This is the third and final part of my series on Indiana Basketball’s First and Second Team All-Americans. Parts One and Two took us through the great Walt Bellamy.
Our next stop lets me, as a writer, get into my generation of Indiana Basketball. The guys I am going to write about in this part of the series are guys I have gotten to watch play personally, so I am able to speak about them from a different perspective.
And we start with arguably the best of all the All-American players to ever suit up for IU.
Hoosier legend Isiah Thomas earned All-American honors in 1981, the same year he led Indiana to its fourth National Championship. There can be little argument that Isiah has been Indiana’s most successful professional player following his two years at Indiana, but he was awfully good at Indiana. He was so good, in fact, that Coach Knight had to release the reigns a little and let Isiah go be Isiah.
In 1980, Isiah’s freshman season, Indiana had a good season, winning the Big Ten title. Eventually, their season ended in a bitter Sweet Sixteen loss to rival Purdue. In 1981 the Hoosiers, led by Thomas and another future pro, Randy Wittman, won another Big Ten title and went into the NCAA Tournament as a #3 seed. The Hoosiers rolled to the championship with Isiah earning the Most Outstanding Player honors in the Final Four.
Following the season, Thomas made the decision—with Coach Knight’s support—to leave for the NBA. It was clear to everyone that he was ready. He would go on to be a 12-time NBA All-Star, a back-to-back NBA Champion in 1988-89 and 1989-90. Isiah is considered by many to be one of the 5 greatest points guards in NBA history and was an obvious choice for the Naismith Hall of Fame.
Isiah Thomas would go on to coach in the NBA and the NCAA but did not find the same success he did as a player. Thomas is still a familiar face in NBA television coverage.
As mentioned earlier, Randy Wittman was a member of the 1981 NCAA Championship team, but his Second Team All-American honors came following his performance in the 1982-83 season. He was also the Big Ten Payer of the Year that season. At one point during that season, Indiana was ranked # 1 in the country and looked to be a strong contender for the national championship. However, the season was derailed by an injury to one of the team’s best players, Ted Kitchel. They did win another Big Ten Championship but eventually fell to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen.
Wittman went on the be the 22nd pick in the 1983 NBA Draft, and he played 8 seasons in the league. Following his playing career, he got into coaching at the NBA level. He worked several seasons as an assistant and has had three head coaching gigs in the league as well—Cleveland, Minnesota, and Washington.
Few other players in Indiana history create the ‘what ifs’ in Hoosier fan’s minds as Jay Edwards. Jay played only two seasons at Indiana, after winning three consecutive Indiana state titles at Marion High School.
Edwards was one of the smoothest players and best shooters the program has ever seen. His 53.6% 3-point field goal percentage as a freshman still stands as an NCAA freshman single-season record. In his freshman season, Edwards was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. In 1989, he led Indiana to a Big Ten title while averaging 20.0 points a game.
In a controversial decision, Edwards decided to leave Indiana at the end of his sophomore season to enter the NBA Draft. He was a second-round pick, 33rd overall in the 1989 NBA Draft. The decision to go pro did not work out well for Edwards unfortunately. He played only four games in his injury-riddled rookie season, and then came the infamous failed drug test. Edwards would never play another NBA game.
Indiana fans still love Jay Edwards and remember him as one of the best shooters, and most clutch players who ever played at Indiana. We all hate that he left after his sophomore year, just as Edwards does. We all wish he would have played at least another year in Bloomington, grown up some more, and gone into the NBA ready to have the kind of career he was capable of. We will always wonder, “What if….?”
Calbert Cheaney was voted an All-American by different groups in his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. But in 1993 he was a consensus First Team All-American. On top of that, Calbert literally won every Player of the Year Award in college basketball. Wikipedia says 12 of them.
Calbert finished his career as the all-time leading scorer in not only Indiana history but in Big Ten history as well. 2,613 points. An insane number by any standard. Think about all the great players who have played in the Big Ten, and none of them had the career that Calbert Cheaney had.
But Calbert wasn’t just a smooth, left-handed scoring machine, he was a heck of a leader too. In Cheaney’s four seasons, Indiana went an incredible 105-27, won a couple of Big Ten Championships, and made it to the 1992 Final Four. The Cheaney years were some of the most successful in program history, even though Calbert was unable to bring home the program’s 6th NCAA crown.
Cheaney was 6th pick in the 1993 NBA Draft, and he played 13 seasons in the league. After his playing career, Cheaney got into coaching where he has gained experience at both the NBA and collegiate level. He did spend some time on Tom Crean’s staff at Indiana, before leaving to become an assistant under Jim Crews at St. Louis. Calbert is currently an assistant coach with the Indiana Pacers, and it appears as though new (and also old) Pacer’s coach Rick Carlisle is planning to keep Cheaney on staff.
AJ Guyton was one of the last players to play an entire four years for legendary coach, Bob Knight. He played for Knight and Indiana from 1996-2000. While Guyton’s era at Indiana was not as successful as he would have liked, that didn’t stop AJ from shining brightly. A silky-smooth player, Guyton was the Co-Big Ten Player of the Year in 2000 and a First Team All-American selection.
WASHINGTON, DC – MARCH 12: Head coach Bobby Knight of the Indiana Hoosiers talks with A.J. Guyton #25 during a first round NCAA Tournament basketball game against the Oklahoma Sooners on March 12, 1998 at the MCI Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Guyton finished his Indiana career fourth all-time in scoring with 2,100 points. Guyton was the 32nd pick in the 2000 NBA Draft. He played for the Chicago Bulls from 2000-2002, and then briefly with the Golden State Warriors in the 2002-2003 season.
