INDIANAPOLIS — There were plenty of happy faces after New Albany won its second boys’ basketball state championship Saturday night at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.
The Bulldogs (27-1), winners of their last 24 games, took the school’s first title since 1973 with a 62-59 win over McCutcheon.
After Bulldog coach Jim Shannon cut the nets at one end, he handed the other second pair of scissors to athletic director Don Unruh. By IHSAA rules, only two individuals can cut nets down after a championship game.
For Unruh, his thoughts went back to 1996 — 20 years ago — when a Ben Davis player hit a 3-pointer in double overtime to keep New Albany from winning the title in a 57-54 final.
It took awhile but Unruh — who became the school’s athletic director when Shannon came aboard — finally got his title.
“It was such a big thrill,” Unruh said after he cuts the nets. “I appreciate it so much. I appreciate him (Shannon) so much. And for him to be that thoughtful, that’s just him. That’s just the way he is.
“That’s why our players play so hard and so well for him,” Unruh said of Shannon, who won his first state championship in his first title-game appearance. “Part of our success is what he brings on a personal level to every single one of these kids. It’s such a great gesture on his part.”
Earlier this week, Shannon — coaching his 18th season at New Albany — spoke of the patience given him by the administration.
During his 18 years, Shannon won 10 sectional titles but never could get to the state title game. Through just a little thin and plenty of thick, Unruh kept his trust in Shannon.
“It’s easy to have patience with a guy who does such a good job every single day,” Unruh said. “We’re so lucky to have him.
“He relates so well to the kids, not just to his team,” Unruh said of Shannon. “You’ll see him at football games, at volleyball. … He has a way about him that gets the best out of people.”
Unruh said he’s waited 20 years since they lost to that title game to Ben Davis — two years before class basketball began.
For Unruh, it was hard to put to words what the title means to the basketball-crazed community of New Albany.
“This means so much to our community,” Unruh said as he glanced into the three decks of cavernous Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “Look at our crowd; look at all our people.”
The New Albany following, as it has all year, dwarfed its opposition in the stands. At the regional, more than 6,000 New Albany fans gobbled up tickets. When they went three hours to Richmond, they outnumbered Southport 2-to-1. On Saturday night, the Bulldog following likely approached 10,000 against McCutcheon.
For the state title game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the New Albany administration was given 3,700 in its original allotment of tickets. Those were quickly sold.
“On Thursday morning, I drove to meet the IHSAA in Columbus and got about 700 more,” Unruh said. “We had people lined up about two city blocks in the hallways and sold those out in record time.”