Former IU men's basketball All-American Walt Bellamy, the first Hoosier ever to be selected with the top pick in an NBA draft, has died at 74 the Atlanta Hawks announced this afternoon.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Walt Bellamy,” said IU Coach Tom Crean. “He was one of the most honored individuals that has ever been a part of the Hoosier basketball program. Our team had the privilege to meet him in 2008 at the Wheeler-Dowe Boys and Girls Club in Indianapolis and you realized what a special man he was. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family.”
A native of New Bern, North Carolina, Bellamy played for the Hoosiers from 1958-61 and Hall of Fame Coach Branch McCracken. Bellamy graduated from IU with the most rebounds in a career with 1,088 in only 70 games, while averaging 15.5 a game. Averaging 20.5 points a game and shooting 51.7 percent from the floor, Bellamy also averaged 17.8 rebounds a game (still IU’s record).
He also holds the school records for most rebounds in a season (649), most rebounds in a single game (33), most double-doubles in a career (59), most rebounds in a three-year career (1,008). In his final college game, he set IU and Big Ten Conference records that still stand with 33 rebounds (and 28 points) in an 82-67 win over Michigan.
Bellamy was named an All-American in both his junior and senior year (1960 and 1960) and was the first Hoosier taken No. 1 in the NBA draft (1961, Chicago Packers) and the first Hoosier named NBA Rookie of the Year.
"If you are naming the all-time best player at Indiana University, Walt Bellamy has to be in the conversation," said IU Hall of Famer and former sports editor of the Bloomington Herald Times Bob Hammel. "He was so powerful and very agile and was always appreciative of the recognition he received from IU.”
In 1960, he was a member of the gold medal winning US Olympic team along with Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and Jerry Lucas. In 1982, he was among those to comprise the first class of the Indiana University Athletic Hall of Fame. In 2000, he was selected to Indiana University's All-Century Team.
Bellamy played in the NBA for 14 seasons and put up monster numbers for the Chicago Packers (1961-63), Baltimore Bullets (1963-65), New York Knicks (1965-68), Detroit Pistons (1968-70), Atlanta Hawks (1970-74) and New Orleans Jazz (1974).
Bellamy was named the NBA Rookie of the Year in 1962 after having arguably one of the three greatest rookie seasons in NBA history (along with Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson). His 31.6 points per game average that season is second all-time for a rookie to Wilt Chamberlain's 37.6, and the 19 rebounds per game he averaged that season is third best all-time for a rookie (to Chamberlain's 27 and Bill Russell's 19.6).
Bellamy also led the NBA in field goal percentage in his rookie season, and had a 23-point, 17-rebound performance in the 1962 NBA All-Star Game.
He was a four-time All-Star who averaged 20.1 points and 13.7 rebounds in his career.
In 14 years in the league, he played in 1,043 of 1,055 possible games and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. Bellamy spent his later years working for the NAACP in Atlanta.