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Fortville grad Jim DeaKyne played on 1953 IU title team

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A Hancock County resident for most of his 82 years, Bill Dishman has played against or seen nearly all of the most heralded local basketball players.

As a good friend of Mike Edwards (Greenfield High School, class of 1969), Dishman was on hand for hundreds of Edwards’ 2,343 career points, the 10th most points scored in Indiana high school basketball history. And Dishman, a lifelong fan of the game, was at Greenfield-Central for several contests as John Hamilton (class of 2000) punctuated  a stellar career by joining Edwards as Hancock County’s only career 2,000-point scorers.

Of the myriad talent to emerge from each of the county’s pre- and-post consolidation schools, Dishman has “just about seen them all.” But when the conversation among Dishman and his friends turns to basketball memories, as it often does, the Greenfield resident is quick bring up a name that’s remained with him since the 1940s.

“I’ve told people many times, I always considered Jim DeaKyne the best basketball player around in his time,” Dishman said. “He never got the recognition, in my opinion, that he should have gotten.”

Dishman, a 1950 Greenfield grad, and DeaKyne, a Fortville High alum of the same year, squared off a handful of times on the basketball court, with DeaKyne’s Fortville Demons earning its most important win in their rivalry in the 1949 sectional tourney.

DeaKyne, who led Fortville with 14.6 points per game that season as a junior, helped the Demons beat Dishman’s Tigers 45-39 in the sectional semifinals. Fortville went on to defeat Franklin Township 53-32 for the title and Amo High 69-53 in the regional semifinal before falling to Summitville 61-41 in the regional championship for a final season record of 20-5.

“He was a really good rebounder and just a good all-around player,” recalled Dishman, who was a Greenfield starting guard and also the team’s leading scorer. “He had a very unusual outside shot. He shot it over his head, a two-handed overhead shot, which you would never see today, but it was very effective for him.”

DeaKyne, or “Deak” as he was known to friends, was a forward standing around 6-foot-3 who starred with then-seniors Teddy Rushton, Turman Rushton and Don Kellermeyer and fellow juniors Bob Norris and Bob Lacy in dethroning Greenfield – the 1948 sectional champs – for local bragging rights. (Franklin Township got revenge on Fortville by grabbing the sectional trophy in 1950.)

But it’s not DeaKyne’s high school career, as good as it was, that gives Dishman and the few remaining basketball witnesses from the first half of the 20th century reason to list DeaKyne, who died of a heart attack in 1983 at age 50, among the all-time local greats.

While countless hoopsters can lay claim as a leading scorer on a sectional winner, DeaKyne and DeaKyne alone could boast of this: a NCAA Division I national championship for a Hancock County player.

DeaKyne left Fortville for Bloomington in 1950 and impressed Indiana University coach Branch McCracken enough to earn a spot as a walk-on with the Hoosiers basketball team.

In the 1953 NCAA Final Four at Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Mo., Indiana beat LSU 80-67 in the semifinals and then defeated the Phog Allen-coached Kansas team 69-68 to win the Hoosiers’ second national championship under McCracken. IU started its tourney run with an 82-80 win over DePaul and legendary coach Ray Meyer.

Sophomore center Don Schlundt averaged 25.4 points that year to lead the Hoosiers, with Bob “Slick” Leonard chipping in 16.3 points as a shooting guard. Leonard and DeaKyne were juniors on the title squad, with DeaKyne netting 2.3 points off the bench.

DeaKyne is remembered by many as a “sixth man” or the first post player off the Hoosiers’ bench. It’s easy to see why even a talented player would find court time difficult to come by. Five members of the Hoosiers’ title-winning squad were drafted into the NBA: Leonard, Dick Farley, Lou Scott and Charlie Kraak following their 1954 senior seasons, and Schlundt in 1955.

Schlundt, who passed away in 1985 at age 52, Leonard and DeaKyne remained lifelong friends, often getting together with their wives for dinner, sometimes at The Scoreboard restaurant Leonard owned near his home in Carmel. Schlundt and Leonard were pallbearers at DeaKyne’s funeral in Fortville in 1983.

“Jimmy was a walk-on,” Leonard recalled when contacted by Daily Reporter recently. “He was a good ballplayer. He made the ballclub, and after that I think Branch probably put him on scholarship. I think that would be the case because he was on the ballclub all three years. So I’m sure that Branch probably took care of him.

“Jimmy was a pretty good all-around player. He could score, he could rebound. He was about 6-3, 6-4. He was just a good all-around player.” 

Leonard mentioned DeaKyne in a book he co-authored last year – “Boom Baby! My Basketball Life in Indiana” – and it’s that reference by the Terre Haute native and Indiana Pacers former coach and current broadcaster that served as the inspiration for this article.

