1989 Big Ten title on par with ’87 championship for Hillman

1989 Big Ten title on par with ’87 championship for Hillman

Catching up with … Joe Hillman

By Lynn Houser, Herald-Times Sports Writer

March 13, 2007

Indiana’s Joe Hillman (44) talks with teammate Jay Edwards (3) during the Hoosiers’ run to the Big Ten championship in 1989. H-T file photo
From the Mar. 13, 2007 Bloomington Herald-Times

The video clip of Keith Smart hitting the game-winning jumper in the 1987 title game has become an annual rite of March Madness during CBS telecasts, and it never gets old to Joe Hillman.

Hillman was on the court for Indiana when Smart nailed the shot heard ’round the basketball world in ’87. A reserve guard at the time, Knight had enough confidence in Hillman to have him handling the ball as the final seconds ticked away and the Hoosiers trailing Syracuse by one.

Knight had set the stage during a timeout preceding a one-and-one free throw attempt by Syracuse forward Derrick Coleman. As Hillman recalled, “Knight said, ‘When Coleman misses the free throw, we’ve got 30 seconds. Be patient.’ Nobody panicked, nobody forced anything, which is why we were successful. Nobody went helter-skelter.”

As monumental as that achievement was, to Hillman there was one that rivaled it, winning the 1989 Big Ten championship. Gone were the heroes of ’87 — Smart, Steve Alford, Daryl Thomas, Dean Garrett and Ricky Calloway. In their place was a team that, outside of Jay Edwards, had nowhere near the talent.

Hillman, 6-3 senior, was a small forward on this team, a team lovingly coined by H-T writer Bob Hammel as “The Little Team That Thinks It Can.”

About all the Hoosiers had in the way of size were forwards Todd Jadlow and Eric Anderson. The year started off with little promise as the Hoosiers were overpowered by Syracuse, North Carolina, Louisville and Notre Dame.

“We started off so bad Hillman said. “We gave up 100 points in three of our first five games.”

It was at that point Knight went to a three-guard line-up featuring Hillman, Edwards, Lyndon Jones or Jamal Meeks. By the time they entered Big Ten play, the Hoosiers had a seven-game win streak.

It was a league that was strong from top to bottom, a league that ultimately saw Michigan win the NCAA championship, Illinois also make the Final Four and Iowa win 23 games. Michigan had the likes of Glen Rice, Rumeal Robinson and Loy Vaught. Illinois had Kenny Anderson, Kenny Battle, Marcus Liberty, Steve Bardo and Kendall Gill. Iowa had Roy Marble, B.J. Armstrong and Ed Horton. Michigan State had Steve Smith.

Hillman often had to guard the other team’s best player.

“I guarded Nick Anderson, Steve Smith, Roy Marble and Glen Rice. I was actually playing out of position,” he said.

Against that field Indiana somehow led wire to wire.

“We won every close game, knew how to finish games,” Hillman said. “In my years at Indiana, that was Knight’s best coaching job.”

Although Edwards led the Hoosiers in scoring, it was Hillman who was awarded team MVP honors, mostly because of his leadership.

“Edwards was the best player, but Knight recognized what I did to get everybody ready,” he said.

Hillman also said Edwards was the best he ever played with, and that includes Alford.

“Alford was the best shooter I’ve ever seen, but Edwards was the better player. If he had stayed four years (and not gone pro after his sophomore year), he would have left as the all-time leading scorer in the Big Ten.”

But the ’87 Hoosiers were far better than the ’89 Hoosiers and just about any team playing today, Hillman said.

“There is no way you can tell me our ’87 team wouldn’t beat anybody today. Nobody shoots the ball like Alford and there’s nobody as good in the post as Daryl Thomas. Basketball skills are gone today. It’s just run and jump.”

Those special memories are just a film clip away.

“I still get chills when I see that replay (Smart’s jumper) and the seconds are counting down,” Hillman said. “Think of all the guys who played college basketball, all the great players who never won a championship. That’s why I came to Indiana.”

Joe Hillman

Age: 40

Occupation: MED Distribution, Indianapolis

Family: wife Kristine, daughter Kara (7), Jack (5)

IU CAREER (1984-89)

• Played on IU’s 1987 NCAA champions

• Played on Big Ten champions in 1987, ’89

• Academic All-Big Ten, 1988, ’89

• IU MVP, 1989

• 323 career assists (16th)

• Lettered 3 years in baseball (1987-89)

PRO CAREER

• Signed minor league contract with A’s

• Played one year professional basketball in Australia