A story ran in Tuesday’s paper about the new book “Trophies and Tears,” 450-plus pages of UE men’s basketball history. As with most stories, not everything that I wanted to fit in my story did.
I’ve read most of “Trophies and Tears” and would recommend it both for older fans who lived through it as well as younger folks like myself who took in most of UE history for the first time. Here’s more from author Kyle Keiderling as well as more of what’s in the book:
—It stuck out to Keiderling that Arad McCutchan’s College Division Aces played everybody — and beat most of them. That included John Wooden’s UCLA team, Bill Raftery and Seton Hall as well as Dayton, then a well-known power. “The people in Evansville and the tri-state area know the story,” Keiderling said. “It’s not earth-shattering news to them that Evansville was a great team and a unique team. But outside of that area, I think most people are kind of like me. They probably remember the plane crash, and that’s all.”
—The large crowds at Roberts Stadium were what drew Keiderling to write the book. He said that Rutgers, his alma mater, went to the Final Four in 1976 while playing in a gym that held about 2,500. Meanwhile the Aces drew 10,000-plus. “It reminded me a little bit of Friday Night Lights and that fascination that the small town of Odessa, Texas, had with their high school football team,” he said. “On a larger scale, the same thing happened in Evansville, and Arad McCutchan created this team that was unique in the annals of college basketball.”
—Keiderling asked former player and current coach Marty Simmons to write the foreword. The author has been around just about every sized program from writing about Kentucky basketball to Loyola Marymount. “You ask a guy to coach a school with an enrollment of 2,500 in the Missouri Valley Conference, and you’re asking a lot,” Keiderling said of Simmons. “He’s gotten them to respectability, and he’s trying to bring back the spirit that was there in the McCutchan era.”
—The book serves both as a historical look at UE basketball and of the city of Evansville, putting into context world events with the program’s rise under McCutchan. That’s everything from World War II to a profiled look at Jim Smallins, the first black player for what was formerly known as Evansville College. “It’s not just a basketball story,” Keiderling said. “It’s a story of Evansville and the Aces, and I had to do a lot of digging into the history of the city. I traced the team all the way from the beginning to the present day.”
—Keiderling said repeatedly that the toughest chapters to write were those about the Dec. 13, 1977 plane crash that killed UE’s basketball team. Throughout “Trophies and Tears,” he foreshadows the crash with details about the DC-3 plane — the tears — intertwined with the stories of McCutchan’s championship teams — the trophies. “I did not attempt to talk with the parents of those who died that night out of respect for their loss,” Keiderling said. “I did hear from some of the families and friends though, after…the Alumni Affairs department (at UE) advised people that I was writing the book. I made a concerted effort to include as much as possible about that team and the players and staff and hope that by doing so I have honored their memory.”