IU Honors Barrier-Breaker Garrett at Game

The first African-American man to play in a Big Ten basketball game marks the 65th anniversary of his trailblazing appearance.

At IU’s Monday night game against North Dakota State, a game in which the Hoosiers pounded their next-to-hapless visitors, a trailblazing player for the home team marked the 65th anniversary of a subtly amazing feat. Bill Garrett, the first African-American man to play in a Big Ten basketball game, was honored by his alma mater for pioneering—by way of his basketball skills and dignified handling of a volatile matter—the integration of IU basketball.

Indianapolis’s own Faburn DeFrantz served as catalyst for inserting Garrett in the Hoosiers lineup, with then–IU president Herman B Wells wary of the implications among a few controversial goings-on at his school at the time. (Something about a guy named Kinsey.) IU’s men’s basketball coach at the time, Branch McCracken, flat-out stiff-armed the idea, saying that Garrett didn’t possess the talent to play for him. And yet.

Football, not considered in the same league as hoops in the 1940s—and rather convincingly argued the same today in this state—had already been integrated. Basketball lagged behind despite the surplus of homegrown talent, from Anderson to Shelbyville, in the Hoosierland. Read more here about the plights of Garrett and his forebearers—and the crusades by Faburn DeFrantz and others in the Indianapolis area who descended on Bloomington to challenge the status quo of the day.