While DeaKyne wasn’t a starter at IU like his buddies Schlunt and Leonard, DeaKyne’s Hancock County fans were loyal followers.

A 1957 McCordsville graduate, Jim McFarland was a few years behind DeaKyne in school. He can still picture the same unusual shot of DeaKyne’s that Dishman described.

“I was in grade school when he played at Fortville, and junior high when he was at Indiana, so my recollections may be a little off, but I remember seeing him play,” said McFarland, who now resides in Pendleton. “We always watched the Hoosiers on Channel 4.

“He was big for that era, about 6-3 I think. He played forward, and shot from the corner with an overhead two-handed set shot. As I remember, he stood flat-footed but was able to shoot over defenders by putting the ball above his head. He wasn’t fast, but was big and strong enough to hold his position around the basket.”

After beating the University of Kansas squad to win the NCAA championship in Kansas City, DeaKyne and his fellow Hoosiers were treated like stars. Prior to getting back home to Bloomington to be the center of a parade, the Indiana players and coaches visited with President Harry Truman, who completed his second term in office on Jan. 20, 1953 – two months before IU won the title, on March 18. Truman kept an office in Independence, Mo., a few miles from Kansas City.

DeaKyne served in the Air Force upon graduation from IU, then settled back in Fortville, where he and his wife, Carol, had three children: Kevin (age 54), Shelly (52) and John (42). Carol died in 2012, while Kevin (Fort Wayne), Shelly (Carmel) and John (Noblesville) remain in the area.

Upon returning from the Air Force, DeaKyne worked for a time at the First National Bank of Fortville before becoming owner of the Fortville Ford car dealership. Golf was one of DeaKyne’s pastimes. It was a passion he shared with Leonard.

“Jimmy, he had a knack of redoing golf clubs, so I’d stop over there in Fortville and he’d redo some clubs for me,” said Leonard, who recently earned induction into the National Basketball Hall of Fame. 

“He was just an all-around good guy. We were good friends. He had a good personality, loved to play golf.  Jimmy liked to have fun. We were together many times.”

For Kevin DeaKyne, a dentist out of Warren, Ind., three miles south of Fort Wayne, and his siblings, there were perks to growing up with a father who knew the Indiana Pacers coach during the team’s ABA heyday.

“When we were little, periodically he would takes us down to Pacers games,” Kevin DeaKyne said. “I’ve still got a signed ABA program with all the Pacers like Mel Daniels and Roger Brown, Bob Netilicky, where dad took us down as a Cub Scout troop. That must have been in about ’69. We got to go in the locker room and get autographs in the program. That was a cool thing.”

In addition to Leonard and Schlundt, Jim DeaKyne remained friends after college with Scott, the junior center on the 1953 national championship team.

“A couple times when I was growing up, Lou would come and visit,” said Kevin DeaKyne, a 1978 Mt. Vernon grad. “I mean, this man was massive. He was probably 6-11, here was this huge guy coming into our house.”

Despite the IU connections, basketball did not dominate the DeaKyne household.

“He talked about playing at IU a little bit, but not extensively,” DeaKyne said.

Instead of speaking about himself, Jim DeaKyne entertained with stories about others. One of his favorite tales was centered around his pal, Slick. In “Boom Baby,” Leonard mentions his love of playing cards. Apparently, “snooker,” a variation of pool, was another pastime.

“There was one story that dad commented that Slick was a snooker player,” DeaKyne said. “And that when they went on the road, they always had to go drag Slick’s a- - out of a pool room because he was hustling people for money and playing snooker.

“So that was kind of an entertaining thought.”

It was upon returning home from a wedding anniversary celebration in January of 1983 that Jim DeaKyne collapsed in his home and died. Jim and Carol had enjoyed dinner with another couple, Alan and Sandy Rees.

“The four of us went out to dinner to the old Key West Shrimp House on south side of Indianapolis,” said Alan Rees, who was best friends with Jim for many years. “It was their 25th wedding anniversary. We went out to dinner and went home. We went home. About two hours later, someone comes to the house … they said he was dead before he hit the floor. Heart exploded.

“We were really close and it took a long time to get over. His birthday was August the 18th and mine was July 18th.”

It was a life cut short, but a life well-lived. And in terms of Hancock County basketball, DeaKyne made a historic mark as a member of a NCAA Division I basketball championship team.

“Starting when I was playing, or even before, I’ve going to games around here for over 70 years now,” remarked Dishman, DeaKyne’s old high school rival. “I can’t think of many of them any better than Deak.”

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