LANCASTER, Kentucky – Kirby Overman admits the wait has been a difficult one. With a state championship on his resume and coaching success at both the high school and collegiate level, Overman thought he had done enough to earn a spot in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle.
But the years passed by and the call never came.
“I have to be honest, I was disappointed I wasn’t selected before. I have been told that the selection process can get political and that is unfortunate,” he said in early March from his Lancaster, Kentucky, home. “Along the way I would see other guys get in who had not done what my teams had done. But I felt like eventually it would happen. A lot of people spoke up for me and their voices were too great to keep me out.”
The pleas to the hall of fame committee did help, and so did Overman’s sideline success. That is why the man, who guided New Albany’s basketball team to the 1973 state championship, finally received that call late last year, informing him that he would be part of the 2020 induction class. The formal ceremony and dinner in New Castle will be March 25.
Overman won 83% of his games in two seasons at the helm of the Batesville Bulldogs.
His first year was 1969-70, when the Dogs finished 16-6 after losing the sectional championship in double overtime to an unbeaten South Ripley team. The next year was a great success, Batesville going 24-2 and advancing to the 1971 semistate. The Bulldogs defeated Sunman and Jac-Cen-Del in the sectional before knocking off Connersville and Rushville at the regional. At Hinkle Fieldhouse, BHS lost by 5 to New Castle.
THE MAGICAL YEAR
When considering whether or not to apply for the vacant New Albany coaching position in 1971, Overman looked at several factors, including the size of the school, its large fan base and tradition and the talent coming back not just for the next season, but for years to come.
He liked what he saw.
“I never stayed very long any place I coached. If I saw an opportunity, a team that could go further in the state tournament that had good material that I could coach, I would move,” he said. “I was known for that. I really liked the situation there. It was the oldest school in the state, had 1,800-plus students in the upper three grades and played a big schedule. They had good talent.”
A lot of that talent was young in Overman’s first year at New Albany. But the experience gained in the 1971-72 season paid dividends the following year.
The 1972-73 team had two senior guards, Dale Slaughter and Bill Finley, 6-foot-10 junior center Charlie Mitchell, 6-5 junior Norman Mukes at one forward and 6-3 senior Julius Norman at the other forward. The team also had plenty of talent off the bench, led by juniors Mike Carter and Bobby Grant.
Finley was the captain of the team and Mr. Clutch while Slaughter was a solid defender who could shoot the outside jumper. Mitchell and Mukes both were steady contributors and Norman had a breakout year that season. He was one of the top players in the state.
“They really gained a lot of experience as juniors,” Overman said of his two guards and Norman. “We also had good depth. We could go seven deep.”
New Albany also played a difficult schedule, which was evident early on as the Bulldogs were a meager 7-7 before winning 14 straight en route to the state title, where they beat South Bend Adams 84-79 in the championship game.
Overman also knew how to motivate his team, and seemed to push the right buttons that season. He remembers a game where he benched all five starters following a poor performance. Not only did they respond, but also they didn’t lose another game.
“We played all over,” Overman said. “I tried a lot to make it a first-class program. We also had a lot of talented kids.”
That group was led by Norman, who was unstoppable around the basket. He went on to make the Indiana All-Star team and also played in the Derby Classic.
“He didn’t get along with the football program, but he was a good kid,” Overman said of his star forward. “He was one of the two best athletes I ever coached.”
Overman also did something that had never been done before at the school besides winning a state championship; he started five black players. He said he is sure there were some eyebrows raised by fans by the move, but he didn’t worry what those few thought. He played his five best players and didn’t care about the color of their skin.
“Back in those days that was a big issue,” he said. “But all I cared about was doing it the right way and I wanted to win. It was important to me the relationship that I had with my players. I know some people didn’t come to games because of that. But people stopped talking about it because we were winning. We had great support.”
Carter, the team’s sixth man on the 1973 team, praised Overman’s efforts for helping bring the school and community together in a letter of support sent to the hall of fame committee last year.
“Coach went to the churches and schools. He hosted get togethers with the leaders of the community,” Carter said. “He brought together the city of New Albany to support its basketball program. Again, you can look at Coach Overman’s won/lost record and his State Championship accomplishment as reason enough for his inclusion. But for his team and community building efforts he deserves a special place in the Hall.”
HALL OF FAME CAREER
Overman collected 443 combined wins at the high school and college level. He coached in Indiana, Virginia and Florida and finished his career in 2012 at Berea College. In Indiana he coached high school basketball at Otterbein, Benton Central, North Dearborn, Batesville, Hamilton Heights, Bluffton, Cloverdale and New Albany.
He finished with 230 wins at Indiana schools, and 173 wins at schools in Florida and Virginia.
He also was the first high school coach to lead the Indiana All-Stars against Kentucky and the Russian Junior National team. Along the way he was a five-time conference coach of the year and earned six statewide coach of the year honors.
While Overman admits he had a reputation for not staying one place too long, he later second guessed his decision to leave New Albany after the 1973-74 season. He said there was plenty of talent coming up and he loved the fan base. He still remembers how fans lined the street and packed the gym for a rally as the team returned to school following the state championship victory.
“They had the best fans in New Albany. A lot of older people who really supported the team,” he said.
He was recognized last month prior to a New Albany home game and said “it was a great experience.” He also got to see some of his former players while he was in town.
“People came up to me and said I remember watching your team play,” he said. “One gentleman was 89 years old.”
Overman left for Samford University after the 1973-74 season because he wanted to coach college basketball. In some ways, he regrets that decision.
“I really wished I had stayed three or four more years,” he said.
While his time at New Albany was short, he left a mark and a memory. Fans still talk about the 1973 team. They were talented, tenacious, did not know the word quit and were led by a guy named Kirby – a hall of fame coach who just happens to turn 80 years old next month. A birthday he won’t soon forget.
“It was good timing,” he said of his hall of fame induction just weeks prior to his 80th birthday. “It means a lot to me.”