INDIANAPOLIS — Royce Waltman captivated Indiana’s basketball fans with his folksy attitude and a penchant for winning.
Being Bob Knight’s right-hand man helped, too.
On Monday night, the man who became a familiar face on college basketball sidelines throughout the state died at age 72 after a long battle with health problems. Waltman’s wife, Carole, notified Indiana State officials Tuesday morning of the death, sports information director Ace Hunt said.
”His knowledge of the game and ability to teach it was only eclipsed by the way he made you feel when you were with him,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said in a statement Tuesday. ”Personally, I respected him long before I came to Indiana. In getting to know Royce here, I was incredibly fortunate to have become his friend.”
Most recently, Hoosiers fans knew Waltman’s voice as the color commentator on Indiana radio broadcasts. He left that job in December to undergo surgery and never returned.
But most people remember him for what he did before moving into the broadcast booth.
He helped Indiana capture the 1987 national championship. Three years later, he led DePauw to a Division III national runner-up finish. He turned Indianapolis into a Division II power, and he led Indiana State to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances in 2000 and ’01.
”Royce was one of these coaches that endeared himself to everybody, even those who he got angry with now and then,” said Don Fischer, the Hoosiers’ longtime play-by-play man. ”Everybody that knew him respected him and liked him. He was a terrific basketball coach but he was much more than that to everyone he knew. The time we spent with him on our broadcasts was absolutely special.”
The blunt-speaking Waltman often told people that if coaches weren’t fired for losing, they’d get rehired. And while he touched players with his heartfelt stories, Waltman taught the game in a manner that impressed colleagues.
A Maryland native, Waltman started his head-coaching career at Bedford High School in Pennsylvania, where he won more than 270 games between 1966 and ’81. He did well enough there that Knight hired Waltman following the Hoosiers’ 1981 title run.
Waltman spent the next six seasons by Knight’s side, helping to keep the Hoosiers a national power, working with the 1984 gold-medal winning Olympic basketball team and eventually playing a key role in helping the Hoosiers win their fifth national championship in 1987.
DePauw hired Waltman in May 1987. In five seasons at the school located between Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Waltman went 99-38, was ranked No. 1 twice in the Division III preseason poll and made the division tournament three times.
”He was an incredibly fierce competitor, who always seemed to have teams whose sum was greater than their parts,” said Bill Fenlon, Waltman’s successor and still the coach of the Tigers.
In 1992-93, he took over at Indianapolis, which had just one winning season in the previous 13 years. Waltman posted five winning seasons in six years with the Greyhounds, leading them to the NCAA tourney three times. Twice, he was named Great Lakes Valley Conference coach of the year and he won the school’s only GLVC title in 1996.
In 1997, he took the Indiana State job and put Larry Bird’s alma mater back on the national map by leading them to two consecutive NCAA tourney appearances and winning the 2000 Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year award. But that was followed by a streak of six consecutive losing seasons. He was let go with a 124-165 record and the second-most wins in school history when his contract expired after his 10th season.
Waltman returned to Indianapolis for one more season, in 2007-08, then walked away from the sideline for good with a legacy his colleagues will never forget.
”The sign of this man’s toughness was on our trip to New York when we played Washington and UConn in the Wounded Warrior project We all knew he was in pain and he went great lengths to not show it and stayed focused on his radio duties,” Crean said. ”It was another example of what made him a great leader, his poise under pressure and putting others before himself.”