Tom Abernethy

(Photo Credit: Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame)

(Contributor: Mike Pudlow)

Tom Abernethy is a basketball player born in South Bend, Indiana who played for Indiana University and spent 5 years in the NBA. He was a forward for the Hoosiers for four seasons (1972-1976). He was recruited by and played under Bob Knight. Abernethy was part of some of the best Hoosier teams of all time, including the legendary 1975-76 National Championship team that went undefeated. After playing for Indiana, Abernethy spent several years in the NBA (for the Lakers, Warriors, and Pacers) and also played in Italy. He is also well-known for creating the Indiana Basketball Academy, which has provided basketball skills training for over 25,000 kids in Indiana.

Tom Abernethy Biography

  • Name: Thomas Craig Abernethy
  • Position: Small Forward/Power Forward
  • Nationality: USA
  • Age: 69 years old
  • Birthday: May 6, 1954
  • Hometown: South Bend, Indiana
  • High School: St. Joseph’s High School (South Bend, Indiana)
  • Height: 6’7″ (201 cm)
  • Weight: 220 lb (99 kg)
  • Seasons: 4 (1972-1976)
  • Jersey: #51 High School / #33 College / #5 Professional
  • NBA Draft: 1976 / Round 3 / Pick 43 overall (Los Angeles Lakers)
  • Professional Career: Los Angeles Lakers (1976-1978), Golden State Warriors (1978-1980), Indiana Pacers (1980-1981), and Basket Brescia Leonessa (Italy, 1981-1983)
  • PostPlaying Career: Founded Indiana Basketball Academy (Youth skills academy)

Player Accolades and Awards

  • 1976 NCAA Champion
  • Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame (Inducted: 2012)

Tom Abernethy High School Career

Abernrethy had a prolific high school career at St. Joseph’s High School in South Bend. As a junior, Abernethy was part of the St. Joseph’s team that lost in the South Bend sectional championship. He played alongside another future Indiana star and Chicago Bulls player John Laskowski. The next season, Abernethy averaged 25.9 points per game as a senior (1971-72), setting the South Bend city scoring record with 648 points. During that season, Abernethy led the Indians to 22 victories and won the South Bend sectional championship.

Tom Abernethy in his St. Joseph Uniform (Photo Credit: HoopsHall)

Tom Abernethy would later state that winning that sectional was his favorite moment as a basketball player, stating “We played at Notre Dame and beat (South Bend) Adams. I had something like 30 points and 20 rebounds. It was a great moment.”

As Abernethy was compiling impressive numbers in high school, he began to be recruited by the Hoosiers. For him, it seemed like an obvious choice, but his mother wanted to ensure that the program was the right fit. As a result, she played hardball with Indiana’s disciplinarian head coach Bob Knight.

Abernethy recalls his first meeting with coach Knight: “It was in our living room and my mother grilled him. She was tough on him. They had been recruiting another player and she wanted to make sure that they wanted me. But I wanted to go to IU even if I hadn’t played basketball.” Ultimately, Bob Knight did enough convincing of Aberthnethy and his mother. Tom Abernethy committed to play under Bob Knight at Indiana University.

Tom Abernethy Seasons with the Hoosiers

1972-1973 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (2nd Season)
22-6 (11-3 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏅 NCAA Final Four
1973-1974 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (3rd Season)
23-5 (12-2 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏆 CCA Tournament Champions
1974-1975 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (4th Season)
31-1 (18-0 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏅 NCAA Elite Eight
1975-1976 Indiana Basketball Season
Bob Knight (5th Season)
32-0 (18-0 Big Ten)
🏆 1st Place Big Ten
🏆 NCAA Champions

Indiana University Career Statistics

1972-73 18 10.2 1 2.7 0.375 0.2 0.4 0.571 2.4 0.5 0.6 0.7 2.1
1973-74 28 15.7 2.2 4 0.549 1.3 1.7 0.750 3.6 0.7 1 1.2 5.7
1974-75 32 12 1.6 3 0.526 1 1.7 0.574 3 0.7 0.3 1.2 4.2
1975-76 32 32 4.2 7.4 0.561 1.7 2.3 0.743 5.3 2 1.2 2 10
Total 110 18.5 2.4 4.5 0.537 1.1 1.7 0.691 3.7 1.0 0.8 1.4 5.9

Tom Abernethy Indiana University Career

Tom Abernethy arrived on campus in 1972. In his first season at Indiana University, Abernethy saw limited time, playing in only 18 games for a stacked Hoosier squad. He compiled a total of 40 points (about 2.2 points per game) and also averaged 2.6 rebounds per game. Abernethy gained valuable experience playing alongside a plethora of talent, including 4 players averaging double digit points (headlined by famous names like Steve Downing and Quinn Buckner). Indiana won 22 games that season and reached the Final Four.

As a sophomore, he saw more time on the floor appearing in 28 games. He began building trust with head coach Bob Knight. During that season, Abernethy shot 54.9% from the field, averaging 5.7 points and 3.6 rebounds per game. Still, Abernethy found himself on a deep roster and had to share the ball with teammates like Steve Green (who averaged 16.7 points that season), fellow South Bend native John Laskowski, Scott May, Kent Benson, and Quinn Buckner. On an already talented roster, Tom Abernethy had to do everything necessary, and more, in order to get minutes on the court.

