Richmond reached the pinnacle of Indiana high school basketball in 1992, but the seeds of that championship were sown seven years earlier.
If not for the Red Devils’ 1985 team, the ’92 state championship run doesn’t happen. Of that, George Griffith is convinced.
The veteran coach, an Indiana Basketball Hall of Famer, came to Richmond three years prior, lured by the prospect of Tiernan Center and the regional tournament it would bring to town.
The Red Devils lost in Griffith’s first two sectional tournaments, both played at New Castle, but the building of Tiernan Center cemented both a sectional and regional tournament at Richmond.
With that, Griffith received a message from his principal prior to the 1984-85 season.
“(He) said,” Griffith recalled, 30 years later, “‘I just want to tell you, Griff, you probably ought to win the sectional and regional this year.'”
Richmond would do that. And more.
Getting right on the road
Tiernan Center was the start, but it wouldn’t have worked had it not been for the team that called the 8,069-seat venue home.
The Red Devils returned four starters from the previous year — all seniors — in Todd Graf, John Brown, Kyle Clark and Dennis Williams.
The fifth starter also was a senior. Chris Allen was the final piece of Richmond’s starting five, but not the final piece in the Red Devils’ state puzzle. Brent Hampton, Tony Tevis, Mark Laswell, Lance Powell, Devin Johnson, Jerry Coleman and Woody Austin proved their worth off the bench, with Scott Kern, Troy Hildreth and Bobby O’Brien also seeing playing time.
Coleman and Austin would reach the state finals again, in 1987. But it started here.
“We worked very well with each other,” Williams said. “We knew each other. There was just so much great chemistry with that team. You could put anybody in off the bench. Everybody knew their position and knew where they were supposed to be.
“I knew Kyle and Todd at elementary school, at Dennis. It just all came together.”
But not without a lot of work.
Richmond struggled on the road in the North Central Conference that season. The Red Devils finished sixth in the conference without a single NCC win away from Tiernan Center.
Richmond was 11-4 when the Red Devils traveled to Middletown, Ohio, for an early February road trip.
It was a game Griffith called “the turning point for Richmond basketball under me.”
The Red Devils spent the entire junior varsity game in the locker room, hashing out grievances and clearing the air.
“I could not get across to those kids that they were able to win a state championship, if they just came together,” Griffith said.
“The B team game was over, and we had not reached them.”
Then the 6-foot-4, 290-pound Brown spoke. Followed by Graf. Then Clark. Then Williams.
Richmond went out and dominated the Middies. Brown scored 21 points with nine rebounds. Williams missed just two shots all night. Graf dunked the ball three times, and the Red Devils were off and running.
“We were set,” Griffith said.
“It was one of those things where you bond a little closer,” Clark said. “There were some things exchanged in there. I think we felt a lot more as a team after that.”
‘As long as somebody did’
The Red Devils played like a team.
Richmond’s next game was an overtime thriller with Lafayette Jeff that went to the Red Devils 68-64.
How the game got to overtime was special. Williams drained a 55-footer to guarantee the extra session.
Shots like that earned him the nickname of “Mr. Clutch,” a title one of the Red Devils’ go-to scorers would live up to on more than one occasion.
When Richmond played Muncie North prior to the Middletown game, Williams pulled RHS within one late in the game, then spurred the Red Devils to a 58-57 victory when he drained the game-winning bucket, dribbling the length of the court before pulling up for a 22-foot jumper.
Williams averaged 15.4 points a game on the season, just a tad ahead of Brown’s 15.3.
Graf would be an Indiana All-Star that year (and, 25 years later, a member of the Hall of Fame’s Silver Anniversary team), as he provided 14.3 points a game, with Clark averaging 7.1 as the team’s top free-throw shooter.
“We felt we were as good as anybody,” Clark said.
“We were always close. We always played well together as a team. From my point of view, I got the impression we didn’t care who scored, as long as somebody did.”
This was a team that, at times, was showing it could be every bit as good as Griffith imagined the Red Devils would be.
“I look at it as though it was coming along in the making,” Williams said.
Home is where the Red Devils shine
Part of what made this team special was their home.
They were the last team in Civic Hall, and the first in Tiernan Center.
The two venues were very different. Fans were up close at Civic Hall, creating an atmosphere Williams compared to Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“It was a chemistry in Civic Hall that I just can’t explain,” Williams said. “When we got to Tiernan Center, even though it was more people, it took us a while to feel at home. It was just something that when we started winning, it was just like, ‘Wow.'”
Williams now lives in Ohio, but when he talks basketball, the conversation inevitably steers toward Indiana and the Hoosier state’s passion for the game.
“They laugh at me when I tell them we could cancel school in Indiana and still have a game and it would be packed. That’s just what Indiana people do — we go to basketball games.”