Following his playing career, Guyton has spent time in both coaching and administration with several different organizations.
AJ has maintained a love of Indiana basketball long after his playing days have passed and currently hosts a podcast called House of Hoosier, where he interviews mostly former Indiana players, and they discuss their time at Indiana. It is a great podcast. If you have never listened, you should. You will really enjoy the inside look at what it’s like to play at Indiana University.
Indiana’s last great NCAA Tournament run was led by another Indiana All-American, Jared Jefferies. Jeffries was a highly recruited star at Bloomington North High School and when he chose to stay home and play for Indiana, it was a big deal.
Jeffries was a very skilled big man, who did a little bit of everything on the basketball court. As a freshman, Jeffries was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. In his stellar sophomore season, he was the Big Ten Player of the Year and a Second Team All-American selection.
That sophomore season saw Indiana make an unexpected run all the way to the national title game, where they lost to an incredibly good Maryland team. Indiana hasn’t been back to the Final Four since.
The thing I remember about Jeffries’s sophomore season was his ability to dominate stretches of games on both ends of the floor. Not only was Jeffries a good scorer who could shoot it a little too, but he was also an exceptional defender. In fact, defense was the niche’ that kept Jefferies in the NBA from 2002-2013. He had been the 11th pick in the 2002 NBA Draft.
Good old DJ White. You talk about a young man that went through a lot during his playing days at Indiana from 2004-2008. White was a McDonald’s All-American who came to IU to play for Mike Davis, yet ended up watching Davis resign under duress following DJ’s injury-marred sophomore season. DJ then chose to stay and play for the new coach, Kelvin Sampson. DJ would outlast him as well. He finished out his career with an interim coach, Dan Dakich.
Despite having to navigate all of that, DJ was still phenomenal playing for the Hoosiers. In his first season, White was the Big Ten Freshman of the Year. In his junior season, he was Second Team All-Big Ten. By his senior season, White was the Big Ten Player of the Year and a Second Team All-American.
Because of missing most of his sophomore season due to a broken foot, White had received a medical redshirt, and he could have returned to play for Indiana in 2008-2009, under new coach, Tom Crean. If he had chosen to stay the crater left by Kelvin Sampson probably wouldn’t have gotten so deep.
However, DJ chose to leave and enter the NBA Draft, and who could blame him? He was the 29th pick in the 2008 Draft, and he bounced in and out of the NBA for seven injury-riddled seasons.
As good as DJ was during such a tumultuous time in Indiana’s history, you have to wonder how good he could have been, had he not faced so much turmoil during his time at IU.
You would be hard-pressed to find a player that meant as much to the Indiana program as Cody Zellar did. Not only because of his success on the court for the Hoosiers—and there was plenty of that—but because of the time in which the Washington, Indiana native chose to come to Indiana.
Indiana had been mired in the post-Kelvin Sampson crater and had won 6 games in 2008-09, and 10 in 2009-10. Cody’s older brothers had chosen to play at Notre Dame (Luke) and North Carolina (Tyler), but Cody—seemingly defying all logic—chose to bet on Crean and Indiana. It was, in my opinion, one of the biggest commitments in Indiana history.
Cody’s bet paid off. Little did he know at the time, he would find himself paired with the highest NBA draft pick Indiana had produced since Isiah Thomas, and they two would take Indiana from the cellar of the Big Ten to the 2013 Big Ten Regular Season Championship in Cody’s two seasons.
In the 2013 season, the Hoosiers also achieved a #1 ranking in the polls and a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. It was a remarkable turnaround and would not have been possible without Zeller.
Cody was outstanding individually as well, winning the Big Ten Freshmen of the Year in 2012, as well as Second Team All-Big Ten. In his sophomore season, Zeller was First Team All-Big Ten and a consensus Second Team All-American.
Cody decided to enter the 2013 NBA Draft and was chosen as the #4 pick by the Charlotte Bobcats (now the Hornets). Cody was selected Second Team All-Rookie Team following his first season, and he has played 8 seasons for Charlotte, where he is still a valued part of the team.
When Victor Oladipo stepped foot on the Indiana campus in 2010, nobody had any idea how good this guy was about to be. Only a three-star recruit, Oladipo’s development at Indiana was incredible. From his freshmen season to his sophomore one, Oladipo was the team’s most improved player. In his junior year, Oladipo developed into one of the nation’s best players alongside sophomore Cody Zeller.
The 2012-2013 Indiana Hoosiers were one of the best Indiana teams that Indiana had seen in an awfully long time, achieving a #1 ranking, and earning a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
As a junior Oladipo was First Team All-Big Ten, Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, and a First Team All-American. His impressive performance made him the #2 pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. That was the highest any Indiana player had been drafted since Isiah Thomas.
During his time in the NBA, Oladipo had earned all kinds of awards: First Team All-Rookie (2014), NBA Steals Leader (2018), NBA Most Improved Player (2018), NBA All-Defensive First Team (2018), All-NBA Third (2018), and an NBA All-Star Game two times (2018, 2019). Not a bad body of work.
Unfortunately, Oladipo has also dealt with several severe injuries over the last few years, and he has already played for 5 different NBA franchises. Everyone’s hope is that Victor can eventually get and stay healthy and regain, at least to some extent, the level of play that earned him two All-Star appearances.
So, there you have it. That is an overview of all of Indiana Universities First and Second Team All-Americans. I hope you have enjoyed revisiting these Hoosier legends as much as I have. Hopefully, we can add another name to this list soon!