Best Indiana University Basketball Players of All Time
You will find few places in the world where basketball means more to the people who live there than in Bloomington, Indiana, home to the Indiana University (IU) men's basketball team.
Basketball and Indiana have always gone hand-in-hand on every level — high school, college and pro — but nowhere is that relationship more defined than when the Hoosiers take the court at Assembly Hall. It is here where college basketball fandom seems to reach its true, peak definition.
Now in its 122nd year of college basketball, Indiana has won five national championships and produced some of the most legendary moments and players in NCAA history. These are the greatest IU basketball players of all time.
10. Kent Benson
Height/Weight: 6-foot-11, 235 pounds
College highlights: NCAA champion (1976), NCAA Final Four Most Outstand Player (1976), Helms Foundation Player of the Year (1976), two-time AP All-American (1976, 1977)
Bottom line: Kent Benson is one of two players from New Castle Chrysler (Ind.) High to make this list and is one of three players from Indiana's unbeaten, 1975-76 NCAA championship team to make it. During Benson's sophomore and junior seasons, Indiana went 63-1 while he averaged 16.1 points, 8.9 rebounds and shot almost 60 percent from the field in that stretch.
Benson was selected No. 1 overall in the 1977 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks and played 11 seasons in the NBA. Unfortunately for Benson, any notes on his NBA career track directly to the first two minutes of his first game when Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar broke his hand punching Benson in the jaw.
9. George McGinnis
Position: Power Forward
Height/Weight: 6-foot-8, 235 pounds
College highlights: AP All-American (1971), All-Big Ten (1971)
Bottom line: Indianapolis native George McGinnis was truly a player ahead of his time when it came to his college career. He was at Indiana for just two seasons — he was ineligible as a freshman — before he left to begin his pro basketball career. And rightfully so.
McGinnis is the only player to make this list who only played one season at Indiana (sorry, Eric Gordon). He lit up the Big Ten in that one season, leading the league with averages of 29.9 points and 14.7 rebounds.
McGinnis went directly to the ABA's Indiana Pacers after his sophomore year at Indiana, leading the franchise to back-to-back ABA championships and was named ABA Most Valuable Player in 1975. McGinnis made the move to the NBA in 1975 with the Philadelphia 76ers and became a three-time NBA All-Star and three-time All-NBA Team selection.
8. Alan Henderson
Position: Power Forward
Height/Weight: 6-foot-9, 235 pounds
College highlights: NABC All-American (1995), Big Ten champion (1993), NCAA Final Four (1992), All-Big Ten (1995)
Bottom line: Indianapolis native Alan Henderson played all four years under Bob Knight and teamed with Calbert Cheaney to help lead the Hoosiers to a Final Four appearance as a freshman in 1992, the NCAA Elite Eight in 1993 and the NCAA Sweet 16 in 1994.
Henderson remains Indiana's career-leading rebounder and is the only player in school history in the top five for scoring, rebounding, blocked shots and steals. Henderson played 12 seasons in the NBA and was named NBA Most Improved Player in 1998. But he was also known just as much for his academic prowess — after receiving his degree in biology, he was accepted into medical school at Indiana as well as at Howard.
7. Scott May
Position: Small Forward
Height/Weight: 6-foot-7, 215 pounds
College highlights: NCAA champion (1976), Naismith College Player of the Year (1976), Adolph Rupp Trophy (1976), AP College Player of the Year (1976), NABC Player of the Year (1976), UPI College Player of the Year (1976), Sporting News College Player of the Year (1976), two-time AP All-American (1975, 1976), three-time Big Ten champion (1974-76), two-time All-Big Ten (1975, 1976), Olympic gold medalist (1976)
Bottom line: Indiana may have very well won back-to-back NCAA championships in 1975 and 1976 were it not for a broken arm suffered by star small forward Scott May late in the 1974-75 season.
May returned with a vengeance as a senior in 1975-76, helping lead the Hoosiers to an unbeaten season and the NCAA championship, while sweeping all of the major college player of the year awards that season after leading the team in scoring. May was the No. 2 overall pick in the 1976 NBA Draft by the Chicago Bulls and played 12 seasons of pro basketball in the NBA and in Europe. May's son, Sean May, won an NCAA championship with North Carolina in 2005, making them just one of four father-son duos to accomplish the feat.
6. Victor Oladipo
Position: Shooting Guard
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 210 pounds
College highlights: Sporting News Player of the Year (2013), Adolph Rupp Trophy (2013), AP All-American (2013), NABC Defensive Player of the Year (2013), Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year (2013), All-Big Ten (2013), two-time Big Ten All-Defensive Team (2012, 2013)
Bottom line: Victor Oladipo played for legendary coach Morgan Wooten at Dematha Catholic High before picking Indiana because of its "basketball atmosphere," and Hoosier fans got three seasons of lockdown defense and rim-rattling dunks in return.