They came to Tiernan to watch as Richmond christened the facility’s initial sectional tournament with three victories. The Red Devils dispatched Winchester and Lincoln before halting Union City 68-61 in the final for the program’s first sectional title under Griffith, and first since 1980.
Graf now lives in Lubbock, Texas, a state that is every bit as crazy for football as Indiana is for basketball. This time of year, though, is especially memorable for Hoosiers.
“It was obviously a great time, a fun run,” Graf said. “As a group, we were together for three years, a lot of work, a lot of sacrifice. That month was really the payoff.
“The whole community got behind the team. It was all success, until the end.”
Richmond stayed home for the regional, opening with an 84-60 win over Milan.
Then came Connersville.
Richmond defeated the rival Spartans 73-68 in the regular season, and there was no love lost between the teams.
“They hated us so bad,” Williams recalled.
The Spartans took the lead into halftime, 19-18, but the tide already was swaying Richmond’s way. The Red Devils scored the final points of the half after Hampton hit two free throws and Williams connected on a jumper.
Momentum still was on Richmond’s side to start the third quarter. Williams made another shot quickly in the second half for the 20-19 lead, and the Red Devils never looked back — instead looking straight down Interstate 70 to Indianapolis — and to Hinkle Fieldhouse.
“That was the first thrill,” Griffith said.
Sinking the jinx
Hinkle Fieldhouse notoriously had been rotten to the Red Devils over the years. The storied arena on the campus of Butler University had been the site of so many Richmond disappointments that the phrase “Hinkle Jinx” had been coined.
Mike Lopresti used the term in a Palladium-Item story on March 11, 1973. But the Richmond native and national sportswriter didn’t take credit for its creation in a story that appeared in the paper prior to the 1985 semistate.
Richmond last played at Hinkle in 1977 when John Williams, a cousin to Dennis, led the Red Devils to their fifth regional title in six years in the final year for legendary coach Dick Baumgartner.
“It was very disappointing when my high school always went there. We already knew the outcome,” Williams said of previous trips to Hinkle.
“I think all the people who had been around a while just thought it wasn’t possible,” Graf said. “It was just kind of a stigma.
“I still think it was the best gym I’ve played in. It was a great atmosphere.”
The Red Devils lost there in 1953, when it was still called Butler Fieldhouse, in the morning game of the Final Four.
They couldn’t find a way to escape those walls in several trips in the 1960s and ’70s.
But if a jinx did exist in regards to the Red Devils, the players didn’t know — or particularly care — about it. Future Mr. Basketball Woody Austin was unaware of any “Hinkle Jinx.” Coleman and Hampton hadn’t heard of it either, and Laswell flat out didn’t believe in the jinx.
Richmond had “too good of a team to lose,” he said at the time.
Maybe they did. But that didn’t mean someone wasn’t going to try to knock them off.
That first someone turned out to be Bloomington South. It was an epic game with yet another “Mr. Clutch” sighting. Williams scored seven points in overtime, and Richmond was on its way to the semistate final with a 67-61 victory.
That game remains special for Jan Clark, father to Kyle and a former sports editor of the Palladium-Item.
At the time, Jan was doing color commentary for Richmond’s radio broadcasts. He asked, just for this one game, if he could do the play-by-play.
“What a thrill that was for me,” Jan said. “It was in Hinkle Fieldhouse. It was a huge crowd. I count it as a special moment in my life.”
It was a series of special moments for father and son. Jan had one of the best seats in the house to watch his son’s senior season, a season that extended on, and on, and on.
“I remember those years like yesterday,” Jan said. “It was very, very difficult to be objective.”
“That was fun, to have him be a part of it that way,” Kyle Clark said.
It provided a small moment between father and son later that night.
The Red Devils faced Muncie South in the final. There was a loose ball, a Muncie South turnover, in the second half. The ball went past Kyle Clark and out of bounds, then took two or three bounces before landing right into the hands of Jan Clark.
“He caught it on the sidelines and he threw it right back to me,” Kyle Clark said. “Just to know he was that close, and so much a part of it, to share it in that way was very special.”
The semistate final was a little less difficult than the game with Bloomington South. Richmond emphatically thumped Muncie South 78-61, paced by Graf’s 28 points and the Red Devils’ 19-of-21 performance from the field in the second half.
Graf had been in foul trouble against Bloomington South, something he avoided later that night.
“Had everybody else not come through in that game, we never would have made it to state,” Graf said.
But make it they did.
The “Hinkle Jinx” finally was gone. Market Square Arena was next.
“We got out of there,” Griffith said.
The semistate disappointment was over for Richmond, but a Giant eventually would be waiting.
But first came East Chicago Washington.
The Generals were the Red Devils’ opponent in that first state semifinal game, a 24-1 squad ranked fourth that was quick and liked to pressure.
