Hall of Fame Spotlight Jan. 9

If you are remotely familiar with Johnson County’s rich high school basketball tradition, then you know about the Franklin “Wonder Five.”

You know about the three-straight state championships at Franklin High School, the continued success at Franklin College and the nationally renowned exploits of prolific scorer Robert “Fuzzy” Vandivier.

But what you might not know is that the “Wonder Five” was called the “Wonder Five” for a reason.

Vandivier wasn’t the only star.

John Gant, better known during his playing days as Johnny “Snake Eyes” Gant, was, like teammate Vandivier, one of the state’s — if not the nation’s — top players.

Inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1967, Gant earned the honor as a prominent member of the Wonder Five — first at the high school, where he started on state championship teams in 1920, ‘21 and ‘23, and then at Franklin College, where he started on teams that won two straight collegiate state titles.

In 1922-23, Franklin College finished undefeated and was crowned mythical “national champion” — an achievement that further enhanced the legend of the Wonder Five.

During Gant’s three seasons on the high school team, Franklin went a combined 89-8 and — under coach Ernest “Griz” Wagner — became the first basketball team in IHSAA history to win three straight state titles.

Gant led the state in scoring one season and during the 1922 postseason led the state in field-goal shooting at .396 percent.

At the end of his high school career, Gant followed Wagner and a host of Wonder Five teammates, including Burl Friddle and Vandivier, to Franklin College. The Wonder Five won its first 50 games, claiming Indiana State

Collegiate championships in 1923

and 1924.

Gant’s team didn’t lose its first college game until February 1924, when Butler ended the streak.

Franklin was 77-1 in Gant’s first 78 college games. Victims included a wealth of much larger schools, including Notre Dame, Purdue, Wisconsin and Illinois.

On two occasions, the Wonder Five accepted challenges from a professional team in Detroit, the Omars. Franklin won both showdowns.

After graduating from Franklin in 1926, Gant played two professional seasons with Akron Firestone of the former National Basketball League.

Author photo
Rick Morwick is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He can be reached at rmorwick@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.