Many Indiana University basketball fans know the Hoosiers won their first NCAA Tournament title on this date in 1940. Very few know the Hoosiers owe thanks for that title to Purdue.
Purdue actually won the Big Ten title in 1940, but coach Ward “Piggy” Lambert didn't believe in postseason play, so Indiana represented the conference in the tournament. The Hoosiers had also beaten the Boilermakers twice during the season.
The Hoosiers were led that season by Marv Huffman, Jay McCreary, Bill and Bob Menke and Berne native Bob Dro. Two of their starters were Central graduates Curly Armstrong and Herm Schaefer, who had helped the Tigers to the 1936 and 1937 state finals. Armstrong and Schaefer ended up leading the 1939-40 Hoosiers in scoring as juniors, with Armstrong earning all-Big Ten honors.
Armstrong and Schaefer had started their basketball careers playing together at St. Paul's Lutheran.
They grew up together on Madison Street and played together in grade school, high school at Central, college at Indiana University and later in the pros with the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons.
During the national tournament, only eight teams were invited, and Indiana easily dispatched Springfield and Duquesne to face Kansas for the title. With Armstrong scoring 10 points, the Hoosiers ran the Jayhawks off the floor 60-42. Schaefer led IU in scoring during the tournament.
Though Armstrong was 5-foot-11, and Schaefer was 6-0, both players often played forward for coach Branch McCracken.
Armstrong's career at Indiana ended the next season when he was declared academically ineligible for the second semester. Schaefer finished the season averaging 5.6 points and earning All-America honors.
In the pros, Armstrong was a guard. He signed with the Pistons in 1942 and averaged 8.3 points as a rookie. After a Navy stint in World War II, Armstrong returned to the Pistons in 1946 and averaged about eight points as the team won the world championship. During his 11-year career he averaged 7.4 points, and he also coached the Pistons to a 22-32 record in 1948-49.
Armstrong was also a strong player on the Pistons' softball team, helping them win three world championships.
A knee injury eventually led to Armstrong's retirement in 1951. In 1969, he bought the Curly Armstrong Village Inn on Bluffton Road. He died June 6, 1983, at age 64.
Schaefer was signed by the Fort Wayne Pistons as a player-coach at age 22. He averaged 8.6 points as a rookie in his first of four seasons with the Pistons.
Schaefer's pro career began to thrive when he joined the Minneapolis Lakers in 1947. He averaged 10.4 points in 1948-49, helping the Lakers to the Basketball Association of America championship. In 1949-50, he worked primarily as a setup man for George Mikan and Jim Polland, and the Lakers won the first National Basketball Association title.
Schaefer died in Indianapolis on March 20, 1980, at age 61.
About This Series
Ever wonder what a Northeast Indiana Sports Hall of Fame might include? During a time when it may be difficult to look ahead to great sporting events, the Journal Gazette is going to offer you a look into Fort Wayne and Northeast Indiana's fantastic athletic past. Over the next few weeks, we'll offer some suggestions on the people and events which could be featured in such a facility.