Young basketball players have been known to view older and better-skilled talents with wide-eyed astonishment.
Longtime Franklin Community High School boys track and field coach Mike Hall, a 1965 graduate of Columbus High School who played for legendary coach Bill Stearman, was no different during Indiana’s golden era of hoops.
It’s why to this day Hall remembers with impressive clarity the first time he watched Steve Van Antwerp play.
“I’m sitting in Section 39 in the top row of the Columbus gym. During those years Columbus always hosted a holiday tournament, and Franklin was there a few times,” Hall said. “My recollection of Steve Van Antwerp, No. 1, it didn’t seem like anyone from Columbus could stop him.
“He was a long, lanky kid who really went to the basket well. If I remember correctly, Columbus won the tournament, but Van Antwerp won Most Valuable Player, which was a real testament to him.”
Little is known locally about Van Antwerp, who after being an Indiana All-Star in 1959 spent two seasons at the University of Tennessee as part of coach John Sines’ program.
Ineligible as a freshman in 1959-60 due to the NCAA rules of the time, Van Antwerp, who wore No. 34 with the Volunteers, saw action in six games during the 1960-61 season.
He scored a total of four points — on 2-of-8 shooting — and pulled down four rebounds for a Tennessee squad that finished with a 10-15 record.
That would be the second of Sines’ three seasons in Knoxville.
He would be succeeded by Ray Mears, who from 1962-77 posted a 399-135 record at Tennessee.
Beyond that, an air of mystery clouds the Van Antwerp name, his life beyond his Tennessee experience and how or where he lived his life as an adult.
Efforts to locate Van Antwerp or any hint of what became of him proved unsuccessful. Contacts reached for this story, including former Grizzly Cubs teammate Jon McGlocklin, carry faint recollections of him, at best, post-Franklin High School.
However, the 6-foot-4 forward’s talent was undeniable.
Playing for then-Franklin coach Art Cosgrove, Van Antwerp teamed with 6-5 sophomore guard/forward McGlocklin to lead those 1958-59 Grizzly Cubs to a 15-8 record. Franklin with a 5-4 mark placed third in the final standings of the old South Central Conference, the losses coming by a total of 11 points.
Hall is correct. Stearman’s Bull Dogs eked out a 67-66 victory against Franklin in the afternoon game of the Columbus Holiday Tourney with the Cubs bouncing back to throttle Martinsville 76-59 in the consolation game.
Those Franklin ballclubs modeled blue-white vertically striped shorts that were only slightly less obnoxious than the knee-high game socks donning the exact same pattern.
Not that those Grizzly Cubs needed help looking imposingly tall.
Along with Van Antwerp and McGlocklin there was 6-3 forward Bob Brown and 6-4 Bill McMillin. Guards John Vargo and Jerry Dunn also were excellent players.
Van Antwerp, whose prep career ended with a 38-36 double-overtime sectional loss to an Edinburgh team Franklin had crushed by 34 points in the regular season, produced a total of 1,187 points as a Grizzly Cub.
“He was thin and had a real unorthodox shot that he would break out every now and then. You’re running and you do a push shot, but Steve would do it off the wrong foot,” McGlocklin remembered, insisting Van Antwerp, who was right-handed, would launch off his right foot.
During Van Antwerp’s junior season of high school, Indiana University coach Branch McCracken came to Franklin to watch him play. Legend has it that’s when McCracken discovered the sharp-shooting McGlocklin, then a ninth-grader.
“Branch made a statement that went around town: ‘I’m coming back to see that freshman.’ He came to see Steve, and he found me, which was a real blessing,” McGlocklin said.
McGlocklin would play for the Hoosiers from 1962-65, serving as team captain and averaging 18 points a game as a senior before going on to play 11 seasons in the NBA.
Now 71 and a television broadcaster for the Milwaukee Bucks, McGlocklin looks back fondly at the pickup games played on the dirt, cement and asphalt basketball surfaces of his youth.
“Steve had a dirt court at his house, and a bunch of us would play almost every night of the week. It was the summer between my eighth-grade and freshman years I started playing with and against those older players,” McGlocklin said.
“That group, Steve in particular, really helped me become the player I became. Steve was an outstanding player. Probably one of the top five or six basketball players ever to come out of Franklin. If I could see Steve today, I would say, ‘Thanks, man.’”