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How Big Were the Marion Giants???


February 23, 20175:51 PM EST

They were, indeed, Giants in their field.

Only two schools in the history of the single-class Indiana high school basketball tournament won three consecutive state championships. There was the Franklin “Wonder Five” in 1920, ’21 and ’22, and the Marion Giants in 1985, ’86 and ’87. Such feats require a healthy mix of talented players and coaches. Some luck, too. And, oh yeah, a little bravado.

It’s too late to go back and check for details with members of the Franklin High School teams led by future Naismith Hall of Famer Fuzzy Vandivier, but here’s a story that summarizes the moxie of the Marion teams. It comes courtesy of Woody Austin, who would win the state’s Mr. Basketball honor in 1988, the year after Marion’s backcourt duo of Lyndon Jones and Jay Edwards shared it.

The Richmond High School team led by Austin had the Giants on the ropes in a game at Marion in 1987, with the score tied at 49. Edwards, however, hit a jumper from the corner with five seconds left for the game-winning basket, avoiding overtime.

As a dejected Austin stood on the court after the final buzzer sounded, Edwards cheerfully slapped him on the butt and said, “You didn’t think I was going to let you win, did you?”

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That was Edwards. That was Marion. That was just one example of the skill and confidence the Giants displayed on their way to their consecutive champions. And that might be just one of the stories the Marion players relive Friday when they are honored at the next Hickory Night game when the Pacers play Memphis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse.

Austin, who remains close friends with Jones and Edwards, will be among those on hand to pay respects, but hopes not to be reminded too frequently of nights such as that one.

“Lyndon had fouled out, and I think he was a little under the weather,” Austin recalled. “We just knew we had them, but somehow Jay got the ball. It seemed like everything went in slow motion. He shot the ball, and it was all net.”

Austin suffered more than most in the midst of the Giants’ dominance. His Richmond teams lost to them twice in the championship game of the state tournament, in 1985 and ’87, and three other times during the regular season — which is another thing Jones and Edwards tend to bring up to him now and then. But Austin was hardly alone in his misery. Marion went undefeated in 1985, lost three games in ’86 and one in ’87, when it was ranked the No. 1 team in the country by USA Today. It left plenty of great players and teams in its path. Damon Bailey’s Bedford North Lawrence team, for example, lost to the Giants in the semifinals of the state tournament in 1985, Bailey’s freshman year. And there were plenty of outstanding players from other North Central Conference teams that failed to fell the Giants, but like Austin, went on to play major college basketball.

“You could pick your poison,” said Austin, who scored more than 1,000 points at Purdue. “From top to bottom, the players were good. You could sub one out and basically you wouldn’t miss a beat. One guy had an off-game, somebody else would pick up the slack.

“Obviously, the guard play was excellent, too.”

Yes, the guard play. Jones and Edwards comprised what’s likely the best backcourt of any state high school team in history. As seniors, Edwards scored 35 of Marion’s 69 points in the title game victory over Richmond, while Jones scored 23. The next year, they were starting together for Indiana in the Big Ten, with Edwards winning Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. A year later, Edwards was the Big Ten Player of the Year and a second-team All-American as a sophomore.

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