The 26-year-old husband, father, farmer who set Indiana's college basketball scoring record
INDIANAPOLIS — When the rooster finally crowed, Steve Platt was already dressed in overalls out among the livestock, hauling feed to the cattle and hogs on his 500-acre farm.
On his way to take corn to the storage elevator, he picked up a basketball and shot it toward the side of the barn. Swish. Another shot. Swish.
Inside the house, his wife Peggy was cooking up breakfast while his son Ty and daughter Polly romped about. It was past 7:30 a.m. and Platt would be in soon to get a shower and eat.
Heading toward the farmhouse, he picked up the basketball and shot it toward the barn again, this time from miles away. Swish.
Platt smiled. He could hear the crowd roaring.
Less than three miles from where he stood on the dirt court of his sprawling farm in Huntington was a college gymnasium. And when Platt stepped inside that arena, he wasn't a farmer.
He was a national superstar.
A senior on Huntington University's basketball team, he was an untouchable offensive player with a magic touch. The 6-5 forward was averaging nearly 40 points a game. He was the nation's leading scorer in college basketball.
He was also a married father and farmer who was 26 years old, everything a college hoops player traditionally was not.
Two in a row as nation's top scorer
Platt, now 73, still holds Indiana's college scoring record, 3,700 points. He also remains on the top 20 all-time list of collegiate scorers at any level, including NCAA Division I.
Earlier this month, Indiana Wesleyan senior Kyle Mangas passed the 3,000-point mark, inching closer to Platt's state record. But, as Platt points out, Mangas already has played 15 more games than Platt did during his entire college career. And Mangas has the option of a 3-point shot.
"It wouldn't bother me if he broke it. The rules are different. Things have changed so much," Platt said. "Whatever happens happens. I've held the record for 46 years and we’re not comparing apples to apples."
What Platt did in college didn't go unnoticed. In fact, it caught the attention of a magazine called "Sports Illustrated."
A writer for the magazine came out to Platt's farm his senior season in 1974 to do a big spread on the basketball-playing farmer who was a marvelous shot.
"It is time the nation faced up to the real truth: its leading scorer in basketball is a farmer and he is on top of the charts for the second straight year," wrote Kent Hannon. "Forget those high-flying (players) like Bird Averitt, Fly Williams and Larry Fogle. This 26-year-old named Steve Platt from Huntington College in Indiana has a farm (to) man, plus a wife and two kids to go with his 39.5 scoring average."
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That senior season was the second Platt had led the nation in scoring. During his junior year, he averaged 36 points per game. When he finished at Huntington, he was the program's all-time leader in career rebounds (1,917), career field goals made (1,463) and career free throws made (774).
Platt, who is now battling liver cancer, said there was no one in the world who loved basketball more than he did. No one.
"I had an unbelievable love for the game," he said. "I can sit here and say I don’t believe there is anyone who has more enjoyment for it than I do. I think it's impossible."
A dining room table goal
Growing up in Huntington County, he "lived with a basketball in his hand," said Platt. The only boy in his family, with two older sisters and one younger one, he had plenty of farm chores to do. His dad, Darl, thought his son deserved to have some fun.
When Platt was 6 or 7, Darl snuck the leaves out of the dining room table and took them outside. He nailed them together into a makeshift backboard and hung it on the side of the barn. His mom Clanedia was flabbergasted. Then she saw how much Platt adored that goal.
"In between doing chores, dragging feed and working with cattle, I would shoot on the side of the barn," Platt said. His mom would have to drag him in for supper. His dad would have to drag him away to go to bed.
"That was my life," Platt said. "That’s what I loved doing."
It paid off in a big way. By the time he was a junior at Union Township High, people started noticing this lanky, tall Platt kid. There were 10 tiny high schools in Huntington County and both his junior and senior years, Platt was the county's leading scorer.
And Platt was young. So young. Because he was such a tall little boy, his parents sent him off to school early. When he started his senior season, he was just 16. When he graduated at 17, he had racked up 1,270 points and was twice the team's MVP.
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Colleges clamored for him to come play for them: Anderson University, Taylor University, Grace College, Huntington, they all recruited him.
"Going to college, it just wasn't something I wanted to do," Platt said. "So, I told them all no."
Instead, Platt spent the next four years farming, he got married and he had a son. He was loving his life, he still shot off the side of the barn.
He had no idea he was about to become a college basketball superstar.
'Just please, play basketball'
Platt was on the farm when Huntington coach Keith Spahr came after him.
"You can stay home, farm, raise hogs, raise cattle, you’ve got a little baby boy," Spahr told him. "You could do everything a non-college athlete would do."
Just please, play basketball.
And so Platt, finally ready for college, played basketball. He entered his first season a 22-year-old freshman. He remembers players on other teams would heckle him on the line as he shot free throws.
Why'd you just now come to college? Old man.
Platt would tease them, telling them it took him all this time to get through high school. He knew what he was doing was rare.
During those four years of college, his days were "chaotic," Platt said.
After morning chores and breakfast he would go to class. If he had time in the afternoon, he'd come home for more farm chores, doing a little planting or working with the livestock. Then to practice or to a game. Then back home at night, to take the tractor out for more farming.
Most of Platt's days were 18-hour ones.
All the while, he impressed the world with this basketball talent. He won two buzzer beater games for Huntington, he had a 57-point game against Goshen.
"It seemed like everything I shot went in," he said.
And while leading the nation in scoring his junior year, Platt became a father for the second time — during a game. He knew his wife, Peggy, was in labor, so his sister sat in the audience giving him signals as to how close Peggy was. When Polly was born, Platt was still playing.
"And we won that game," he said, adding he's pretty sure his wife was OK with his choice to keep playing. "Well, she never mentioned it. I think she kind of understood."
"We just didn't know any better," Peggy said this week, with a laugh. "Who has another baby when your husband is a junior in college?"
Still, Peggy said she wouldn't change a thing. She looks back on those days fondly, when she sat in the stands with the kids watching their dad play.
"We just enjoyed every bit of it," she said.
Good enough for the NBA
To this day, it's hard to explain the key to his scoring success, Platt said. He was good from the outside and in the paint. He was tall and scored plenty of his own 3s by making a layup and getting fouled.
"But I tease people and I tell them if you shoot enough you're going to score a lot," he said. "Really, I practiced a lot. And I was just determined."
When he graduated from Huntington in 1974, he was drafted by the NBA's Washington Bullets. Platt played the whole exhibition season. K.C. Jones, the Bullets coach at the time, told Platt he was good enough to make the team.
Platt was competing and winning against NBA greats. But, Jones told him, he had 12 no-cut contracts, so he had to let many go. It was going to be tight.
Platt was the final player released from the team following the pre-season schedule. He was disappointed but knew he was good enough to make it.
The next year, four NBA teams offered Platt tryouts. This time, the farm, his wife and his family came first.
"I just told my wife, 'This isn't for me. I don’t want to pick up my family and go somewhere else and maybe get cut again,' " he said. "I had proved to myself I was good enough to play in the NBA. That was enough for me."
Follow IndyStar sports reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow. Reach her via email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Husband, father, farmer set Indiana's college basketball scoring record