Milner to join Indiana basketball elite

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

In two months, Gene Milner will join the immortals of Indiana basketball.

The Greencastle resident will be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in March.

Milner, whose career in basketball spans nearly 50 years, said that learning that he was going to be inducted into the hall was something he could never have predicted.

"It was absolutely a surprise," Milner said. "When the mailman delivered a registered letter from the HOF, I turned the envelope over to make sure it had my name on it.

"It was a huge surprise but a very pleasant one."

Milner began the road to the Hall of Fame at Rossville High School in 1959 when he played his first of four seasons as a varsity letterman.

He was the state's leading scorer in his senior year, averaging 30.6 points per game. The first season in which Milner averaged double digits in scoring was his sophomore year, as he finished with an average of 18.7 points per game.

Milner scored 40 points in a sectional game that season.

He finished his high school career with 1,641 points and All-County honors in his sophomore, junior and senior seasons as well as All-State recognition in his junior and senior years.

But for all of the individual honors, Milner is most proud of what his Rossville Hornets accomplished as a team.

"I was fortunate to have had so many personal honors, but it's the team successes that really stick with you," Milner said. "Beating Lafayette Jeff, winning a sectional, playing in a regional and winning a game there. Those are what stick with you."

After high school, Milner attended Butler University, where he played for coach Paul D. "Tony" Hinkle, an experience that Milner called "a true honor and education."

Among Milner's highlights while playing for the Bulldogs was a 20-point victory over No. 1-ranked Michigan and helping Hinkle win his 500th game.

Following his graduation from Butler, Milner coached high school basketball at three different Indiana schools, starting with Clinton Central.

He moved on to Lafayette Harrison and finally Rensselaer Central.

But Milner's tenure at Rensselar was cut short in 1975 when he was involved in a severe traffic accident that resulted in several life-threatening injuries.

Milner required a full body cast in order to return to the sidelines, where he coached the duration of the season from a wheelchair.

At the end of the season, though, Milner's doctors informed him that he would need multiple surgeries and a return to the body cast.

"The prospect of another six months in the body cast convinced me that I should retire from coaching and concentrate on mending," Milner said. "To this day, I miss the relationships that are developed with the other coaches and your players."

But even though he could no longer coach, Milner couldn't stay away from the game that had been such a big part of his life for so many years.

Milner accepted a position with the Indiana Basketball Coaches' Association a few years after his accident, and has been working with the IBCA ever since.

He is currently the Web site coordinator for the IBCA and compiles its annual Indiana high school basketball record book.

"The IBCA commitment has just kept growing over the years," Milner said. "The jobs just keep coming along, and I've been there when they needed someone to do them.

"Even though my jump shot's been gone for awhile, it's still possible for me to contribute to the game with my computer, as long as the equipment holds up."

But despite all he has accomplished in the game, on the floor, on the sidelines and at his desktop, Milner maintains that what he treasures most about basketball are the relationships he has made because of the game.

"Being involved with the game, watching it and playing it can all be fun and rewarding, but the most important aspect about participating as a player or as a coach is the relationships that you form with teammates and players," Milner said. "The relationships that are formed under competitive conditions are what give you insights into yourself and others."

Milner will be inducted into the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame on March 21 in Indianapolis.

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