Over the years, Indiana has produced some very exceptional players in high school boys basketball.

Oscar Robertson, Clyde Lovellette, George McGinnis and Rick Mount are but a few that come to mind. None of them, though, can lay claim to the feat that Grass Creek’s Phil Wills accomplished.

In his senior season (1956-57), playing for the Grass Creek Panthers, Wills led the state in scoring with an astonishing 42.5 points per game average. Not even Damon Bailey, the state’s career scoring leader, could come close to matching what Phil did. Nobody in the history of Indiana high school basketball had averaged more than 40 points per game — and nobody has been able to do it since.

In his senior year with the Panthers, Wills was a force that couldn’t be stopped. At 6-foot-5, he was usually the tallest player on the floor, but his game wasn’t that of the typical big man. Instead of banging around inside with his back to the basket, Wills was usually found facing the bucket draining jump shots or driving to the hole. Though he was the tallest on his team, he was also the quickest and opposing teams had difficulty defending him.

In fact, during his senior year the only thing that slowed him down was an ankle injury that caused him to miss three games. Game after game, opposing schools threw everything they had at Wills in hopes of slowing him down, but game after game they failed. In the 20 games he played that year, only twice was Wills held to fewer that 32 points. In his first game, Kewanna held him to his season-low of 20 points and in the sectional final, Logansport held him to 28.

Phil’s senior year was one for the ages. Early in the season he tagged Talma High for 45 points. Just a week later he got another 45 against Star City before erupting for 60 against Medaryville. In that game he went 24 of 35 from the field and 12 of 21 from the free throw line.

“Coach Jump really got on my butt after I’d missed the front end of a 1-and-1,” Wills recalled. “When Medaryville rebounded, they called a timeout and when I got to the huddle, Coach grabbed me by the arm and yelled at me to get my head in the game because I wasn’t focusing.”

Other games that year saw Wills scoring 49 against Pulaski, 47 in the Fulton County tournament, and 48 against Lucerne. By season’s end he had shattered numerous scoring records for Fulton County schools and in the Tippecanoe Valley Athletic Conference. He also set scoring records in nine opposing gyms including the old Berry Bowl. In the opening sectional game, he scored 40 points against Lucerne to claim the record.

When Grass Creek lost to Logansport in the sectional final, Wills had scored 102 in three sectional games, setting a new IHSAA record for sectional play. The previous record had been held by Don Schlundt’s 71 points set in 1951.

At the end of the season Wills received notice that he’d been selected to represent Indiana in the annual Indiana-Kentucky All-Star games.

“I never thought in a million years that I’d make that team,” he said. “I was really surprised, actually shocked, that I was picked with being from such a small school. But I was so happy for my school, my community, and my teammates. It wouldn’t have possible without Bill Jones, Jim James, Loren Thomas, Richard Fields and David Huffman.”

Several prominent college programs wanted Wills to attend their schools and play basketball. Among Big Ten schools courting him were Indiana, Purdue, Michigan and Michigan State. Tennessee was also seeking his services and Wills initially chose to follow Logansport’s Dalen Showalter to the Vols, but later changed his mind in favor of becoming a Boilermaker. His best game as a Purdue player came against Michigan when he had 20 points and collected 12 rebounds.

“It was a big shock to see how much different the college game was from high school,” Wills said.

While at Purdue, Wills enrolled in the advanced ROTC program. Upon graduation in 1962 he was commissioned into the US Army as an officer. After being stationed in the states and in Europe, he found himself on his way to Vietnam. While he was in Europe, though, he played basketball for a year for his company. One of his teammates was Owen Lawson who had played at Western Kentucky. The following year Wills became company commander and was forced to quit playing.

“I just didn’t have the time to play after being named commander,” he said.

While in Vietnam Wills received an injury to his leg and was awarded the Purple Heart. He also was awarded two Bronze Stars, one being for exceptional action against hostile forces. His unit was also awarded a Presidential Citation for outstanding performance in two major operations.

After his time in the service had ended, Wills found himself working in Chicago for Roadway Express. There he met his future wife and in 1975 he and Carol were married. Phil has three daughters, Laura, 43, Shannon, 35, and Allison, 31. His middle daughter was a standout high school basketball and volleyball player at Zionsville. Wills said his daughter was good enough to be an Indiana All-Star as well if it hadn’t been for a debilitating knee injury.

“She was tough, a very solid basketball player,” he said. “The very first game of her senior year though she blew out her knee. [Hoosier Basketball Magazine publisher] Gary Donna later told me she would have been picked to the team.”

After her high school career had ended, Shannon went on to play basketball for three seasons at Duke University before transferring and playing her senior year at Butler.

While Shannon was at Duke, Wills’ job took him to Pittsburgh where the family lived for awhile. He was then transferred to St. Louis before moving back to the Indianapolis area. The Willses now reside near Mooresville and he is the general manager and co-owner of Riley V Transport, a small trucking line.

Long after Wills’ playing days had ended, there were those who remembered his exploits as a hero of the hardwood. Former Logansport coach Keith Showalter made the nomination and in 1982 Phil was named to the IHSAA Silver Anniversary Team. That would not be the last of Phil’s accomplishments. After former basketball coach George Graskopf made the nomination, Phil was inducted into the Indiana Hall of Fame in 1999, making his career complete.

“Being named to the Hall of Fame ranked right up there with the awards I received while I was in the service,” Wills said. “It was a very special moment for me.”

It’s been awhile since Wills last played high school basketball, yet his name is still mentioned amongst the best to ever play the game. His 42.5 points a game average may never be topped. His 849 points his senior year still has him at No. 20 on the single-season best. Had he played the number of games that year as those above him, he would probably be at the top in this category as well. He is still in the top 50 players for career scoring, too.

He also has the distinction of being the player from the smallest high school to ever be named an Indiana All-Star.

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