

Thomas was an effective player (he finished 47th in career scoring for the program), but Knight – and the Indiana fans – often lauded him for his unselfishness, not his production, at the most critical time.

That final act – and the championship that resulted from it – added another chapter in the Hoosiers’ tradition and made Thomas a legend for life in Bloomington.

Indiana has won five national championships during four different decades, which leads to multiple generations having been raised to worship the guys in the candy-striped warm-ups.

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of Hoosier legend and National Champion Daryl Thomas,” Miller said in a release. “He was beloved by his teammates and coaches. Our prayers go out to his wife, Marta, his children, and the Montini Catholic High School community he served.”

For more on college basketball, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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