Bobby Plump and the 1954 Milan, Indiana, basketball were having an amazing year. But would they win the coveted prize – the state championship?
Basketball boosters turned their eyes to the Mighty Men of Milan as the team beat its way to the finals in 1954. Back then, no attendance classifications separated the largest schools from the smallest in the state tournament. In a state where basketball is king, all competed as equals.
In 1997, Indiana ditched its one-classification basketball tournament and divided the schools into four classes.
Among Milan’s 1954 victims was Oscar Robertson’s high school team – Crispus Attucks High School in Indianapolis. The “Big O” later went on to be regarded as one of the greatest players in NBA history and was inducted into the National Basketball Association Hall of Fame.
Still Milan romped past Oscar Robertson and Crispus Attucks. The Milan Indians cruised through the state tournament relatively easy until the final game against the Muncie Central Bearcats.
Milan head coach Marvin Wood was just 26 years old and here he and his team were playing in Indy’s enormous Butler Fieldhouse where championships were won or lost. When it was constructed in 1928, Butler Fieldhouse was not just the largest basketball venue in Indiana, it was the largest indoor arena in the world.
PLUMP’S LAST SHOT
For the final game, the fieldhouse was packed to the rafters with an estimated 15,000 people. Consider that the whole population of Milan was only 1,150. Among the awestruck fans was player Gene White’s mother. She had to sell her chickens early that year so she could go to the championship game.
The fourth quarter of the game is said to be the most famous eight minutes of schoolboy basketball in history. Muncie was ahead. Then Milan. Then Muncie. Then a tie.
Bobby had the ball with just 18 seconds remaining. The crowd was on its feet screaming as Bobby dribbled the ball down court. He glanced at the clock. Six seconds left. Time to make his move. Faking left, then right, Bobby edged up to the free throw line, jumped and shot. Fans who saw it said the large orange orb seemed to arch up and drop in slow motion