Branch McCracken

Branch McCracken with Dick Farley and Bob Leonard (Photo: Indiana University Archives)

(Contributor: Rob Jiang)

Branch McCracken Biography

Branch McCracken was a basketball player and coach from Monrovia, Indiana who left a tremendous legacy with Indiana University. Branch McCracken was the first coach to win a national championship for the Indiana University Hoosiers and he would win two championships (1940 and 1953) as the head coach for Indiana basketball. Branch McCracken played for the Hoosiers for three seasons between 1928 and 1930. He passed away on June 4th, 1970 at the age of 61.

  • Name: Emmett Branch McCracken
  • Position: Center / Forward / Guard
  • Nationality: USA
  • Birthday: June 9, 1908
  • Died: June 4, 1970 (61 years old)
  • Hometown: Monrovia, Indiana
  • High School: Monrovia High School
  • Height: 6’4″ (193 cm)
  • Weight: 200 lb (91kg)
  • Seasons as a Player: 3 (1928-1929, 1928)
  • Seasons as Indiana Basketball Head Coach: 24 (1938-1943, 1946-1965)

Accomplishments, Awards, and Accolades

  • Big Ten Most Valuable Player (1928)
  • Big Ten First Team (1928, 1929, 1930)
  • Consensus All-American (1930)
  • NCAA Champion (1940, 1953)
  • Basketball Hall of Fame (Inducted in 1960)
  • College Basketball Hall of Fame (Inducted in 2006)

Branch McCracken High School Career

Branch McCracken played for Monrovia High School in Monrovia, Indiana and instantly became a star on his high school team. He led his small high school team to back-to-back Tri-State Tournament championships in 1925 and 1926. The tournament included teams from Indiana, Ohio, and Kentucky and took place in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Logansport Pharos Tribune Article in 1925

In the 1925 tournament, Monrovia High School represented Indiana as one of fourteen schools from the state. There were a total of 53 teams that competed in the Tri-State Tournament. After defeating Indiana’s Logansport High School, Aurora High School advanced to face Branch McCracken and Monrovia High School in the 1925 championship game. Monrovia High School won the championship with a final score of 29-21. A string of six consecutive tournament wins would give Monrovia High School the title of the Tri-State Tournament champions in 1925. Branch McCracken would be named on the All Tri-State Team.

The following year, Branch McCracken again led his Monrovia High School Bulldogs to the 1926 Tri-State tournament. Twelve teams from Indiana were represented in the 1926 edition of the Tri-State Tournament again held in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the final match up of the 1926 Tri-State Tournament, Monrovia High School matched up against Summitville High School in a match up between two in-state Indiana teams. The Bulldogs were triumphant in a 19-17 victory over Summitville and won the Tri-State Tournament title in consecutive years. After the game, many newspapers heralded the play of Branch McCracken one of the most impressive individual performances on both offense and defense in the Tri-State Tournament. Branch McCracken was again awarded the honor for being the Most Valuable Player.

Branch McCracken Seasons as a Indiana University Player

1927-1928 Indiana Basketball Season
Everett Dean (4th Season)
15-2 (10-5 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten

1928-1929 Indiana Basketball Season
Everett Dean (5th Season)
7-10 (4-8 Big Ten)
8th Place Big Ten

1929-1930 Indiana Basketball Season
Everett Dean (6th Season)
8-9 (7-5 Big Ten)
4th Place Big Ten

Branch McCracken Indiana University Basketball Career

Indiana University Varsity Basketball 1927-1928 (Photo: Arbutus, IU Yearbook)

Branch McCracken enrolled at Indiana University in 1926 after completing his senior year of high school at Monrovia. At the time, Branch McCracken was still participating in varsity football so he was unable to join basketball practice until after November 19th, 1926. He was the leading candidate to be Indiana’s starting center for the Hoosiers who were coached by Everett Dean.