When Oladipo wasn't flying above the rim he was shutting down the leading scorer for whatever team Indiana faced — he was a two-time Big Ten All-Defensive Team pick and the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year in 2013.
Oladipo left college with one year of eligibility remaining and was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2013 NBA Draft by the Orlando Magic. Currently in his 10th year in the NBA, he has been a two-time NBA All-Star and was named NBA Most Improved Player in 2018, which was the same year he was named to the All-NBA Team and NBA All-Defensive Team.
5. Walt Bellamy
Height/Weight: 6-foot-11, 225 pounds
College highlights: Two-time AP All-American (1960, 1961), Olympic gold medalist (1960)
Bottom line: Walt Bellamy was a player who could have thrived in any era. He decided to play college basketball for Indiana because it was the closest school to his hometown of New Bern, North Carolina, that would accept African Americans.
Bellamy lit up the Big Ten in three seasons — freshmen weren't allowed to play varsity at the time — becoming a two-time All-American and Olympic gold medal winner for Team USA in 1960 alongside Oscar Robertson, Jerry West and Jerry Lucas.
Bellamy played 13 seasons in the NBA, where he averaged 20.1 points, 13.7 rebounds and was a four-time NBA All-Star. Bellamy died in 2013, at 74 years old.
4. Calbert Cheaney
Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward
Height/Weight: 6-foot-7, 210 pounds
College highlights: National College Player of the Year (1993), three-time AP All-American (1991-93), Big Ten Player of the Year (1993), three-time All-Big Ten (1991-93), two-time Big Ten champion (1991, 1993), NCAA Final Four (1992)
Bottom line: Calbert Cheaney was an oddity when he first arrived on Indiana's campus as a freshman in the fall of 1989 for several reasons. He was the first left-handed player to ever play for Bob Knight, and he'd missed most of his senior season of high school basketball because of an injury.
Cheaney would end his career at Indiana as one of the most decorated players in school history as a three-time AP All-American who led the Hoosiers to the Final Four as a junior, earned National Player of the Year honors as a senior and is still the Big Ten's career leading scorer. During the last three seasons he played for the Hoosiers, they were ranked in the Top 10 for all but two weeks.
Cheaney was drafted No. 6 overall in the 1993 NBA Draft by the Washington Bullets and played 13 seasons in the NBA for five different teams.
3. Steve Alford
Height/Weight: 6-foot-2, 185 pounds
College highlights: NCAA champion (1987), two-time AP All-American (1986, 1987), three-time All-Big Ten (1985-87), Big Ten Most Valuable Player (1987), Big Ten champion (1987), Olympic gold medalist (1984)
Bottom line: One of the most celebrated high school basketball players in Indiana history, Steve Alford was named Indiana's Mr. Basketball and stayed in-state to play for Bob Knight and the Hoosiers.
Alford and Knight not only teamed up to win a national championship together in 1987, but they were also together on the 1984 Olympic basketball team that included Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin. Alford, who was also a two-time All-American at Indiana, finished his career as the school's career leading scorer.
Alford played four seasons of the NBA and has been a head college basketball coach since 1991, starting his career at NCAA Division III Manchester (Ind.) before stints at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico, UCLA and Nevada, where he's been the coach since 2019.
2. Quinn Buckner
Position: Point Guard
Height/Weight: 6-foot-3, 190 pounds
College highlights: NCAA champion (1976), NABC All-American (1975), two-time All-Big Ten (1974, 1975), four-time Big Ten champion (1973-76)
Bottom line: Quinn Buckner remains the only high schooler to be named Chicago Area Player of the Year in both football and basketball, and Thornridge High's 1972 state championship team in basketball is widely considered one of the greatest high school basketball teams of all time.
Buckner would continue winning titles in college, leading Indiana to an undefeated season and NCAA championship in 1975-76 and four consecutive Big Ten titles from 1973 to 1976. Indiana's unbeaten 1976 NCAA championship team is actually the last men's team to go unbeaten and win the NCAA title.
But Bucker wasn't done winning titles once he left Indiana. He played 10 seasons in the NBA, where he was a four-time NBA All-Defensive Team selection and won an NBA championship with the Boston Celtics in 1984.
1. Isiah Thomas
Position: Point Guard
Height/Weight: 6-foot, 180 pounds
College highlights: NCAA champion (1981), NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player (1981), AP All-American (1981), USA Basketball Male Athlete of the Year (1980), two-time Big Ten champion (1980-81)
Bottom line: Arguably the greatest point guard of all time behind Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas was a schoolboy legend out of Chicago who didn't actually pick Indiana as his college choice … it was his late mother, Mary, who had the final say.
Thomas thrived under Bob Knight during two seasons in Bloomington, winning back-to-back Big Ten championships and leading the Hoosiers to the 1981 NCAA championship as a sophomore, when he was named Final Four Most Outstanding Player.
Thomas left school early to enter the NBA Draft — almost unheard of in that era — and was selected No. 2 overall by the Detroit Pistons. He is now a member of both the College Basketball Hall of Fame and the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.