Evansville Purple Aces Basketball Conference
The Missouri Valley Conference of NCAA basketball is full of smaller
Midwestern ball teams with tons of heart, and the conference has produced several Cinderella teams in the NCAA Tournament
since its creation. The purple, white and orange Aces first played as part of the NAIA, coming to prominence in college sports
in the '40s and '50s, when they made four appearances in the NAIA Tournament. The Aces moved up the ranks to the NCAA Division
II in 1956, and thanks to star player Jerry Sloan, the Purple Aces took home five NCAA DII national championships in the late
'50s and '60s. As part of the Missouri Valley Conference today, the Evansville basketball team has plenty of competition in
rivals like Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Drake. The Creighton Bluejays had also been a huge threat to the MVC until 2013,
when the team moved to the Big East Conference.
Evansville Purple Aces Basketball Rivalries
be able to call every competing team in the Missouri Valley Conference a rival of the Evansville Purple Aces, as the field
is mostly evenly matched in the conference. Teams across the MVC take turns at winning the conference tournament every season,
and you better believe the Purple Aces are always in this mix. There hasn't been one single-handedly dominant team in the
Valley over the last several years, making the competition within the conference that much more fierce. The Valley features
other Midwestern teams like Bradley, Indiana State, Illinois State, Missouri State, Wichita State and Southern Illinois, all
of which boast solid basketball programs. The Evansville Purple Aces are definitely a rival of the nearby Indiana State Sycamores,
and fans show up in droves for every home game between these two Indiana schools.
Evansville Purple Aces Basketball
The Evansville Purple Aces basketball squad might call the '60s and '70s their greatest decades
of basketball to date, and this might just be because of two players: Jerry Sloan and Don Buse. Sloan helped the Aces to an
undefeated season and NCAA College Division championship title in 1965, also helping the team to a division title in 1964.
Buse took over from there, leading the Aces to yet another NCAA DII championship title in 1971. In Division I NCAA basketball,
the Purple Aces have made a handful of appearances, including second round action in 1989. Evansville's last NCAA Tournament
berth was in 1999, although the team has put up some big games in College Basketball Invitationals (CBI) and CollegeInsider.com
Tournaments (CIT) in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Evansville Purple Aces Basketball NBA Players
The first Evansville
basketball player to go on to full-on NBA stardom was Jerry Sloan, who played for the Purple Aces from 1962-65. Sloan was
drafted by the NBA's Baltimore Bullets in the 1964 NBA draft, but chose to stay in college and finish out his career at Evansville.
He was again drafted by the Bullets in 1965, and this time he made the leap to the NBA, going on to play for the Chicago Bulls
and becoming the first player selected by the Bulls in the expansion draft. His No. 4 jersey was retired by the Chicago Bulls
after Sloan became a two-time NBA All-Star, and Sloan ended his career with the Bulls in 1976 before going on NBA coaching
positions, with the Bulls and then the Utah Jazz.
Jerry Sloan was an all-American hero in the NBA, but he wasn't the
only hotshot hoopster to come out of the University of Evansville. The legendary Don Buse was also a Purple Ace from 1969-72
before joining the Phoenix Suns in the third round of the 1972 NBA Draft. Buse went on to play for his home state Indiana
Pacers and also saw stints with the Phoenix Suns, Portland Trail Blazers and Kansas City Kings. He was selected an NBA All-Star
in 1977 and was a four-time NBA All-Defensive First Team player from 1977-1980.
Evansville Purple Aces Basketball
1977 was the first year that the Evansville Purple Aces began playing basketball in Division I of the NCAA.
It was also the year that the University of Evansville lost its entire team to a plane crash. On December 13, 1977, the Evansville
basketball team was traveling from the Evansville Regional Airport to nearby Tennessee to play at Middle Tennessee State.
Just after takeoff, the chartered DC-3 aircraft crashed in a field, killing the entire team and coaching staff. The one member
of the Purple Aces basketball team that wasn't on the plane with the team was killed two weeks later in a drunk driving car
accident. His name as well as all the other members of the 1977 basketball team are etched on stone slabs at a memorial erected
soon thereafter. Known as the Weeping Basketball, the memorial on the University of Evansville campus also reads: "Out of
the agony of this hour we will rise."
Despite this horrible tragedy, the Purple Aces basketball team was eventually
rebuilt, and with the heart of the entire community, the Evansville basketball team rose up back to power in the '80s. As
part of the Horizon League, which was then known as the Midwest Collegiate Conference, the Purple Aces took home or shared
the conference title in 1982, 1987, 1989, 1993, and 1993.