Sports

‘Cream Abdul-Jabbar’ has Indiana State back in the spotlight

The first Magic Johnson and Larry Bird matchup in the 1979 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Championship Game is the most viewed college basketball game of all time. Being that more than 35 million people watched, certainly a few of them have wondered over the years what happened to the Indiana State Men’s Basketball Program.

Michigan State has been one of the most consistent teams in all of sports. In the 45 years Bird since left for the NBA, Indiana State has made the tournament only three times. The highest that it has been seeded was 12th. That 1978-79 team went 33-1 and was a No. 1 seed.

This season the Sycamores have returned to sports relevance. They are 25-5 and are currently ranked 23rd in the AP Poll. And just like the team that went to the title game all those years ago, this one is also powered by a star. His name is Robbie Avila, but social media knows him as Cream Abdul-Jabbar. He was trending on Wednesday after @kysportsradio posted highlights from his 35-point performance against Evansville.

Avila was a first-team All-State performer during his senior season at Oak Forest High School in Illinois, and is one of the highest rated recruits to ever play for Indiana State. In his sophomore season, Avila has become a force. He is averaging 17.4 points per game, 7.1 rebounds and nearly four assists on 54.8/50/81 shooting splits. Avila puts up these first-team All-Conference level statistics while donning eyewear that is similar to the player who is the source material for his viral nickname.

The eyewear looks like a mashup of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s goggles and Kurt Rambis’ glasses. Certainly not a Met Gala inspired look, but young Cream’s game is also more functionable than fashionable. Most of his work is done bludgeoning opponents with his 6-foot-10, 240 pound frame. However, if teams get too comfortable Avila also has long-distance shooting talent and some nifty passing that, through squinted eyes, resembles the Indiana State legend from the late 1970s.

With three weeks remaining before the start of the NCAA basketball tournaments, the men’s game is severely lacking in star power. Lines are winding around buildings in midwestern winter weather to see Caitlin Clark. Angel Reese is one of the most polarizing athletes in America. The most notable name in men’s college basketball is probably Rob Dillingham, who only plays 23 minutes per game for Kentucky.

New stars sometimes emerge during the tournament like Cameron Krutwig for those Loyola (Chi) teams from earlier in the decade. Avila is like the deluxe version of Krutwig. Not only can he bang in the paint, but also has a killer jump shot. Any college big who connects on more than 80 percent of his free throws has serious touch. He is going viral at the best time for his sport, because it is desperately in need of a spark.

Like Bird before him, Avila is putting up these stats by stomping on the lilliputians of college basketball. Evansville’s Missouri Valley Conference record is seven games below .500. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi is projecting Indiana State to be the only team from that conference to make the tournament.

During the 1979 tournament, Bird treated the class of college basketball just like he did the Missouri Valley Conference. He scored 35 points against Mark Aguirre and DePaul in a National Semifinal win. Aguirre would go on to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 1981 NBA Draft.

Cream has been smooth for most of this season, but he did struggle in Indiana State’s one game against a big-time opponent. He, too, lost to Michigan State, and played only 18 minutes due to foul trouble. Any shortcomings in March will be noticed, because Avila is a star now and only players of that caliber get cool nicknames.

Young Cream may not have Kareem’s skyhook, but he will certainly receive similar attention from opposing defenses in March now that he has returned Bird’s school to the national spotlight.



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