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The River Rat

Written by: Bill Murphy 10/17/2018

He graduated as Indiana's all time leading scorer at the time. He would be Indiana's MVP in his junior and senior year. He would be named All-Big Ten first team his senior year. He came to Indiana from southern Indiana. Guess away, but the River Rat was none other then Lou Watson from Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Lou would score 757 points in his Indiana career. At 6’5”, he was one of the college games’ first big guards. He would be connected to his Hall of Fame basketball coach Branch McCracken. Many Indiana fans don't really know how important Lou was to Indiana basketball.  During his junior and senior years, he would lead Indiana to records of 14-8 and 17-5 as McCracken's coach on the court. Lou would also witness basketball history as a teammate of the Big Ten's first African American basketball players in Bill Garrett. In his senior year Indiana would finish 20th in the nation, while Lou would finish second in scoring for the Hoosiers for three straight years.  Finishing his career as a player, Lou would start as McCracken's assistant in 1950-51 season and remain there until 1965 with the exception for the years ‘53 to ‘55 when he coached at Huntington high school.  


In 1965, McCracken won his last battle getting Lou the head coaching position at Indiana.  Lou would take over in the 1965-66 season for a team that had lost it's seven top players and 2,046 of the 65 teams 2,200 points. In his first year, Indiana finished 8-16, finishing in a tie for 9th with Purdue. However, in Lou's second year, Indiana did something never seen before as they went from last to first in the Big Ten with an 18-8 record. It would be Indiana's first trip to the NCAA tourney since 1958. IU’s next three years were disappointing as the Hoosiers finished 9th, 10th, and 10th in the Big Ten.  However, Lou would miss coaching the the 1969-70 season after a back operation.

In the 1970-71 season, Watson would coach his last season at IU with a team that included 5 Indiana high school All-Stars that included George McGinnis, Steve Downing, and John Ritter. That team would finish with a record of 17-7 and a 4th place position in the Big Ten.  It was a sad ending for Watson's career that would end in controversy as he retired from the game. Lou, showing his true character, would remain at Indiana serving in various roles and being a help to new coach Bob Knight. To really know Lou Watson, we look at a story by Vern Payne who would say in one game — I was ahead in a fast break but the player with the ball failed to throw it to me. The next day when we came to practice, coach Watson sent us to the film room and showed that play saying “here at Indiana, the only color we care about are Indiana's red and white… we are one team… anyone who doesn't play that way is gone."  Coach Watson was always trying to make his players the best players and people they could be. George McGinnis would say of his affection for Watson and how unfair Watson had been treated.  After it was all said and done, The River Rat Lou Watson would indeed be a major contributor to Indiana basketball history.