Branch McCracken earned the nickname of “Big Bear” due to his 6-foot-4 frame which was considered very tall during his time. He was a complete player at Indiana University and he was used in a multitude of positions, playing the center, forward, and guard positions on the court for coach Everett Dean.

Although he did not have much experience playing at the collegiate level, Branch McCracken exceled very quickly under the guidance of his new head coach at Indiana University. The Hoosiers played against Cincinnati on New Year’s Eve 1927, where the Hoosiers defeated the Bearcats 56-41. A Cincinnati local newspaper wrote that Branch McCracken was Indiana’s “high point man,” which meant that he led the team scoring. The newspaper would also go and mention that their success came “by virtue of their accurate shooting from various angles of the court.”

In the Hoosiers next game, Branch McCracken scored 24 of the teams 32 points, defeating fellow Big Ten school the University of Chicago. Indiana University’s yearbook reflected that Branch “became at once a hero and a marked man,” after his performance in that game.

McCracken played very tough and never missed a game during his time at Indiana University. Even when injuries bothered him and limited his abilities on the court, Branch McCracken found a way to utilize himself in screens and other alternative ways to impact the game. Even when injured, Branch was too valuable of a player and too great of a scorer for coach Everett Dean to keep off of the court.

1927-1928 Big Ten Final Standings and Scoring Leaders (Photo: The Arbutus, IU Yearbook)

During his three seasons as a player at Indiana University, McCracken led the team in scoring for three consecutive years. In 1928, Branch McCracken was named the Big Ten’s Most Valuable Player. He also set the Big Ten’s single season record with 147 points in 1930, which was set just a season prior by Purdue’s Charles “Stretch” Murphy. Of all of the points scored during McCracken’s three years by the Hoosiers, McCracken was responsible for a third of all points scored by his team. He graduated with a 12.3 points per game average and graduated as the Big Ten’s leading career scoring record holder.

Branch McCracken as the Head Coach of Ball State (1930-1938)

Shortly after graduating Indiana University in 1930, Branch McCracken accepted a position as the head basketball coach at Ball State Teachers College, now currently named Ball State University. As the head coach of the Ball State Cardinals, Branch McCracken consistently made them a threat within the state of Indiana. In fact, Ball State’s only ever victory against Indiana University came during Branch McCracken’s time as the head coach of Ball State. Many record books do not have this documented given the poor record keeping of the times.

Over the course of eight seasons, Branch McCracken finished his Ball State Teachers College career with a final cumulative record of 86-57.

Branch McCracken as the Head Coach of Indiana University (1938-1943, 1946-1965)

In the spring of 1938, newspapers began reporting that Dean Everett was looking to take on a basketball position at Stanford University. At the time, Dean Everett was the coach of both Indiana University’s basketball and baseball teams. With the Indiana basketball head coaching position opening up, Branch McCracken was among those considered to replace the future Naismith Basketball Hall of Famer. Everett Dean left Indiana University after compiling a 162-93 record with three Big Ten titles.

Branch McCracken coaching (Photo: IU Archives)

Sure enough, the former Indiana Hoosier was selected to become the school’s succeeding head coach. Branch McCracken would be Indiana University’s 20th basketball head coach. Branch McCracken would replace his coach at Indiana University and his former mentor.

Branch McCracken would coach the Indiana Hoosiers for 24 seasons, which included two spans. The first span between 1938 and 1943 and the second span between 1946 and 1965. The three year hiatus starting in 1943 was the result of Branch McCracken serving as a lieutenant in the United States Navy during World War II.

The Hoosiers earned the nickname as the “Hurryin’ Hoosiers” under the guidance of head coach Branch McCracken. They received this name due to their quick pace of play and their ability to move the ball up the court with tremendous aggression. The Hoosiers did not like to grind out games and slow down the pace. McCracken’s teams preferred transition offense and took advantage of the fast-break.