With such a historically gifted roster, Indiana continued its run of successful seasons finishing 23-8. Michigan was also very good that year and each team finished 12-2 in conference play, tying for first place in the Big Ten. Because of the then rule that only conference champions could appear in the NCAA Tournament, Indiana and Michigan had to square off for a 3rd time with the winner receiving the NCAA Tournament invite. Michigan ended up winning, leaving IU with the consolation prize of a Collegiate Commissioners Association Tournament (CCAT) appearance. This would be IU’s first and only appearance in the CCAT, and the Hoosiers made the most of it, taking home the championship.

As a junior, IU advanced to the Midwest Regional Final eventually falling Kentucky. On a personal level, there was a small dip in his numbers. Again, his modest statistics are a result of the immense talent around him. With 3 players averaging over 15 points per game, there was little opportunity for Abernethy to post big numbers. His averages fell to 4.2 points and 3.0 rebounds per game. Similarly, his field goal attempts dropped from 113 to 97. However, this turned out to be the prologue for what would be his best season yet.

Abernethy became a focal point of the team as a senior, posting 10.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. The Hoosiers began to rely on him more as he took a starting role replacing the graduated Steve Green and his field goal attempts skyrocketed from 97 to 237. During his 1975-76 senior campaign, he was also the most efficient during his career at Indiana University, shooting 56.1% from the field). He was the 3rd leading scorer for the Hoosiers behind Scott May (23.5 PPG) and Kent Benson (17.3 PPG).

This 1975-76 Indiana team is known as one of the best in the history of college basketball. The Hoosiers finished the season as the National Champions with a record of 32-0 overall and are the last team in college basketball to have an undefeated season. Tom Abernethy and the Hoosiers were part of several other historical milestones along the way.

In the preseason, Indiana faced off against the reigning World Champion: the Soviet National Team. The game was played in front of a sellout crowd of 17,377 at the Market Square Arena in Indianapolis, Indiana. Indiana ended up winning in convincing fashion, taking down the Soviets by a final score of 94-78.

The Hoosiers (who were ranked #1 in the nation) began the regular-season by playing #2 UCLA, the reigning NCAA Champion. This match-up was one of the very first made-for-TV college basketball games. The game was played in St. Louis and started at 11 PM to try to garner the highest national viewership possible. Once again, Indiana came away with an impressive victory, dominating UCLA 84-64. IU would have to face UCLA once again in the Final Four and the Hoosiers came out on top yet again 65-51. Abernethy scored 14 points in that game and followed up with 11 points in the National Championship game victory over Michigan.

Tom Abernethy Professional Career

After college, Abernethy was taken 43rd overall in the 1976 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Abernethy spent two years in Los Angeles, playing alongside famous names like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Don Chaney, and Kermit Washington. Abernethy averaged 6.3 points and 4.2 rebounds in his first season and 6.8 points with 3.6 rebounds in his second season.

Abernethy later said of Abdul-Jabbar: “He was unbelievable. My locker was next to his and I was so impressed with his work ethic.”

In June 1978, Abernethy was traded to the Buffalo Braves for a second round pick. Just a month later, the San Diego Clippers (the Braves moved from Buffalo to San Diego) allowed the Golden State Warriors to sign Abernethy in return for a 1979 second round pick.

While playing for Golden State, Abernethy for its featured in the Hollywood movie Inside Moves. The scene depicted one of the Warriors games and he was shown dribbling the ball up the court with the broadcaster saying his name.

After 2 seasons with the Warriors where he averaged about 6 points per game, he was later waived and picked up in December 1980 for the rest of the season by the Indiana Pacers. However, Abernethy saw little playing time, averaging only 9 minutes per game. Over the course of his NBA career, he accumulated 1779 career points.

To finish his career, Abernethy went to Italy and played for Basket Brescia Leonessa.

Abernrethy’s Indiana Basketball Academy

In 1995, Abernrethy created the Indiana Basketball Academy to provide skills training for young Indiana basketball players. The Academy provides facilities for camps and training, as well as provides a series of skills and leadership classes. Since its inception, the Academy has worked with over 25,000 young players. Among the graduates of Abernrethy-led classes are a plethora of eventual college basketball mainstays, including Yogi Farrell (Indiana), Kellen Dunham (Butler), Ryan Cline (Purdue), and Derrik Smits (Valpo, Butler). Even more famous names have played at the Academy’s facilities, like Gordon Hayward (Butler).

Tom Abernethy at the Indiana Basketball Academy

The Academy focuses on leadership and morals, just as much as on-the-court skills. Abernethy wanted to develop an organization that focuses just as much on developing character as they do on developing a player. In fact, beyond the obvious shooting and strength classes, the Academy also offers a Bible Basics course for those interested.

Abernrethy once noted in a publication, “Every kid is valuable to us. The kids know we care about them and the parents know we care about their kids. We try to help every kid and especially those who may not have a future in sports. We want to get them ready for the real world.”

Abernrethy’s Family

All of Abernethy’s three sons played college basketball. Andy played for Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana. Matt (twin brother of Andy) played for Grace College in Winona Lake, Indiana and was the 2003 Pete Maravich Award recipient, presented by the National Christian College Athletic Association. Todd, the youngest son, played for the University of Mississippi. Todd played several years overseas before returning stateside to start his coaching career. He served as director of basketball operations for IUPUI and as an assistant coach for Ole Miss. He also served as the head coach for Trinity International University. In 2019, Todd was named as an assistant coach for Florida Atlantic University.

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