The Truth About Kentucky, Indiana Prep Hoops

Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer

Photo by VICTORIA GRAFF | Contributing Photographer

This is a tell-the-truth question, one that you may hate to answer.

In which state is basketball bigger, Kentucky or Indiana?

As much as I hate to admit it, I have to vote for the Hoosiers.

Here’s why:

When a good Kentucky team crosses the river to challenge an Indiana team, you can be sure that the visiting Kentuckians will have far fewer fans. And most of the time the Kentuckians will come home with their tails between their legs.

Let me tell a couple of Hoosier stories.

When Jeffersonville High built a new gym, I got there early to see the Red Devils play Ballard. I had a good seat right behind the scorer’s table.

One of my printer friends from The Courier-Journal Composing Room soon greeted me with, “You’re in my seat.”

“Baloney,” I told him.

He laughed and said, “Over here we have to buy season tickets and you are in mine.”

It didn’t take long before every seat was filled.

Proof from TV

Any Tuesday or Friday night when a good Louisville team travels to Indiana, I try to stay awake so I can watch  the highlights on one of our TV stations. It can be quiet and a lot of empty seats when the Louisville games are shown, but I wake up when the Indiana teams are shown because of the cheering.

My wife used to ask, “Why is there so much more interest in Indiana?”

I have just one answer: “The Ohio River is the widest in the world when it comes to basketball on both sides of the river. There’s a world of difference.”

The most recent example was the Ballard-at-Jeff game last Tuesday night. Ballard is the highest ranked team in Kentucky. Jeff is always good but the Bruins nipped the host team.

The game was on the radio, as are all big games in Indiana. Charlie Jenkins, who is the Cawood Ledford of Indiana, was doing the game as usual.

Hoosier hoops helped me get through my Army days. I did basic training in Camp Atterbury just south of Indianapolis and spent the rest of my military career at Fort Benjamin Harrison just east of Naptown.

I got to see the great Bob “Slick” Leonard’s IU teams and then the greatest player I have ever seen to this day, Oscar Robertson of Indianapolis Crispus Attucks.

The “Big O” could excel in more facets of the game than anyone else to this day.

Indiana has managed to stay ahead of Kentucky in most categories. For instance, New Castle had the biggest high school gym in the nation, but a Kentuckian, Langan Hay, of my little hometown of Irvine, was the athletic director who ran the gym. Hay had played football for UK.

Two-state champ

And just one basketball coach has guided teams to the state championship of both Indiana and Kentucky. He is the late Bill Harrell, a product of Belfry High in Pike County. He had starred in basketball at Kentucky Wesleyan when the college was in Winchester.

That reminds me that Cliff Hagan should sue Jerry Tipton of The Lexington Herald-Leader. Jerry keeps up with the birthdays of every Wildcat basketball player and he recently told the world that Cliff is 80-something. He is in great shape and could pass for 40ish.

Tennis players tell us that their sport is for a lifetime and if you could see Cliff and Billy Evans on the tennis court you would have to agree.

Why not hook shots?

I will never understand why more players don’t learn the art of the hook shot. Hagan was the greatest hook shooter in the history of basketball and it was impossible for anyone to block his shot. That included every big man from George Mikan on down.

  • Jim Steggeman

    Dear Mr. Cox,
    I have the unique (or maybe not) of having a son play high school varsity basketball and soccer at an Indiana high school and a Kentucky high school. I would agree that IN basketball is different than KY high school basketball. We could have a long discussion on both and it seems we would agree. Right now my son is playing KY high school basketball and I miss the crowds of IN high school basketball.
    Jim Steggeman