The Hurryin’ Hoosiers coached by Branch McCracken in the Fieldhouse (Photo: IU Archives)

The first team under Branch McCracken had a roster full of Indiana players except Robert Hansen from Chicago and Ralph Dorsey from Kentucky. The team finished an impressive 17-3. The Hoosiers split their games with Purdue in the 1938-1939 season. Despite their 17-3 record, the Hoosiers were not invited to any post-season play as Ohio State ended up winning the Big Ten conference. Ohio State ended up as the National Runner Ups in 1939. The Hoosiers were undefeated at home in their arena The Fieldhouse located in Bloomington, Indiana.

Just two years into his coaching career at Indiana University, Branch McCracken got his first taste of victory on the national stage. Branch McCracken coached a team led by All-American Marvin Huffman, who took Indiana to historical highs. The Hoosiers finished the year with a 20-3 record and defeated Kansas by a score of 60-42. The championship game was played in Municipal Auditorium in Kansas City, Missouri. At the age of 31, Branch McCracken won Indiana’s first ever NCAA championship and to this day, he holds the record as being the youngest head coach ever to win the national championship.

The 1940 Collegiate Champions (Photo: IU Athletics)

One of the biggest emphasis for Coach McCracken was to use players from the state of Indiana. By the 1940-1941 season, the team was nearly entirely compromised of Hoosiers from the state of Indiana. In fact, the only player from outside of the state was Robert White who was from Joliet, Illinois. The rest of the 24 man squad were in-state player recruits. He preferred to recruit players that played at strong high school programs that had success in various tournaments at that level.

In 1953, Branch McCracken would against find similar success on the national stage. The new supporting team cast included Bobby “Slick” Leonard, Dick Farley, Lou Scott, Charlie Kraak, and Don Schlundt. The Hoosiers again defeated Kansas in Kansas City, but this time by a margin of just a single point. The Hoosiers won 69-68 over Kansas. At the end of the 1952-1953 season, the Hoosiers finished with a record of 23-3 with their only losses being three road games at Notre Dame, Kansas State, and Minnesota.

Branch McCracken celebrates an NCAA championship in 1953 (Photo: IU Archives)

Branch McCracken retired in 1965 after winning two NCAA championships with the Indiana Hoosiers and four conference times during that span. He compiled a 450-231 record during his time between Ball State and Indiana University. Branch McCracken would be replaced by a coach named Lou Watson.

I’ve never regretted my profession. Taking kids and helping to make something out of them is the most rewarding part of my job. Basketball has been good to me. It’s made me lots of friends and I owe the game more than I can ever repay.

Emmett Branch McCracken

Branch McCracken Personal Life

Emmett Branch McCracken was born to Charles McCracken and Ida McCracken in Monrovia, Indiana located in Morgan County on June 8th, 1908. Monrovia Junior-Senior High School honored Branch McCracken by naming the gymnasium after Branch. Indiana University has also named the court after Branch McCracken as well.

Branch McCracken Gymnasium in Monrovia, Indiana (Photo: Monrovia Athletics)
Branch McCracken Court at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (Photo: Brian Spurlock, USA TODAY Sports)

McCracken Basketball Camps

McCracken Basketball Camps is a basketball camp founded by Branch McCracken in 1963. Since then, the basketball camp has helped over 125,000 students from across the Midwest to develop their basketball skills and improve their overall knowledge of the sport. McCracken Basketball Camps are open to all skill sets at the younger level. They currently offer day camps as well as overnight camps in the states of Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin.

Branch: The Branch McCracken Story by Bill Murphy

For additional information, check out Indiana Hoosier historian Bill Murphy’s book on Branch McCracken. – Branch: The Branch McCracken Story.

Branch McCracken’s Historical Photographs

Branch McCracken drawing up a play for the Hoosiers in 1940 (Photo: IU Archives)

Branch McCracken and the 1952-1953 NCAA Championship Team (Photo: IU Archives)
Branch McCracken at Jeffersonville High School in 1945-1946 (Photo: HoopsHall)

Branch McCracken Videos

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