Indiana basketball legend Jimmy Rayl dies at 77

Jimmy Rayl, a two-time All-American at Indiana University and former Indiana Mr. Basketball, died on Sunday.

He was 77.

Rayl, known as the “Splendid Splinter”, earned a reputation as one of the best shooters in state history. Not only did Rayl drain jump shots with pinpoint accuracy, he could hit them from nearly any spot on the court.

The Kokomo native earned IU’s Most Valuable Player honor in 1962 and averaged 20.6 points during the course of his college career. To this day, Rayl holds IU’s single-game scoring record with 56 points — a feat he accomplished on two separate occasions.

“On behalf of everyone in our program, our thoughts and prayers go out to the Rayl Family,” IU coach Archie Miller said. “His accomplishments as a basketball player from this state were profound and set an example for others to aspire to.”

Before Rayl became a Hoosier, he authored a legendary high school career that culminated with him winning the state’s coveted Mr. Basketball award in 1959.

That was quite the campaign for Rayl and Kokomo, a storybook season that ended with a runner-up finish to Crispus Attucks. On the way to the finals, Rayl was at the center of some of the most memorable performances in Indiana high school basketball history.

Entering the final game of the 1959 regular season, Rayl led New Castle’s Ray Pavy — a future teammate at IU — in the conference scoring race by 10 points. In a contest that came to be known as the “Church Street Shootout”, the two combined for 100 points — 51 from Pavy and 49 from Rayl. It was enough for Rayl to keep the scoring crown.

“We were on the move to get down the floor so we could score,” Pavy said. “The North Central Conference was such a great league. Everybody, every week, you were trying to accomplish something. When Jim and I came to play the last week, both of us had a chance to win the conference from a team standpoint and from an individual scoring standpoint. It was just a great game.”

Rayl found himself in the middle of another great game a few weeks later during a semistate tilt with Tom Bolyard’s Fort Wayne South Side squad. South Side was the defending state champs, and Rayl and Bolyard, another future IU teammate, traded baskets in yet one more back-and-forth affair.

Rayl won the game for Kokomo with a 35-foot shot at the buzzer, and later broke Oscar Robertson’s tournament record with 114 points in the final four games of the 1959 tournament. Rayl also earned that season’s Trester Mental Attitude Award.

“He could shoot it from any place, any way,” Bolyard said. “We used to play Horse and he would tease you. You’d go in and shoot the 15-foot shot, the 18-foot shot, and then he goes back to 20 feet. Then he’s back at the 10-second line! He was just amazing.”

Never mind his skinny, “splinter” frame. Rayl used every inch of his 6-foot-2 body to generate power and launch shots from wherever he pleased.

“His legs were so strong,” Pavy said. “You think about him and he seemed skinny and everything, but he had unbelievably strong legs. He could get the ball in from any place. His legs were his strength.”

Rayl played for the Hoosiers from 1960 to 1963, earning All-American honors and first-team All-Big Ten recognition during his final two seasons.

He twice set an IU and then-Big Ten record when he scored 56 points in a game in 1962 against Minnesota and in a 1963 contest against Michigan State.

In his record performance against the Golden Gophers, Rayl drilled a 25-footer to send the game into overtime. In the extra frame, the Hoosiers trailed by one before Rayl sank a 30-foot shot to win the game and punctuate his first 56-point effort.

“That was the best game I ever played in my life,” Rayl told The Herald-Times in 2006. “It was one of those nights when everything went right.”

Rayl might have broken his own record against Michigan State the following year, but with the Hoosiers on their way to a 113-94 win over the Spartans, coach Branch McCracken removed Rayl with less than four minutes remaining in regulation.

“The fans started booing,” Rayl said in 2006. “They wanted to see me score more, but we were way ahead. Branch did the gentlemanly thing to do.”

Otherwise, Rayl always had the green light to shoot.

“He was just incredible,” Pavy said. “People talk about (Purdue’s Rick) Mount being such a great shooter. Well, he’s not even in the same league — and I like Rick! But Jim was something else.”

Rayl closed his Indiana career with 1,401 points. After averaging 4.0 points as a sophomore in 1960-61, Rayl went on to score 29.8 points per game as a junior and 25.3 points per contest as a senior. He shot 41.6 percent from the floor and 83.5 percent from the line in 68 games as a Hoosier.

Following his college career, Rayl was drafted by the Cincinnati Royals in the third round in 1963. He later played 101 games for the Indiana Paces from 1967 to 1969, averaging 11.1 points for his career.

“I’ll tell you this,” Bolyard said. “He shot it like mad from any place. But I think most importantly, he was just a great guy and a great friend and he’ll be missed.”

(Photo courtesy Indiana University Archives)

10 comments

  1. I hate to guess how many points Rayl would have scored if the three point shot had been in effect when he played. Amazing shooter is an understatement. Saw him shoot a thirty footer one time while being knocked on his butt, nothing but net.
    Hate to hear of his passing.

    1. I feel the same about Pete Maravich. Had he played as a freshman and the three point arc been in existence his records might never be broken.

  2. I agree with Pavy, Rayl and Mount were the 2 greatest shooters I have ever seen! Rayl routinely shot the ball from 30 to 35 feet, no exaggeration. I was lucky enough to grow up in Kokomo and watched Rayl all through high school. He was incredable! I saw both of his 56 point games at IU. Tom Bolyard was a great player in his own right. He and Rayl were a great scoring dou on those IU teams. Bolyard was a 6’ 4” forward who was a really rugged player who was undersized at best. Those of us in Kokomo are very proud to call Rayl a native son.

  3. Three Hoosiers playing Indiana High School single class basketball.
    There are no greatest players of all times in any sport. Rather, greatest in his or her time. Chuck Taylor Converse.

  4. May he rest in peace..

    Feel rather ashamed that I never even knew of him….Sounds like he could splash the nets on McCracken from Kokomo. Love the nickname too.

  5. Rayl was a Hoosier baller extraordinaire. Mount was a great shooter. Rayl was a superb shooter and scorer.

  6. Having lived in Kokomo at the time he played and saw Mount play… the 2 greatest shooters ever. Rayl shot 30 foot jump shots like MOST players shoot 15 footers.

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