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State Historical Marker To Honor First IU Black Basketball Player
Updated April 5, 2017 7:06 AM
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IU Hall of Famer Bill Garrett with Coach Branch McCracken. Garrett was the first African American to play basketball in the Big Ten Conference.
bill garret.jpg

(BLOOMINGTON) - This weekend a state historical marker for Bill Garrett, Indiana University's first black basketball player, will be unveiled in front of the former old fieldhouse, Ora L. Wildermuth Intramural Center, where Garrett played.

Garrett's children, and Bob Hammel, a former Herald-Times sports editor and Tom Graham submitted the application for the historic marker.

The cast-aluminum sign, featuring a dark blue background with gold lettering, will be unveiled Saturday after a free, public ceremony set to begin at 11 a.m. in the Indiana Memorial Union's Alumni Hall. The marker will be placed in the grassy area southwest of the old fieldhouse.

Several members of Bill Garrett's family plan to attend, including his son Billy, now an assistant coach for DePaul University's men's basketball team. Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany as well as IU Trustee Quinn Buckner, who was captain of the Hoosiers' 1976 undefeated men's basketball team are sending video tributes.

Garrett was born in Shelbyville, Indiana and played basketball at Shelbyville High School. He led Shelbyville to the Indiana state championship in 1947 and was named Indiana Mr. Basketball, but no major school would offer him a scholarship.

At the time, Big Ten coaches adhered to a so-called gentlemen's agreement to keep black students from participating in basketball, swimming and wrestling.

IU head basketball coach Branch McCracken gave Garrett a chance, but not a scholarship.

Garrett was the first African-American to play on the IU basketball team and also the first to regularly start on a Big Ten team at a time when all the major mid-American conferences were exclusively white. At that time freshmen were not eligible to play varsity, but in each of Garrett's three subsequent seasons, he led the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding, setting new IU records in each category by the time he graduated in 1951. All the while, he never had another black teammate or opponent in Big Ten play. The year after he graduated, though, there were six black players on five Big Ten teams.

He was named an All-American in 1951, his senior season. He was selected by the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA draft, becoming the third black player ever drafted by an NBA team.

Garrett was drafted by the Boston Celtics, but after a two-year stint in the Army, he was released from his contract.

Shortly thereafter, Garrett was called into military duty. After two years in the U.S. Army, Garrett returned home to find that he had been cut from the Celtics, and he began playing for the Harlem Globetrotters. Following his stint with the Globetrotters, he began teaching and coaching basketball at Wood High School in Indianapolis. In 1957, he became head coach at Crispus Attucks High, which had won state championships in 1955 and 1956, led by Oscar Robertson. Garrett led Attucks to another state title in 1959. He is the only Indiana Mr. Basketball to win state championships both as a player and as a coach.

Garrett was assistant dean for student services at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at the time of his death from a heart attack, at the age of 45. He is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

Garrett was inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1974.

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