The Generals also were facing an IHSAA investigation for allegedly scrimmaging with alumni and college players. Not that it mattered. Not to the Red Devils, at least.
Hampton scored 21 points on 8-of-10 shooting from the field, Brown struck for 10 points in the fourth quarter alone, three other Devils finished in double figures and Richmond suddenly was in uncharted territory after an 85-79 win.
The team was the first from Richmond in 32 years to reach the Final Four, and the first Red Devil squad to ever play for a state title.
One more obstacle blocked Richmond’s path in its quest for the program’s first championship — and it was a big one.
Unbeaten Marion, coached by Bill Green and featuring a loaded lineup of Jay Teagle, Lefon Bowens, Lyndon Jones and Jay Edwards, upended Southridge in the other semifinal.
It was a rematch the Red Devils wanted. They had fallen to the No. 1 Giants 62-54 on a Friday in the NCC game during the regular season, then turned around to face No. 2 Fort Wayne Northrup the next night, dropping that game 72-68 after leading by 18 at halftime.
Those games preceded the locker room meeting in Middletown that changed the Red Devils’ season.
“We felt all year long that we could play, and play with anybody in the state, but we had to prove it night in and night out,” Clark said.
Marion proved to be too much.
The Giants sizzled from the start, leading 16-2 on 8-of-8 shooting.
Richmond closed the gap, but not by enough. Marion led 41-30 at halftime on the way to a 74-67 victory — the first of three straight state championships.
“We were all about playing Marion in the championship. We spent a lot of time talking about that,” said Graf, who was awarded the Arthur L. Trester Mental Attitude Award at the conclusion of the game. “They came out blistering hot in the first quarter. We whittled it back and almost caught them. We just needed more time. We just ran out of time in the end. We just couldn’t overcome the barrage at the beginning.”
Jones and Edwards would share Mr. Basketball honors in 1987 — and once more dash Richmond’s hopes of a state title that year.
It wasn’t until the season after Marion’s third championship that Griffith would get his elusive first victory over the Giants. Richmond halted Marion 96-77 during the ’87-88 season.
“It took me a long time to beat Bill Green,” Griffith said.
But he did. And, eventually, Griffith would get Richmond its state title, too.
Finally, a state title
The Red Devils fell in the regional to Connersville in double overtime in 1986 before reaching the state final again in 1987. This time, the Red Devils were overpowered by Marion 69-56.
But Richmond’s time was coming.
When RHS finally broke through, the Red Devils did so in style. They ended the season with a trio of heart-stopping games.
First was Ben Davis, a 79-76 win for the Red Devils in the semistate final with a last-second shot by Billy Wright. Next was Jeffersonville and a 94-92 overtime win for the Red Devils in the state semifinal game.
Then came Lafayette Jeff, and yet another overtime. Chad Austin kept the Red Devils alive with a 3-pointer in regulation, and Richmond went on to end years of frustration with a 77-73 victory.
And it all started back in 1985.
“The ’85 team, solidified by the ’87 and ’88 teams … that changed everything around. After that, we were a state power,” Griffith said.
Griffith told the 1984-85 team at a reunion picnic two years ago they were responsible for the eventual state championship.
“There has always been a great, great basketball tradition in Richmond,” Clark said. “I think there were probably better teams than us, certainly in the ’70s, but they just never got over the hump. They never made it past semistate.
“By doing what we did, I think it kind of raised the bar of expectations to say it can be done. It’s certainly not impossible.”
Current Richmond coach Joe Luce led Marion before coming to Wayne County and took the Giants to the Class 4A title game in 2008. Like Griffith before him, Luce also erased a Richmond postseason drought, guiding the Red Devils to a sectional title last season after going nearly two decades without one.
Those battles in the 1980s between the Red Devils and Giants were inspiring.
“The glory days of the NCC and the glory days of the Indiana high school state tournament definitely are wrapped around the 1985 tournament with Richmond and Marion,” Luce said. “Those are classic games that you can pull back anybody that was there and they would tell you that those were memorable times of their lives, being in a sold-out crowd and seeing the likes of the Marion Giants and the Richmond Red Devils go at it.
“Just a fantastic time for Indiana high school basketball that made me want to be a coach.”
Those games also provided lasting memories for the players involved. Brown even told the Palladium-Item during the Red Devils’ 1984-85 tournament run, “I’m getting to the point where I don’t want to stop playing basketball.”
“It’s something I’ll never forget,” Clark said. “I loved playing with everybody. We had a great experience. I wish every Richmond team could experience that, but I guess that’s what makes it special because it doesn’t happen every year.”
“I just wish we could play Marion one more time,” Williams mused. “I wish we could play (them) tonight.”
Jesus Jimenez contributed to this story. Josh Chapin: (765) 973-4463 email@example.com or twitter.com/JoshChapinPI