INDIANAPOLIS - Before Royce Waltman captivated Indiana's basketball fans with his folksy attitude and a penchant for winning, he was demanding the best of himself and the players he mentored in south-central Pennsylvania.
The area lost one of its most accomplished coaches on Monday night when Waltman, who won 276 games in 17 seasons guiding the Bedford boys before becoming Bob Knight's right-hand man at Indiana University, died at the age of 72 after a lengthy battle with health problems.
Waltman's wife, Carole, notified officials at Indiana State - one of three colleges he coached after moving on from his post as one of Knight's assistants - Tuesday morning of the death, sports information director Ace Hunt said.
"While we knew it was coming, it's still quite a blow," said John Black, a former player for Waltman with the Bisons in the 1960s who parlayed what he learned into a successful coaching run with the program years later. "I think most of his players took some of his personality along with them.
"One of the best things that happened to me was playing for him. Maybe the best thing."
Black was one of many former Waltman players still living in the Bedford area, as do Waltman's brother, John, and nephew, Steve, who also went on to coach the Bedford boys. Black described Waltman, a standout athlete and 1960 graduate at Hyndman who went on to play basketball for a year for Pitt before switching to baseball at Slippery Rock, as someone "driven to succeed." Black experienced it both as a player for Waltman and an opposing coach at Chestnut Ridge.
"Coaching against him was very tough," Black said.
After going 276-110 at Bedford with the likes of eventual Penn State recruit Dick Mumma, Waltman spent the next six seasons by Knight's side, helping to keep the Hoosiers a national power, working with the 1984 gold-medal winning Olympic basketball team and eventually playing a key role in helping the Hoosiers win their fifth national championship in 1987.
"I never had a better assistant coach than Royce was. A guy that was smarter about the game of basketball or just a better person than Royce was," Knight told Indiana television station WTHR. "When it comes time to write everything in the final tally, Royce Waltman will be one of the nicest, one of the best, one of the smartest people I've ever known.
"Royce was just good. He understood the game. He taught the game well. He was very adept at getting kids to play their best. And as I said, there's nobody that I've been associated with in the game of basketball or out of the game of basketball than I respected more than Royce Waltman."
Waltman and Knight had similar coaching philosophies. Waltman made his first impression on Knight on the camp circuit when Knight was at Army and often was used as the first speaker at Indiana's camps because of his ability to loosen up a crowd with his dry humor.
"His knowledge of the game and ability to teach it was only eclipsed by the way he made you feel when you were with him," Indiana coach Tom Crean said in a statement Tuesday. "Personally, I respected him long before I came to Indiana. In getting to know Royce here, I was incredibly fortunate to have become his friend."
After he finished coaching in a second stint at the Division II University of Indianapolis in 2008, Waltman returned to Indiana as the color commentator on Hoosier radio broadcasts. He left that job in December to undergo surgery and never returned.
"Royce was one of these coaches that endeared himself to everybody, even those who he got angry with now and then," said Don Fischer, the Hoosiers' longtime play-by-play man. "Everybody that knew him respected him and liked him. He was a terrific basketball coach but he was much more than that to everyone he knew. The time we spent with him on our broadcasts was absolutely special."
The blunt-speaking coach often told people that if coaches weren't fired for losing, they'd get rehired. And while he touched players with his heartfelt stories, Waltman taught the game in a manner that impressed colleagues.
In 1990, he led DePauw to a Division III national runner-up finish. He turned the University of Indianapolis into a Division II power, and he led Indiana State to consecutive NCAA tournament appearances in 2000 and 2001.
DePauw hired Waltman in May 1987. In five seasons at the school located between Indianapolis and Terre Haute, Waltman went 99-38, was ranked No. 1 twice in the Division III preseason poll and made the division tournament three times.
In 1992-93, he took over at Indianapolis, which had just one winning season in the previous 13 years. Waltman posted five winning seasons in six years with the Greyhounds, leading them to the NCAA tourney three times. Twice, he was named Great Lakes Valley Conference coach of the year and he won the school's only GLVC title in 1996.
In 1997, he took the Indiana State job and put Larry Bird's alma mater back on the national map by leading them to two straight NCAA tourney appearances and winning the 2000 Missouri Valley Conference coach of the year award. But that was followed by a streak of six straight losing seasons. He was let go with a 124-165 record and the second-most wins in school history when his contract expired after his 10th season.
"He was one of the most detailed guys I have ever known," said longtime area scholastic and college coach Bernie Jubeck of Altoona. "He gave his kids freedoms on the court but in a controlled way. And he would do anything for you. I know I would talk to him when he became an assistant at Indiana and then a head coach. He was so good at giving advice and information."
Waltman, in fact, returned to Bedford to run camps with Black in the 1990s.
"That was just Royce. He certainly never forgot where he came from, and he always wanted to give back to the kids," Black said. "I've worked a lot of camps in my life, but the couple of weeks I worked with Royce, I really, really enjoyed it. Even at that point in my life, it was still a learning process. you could always learn from Royce."
Those that knew him said Waltman set an example even after leaving the coaching ranks.
"The sign of this man's toughness was on our trip to New York when we played Washington and UConn in the Wounded Warrior project. We all knew he was in pain and he went great lengths to not show it and stayed focused on his radio duties," Crean said. "It was another example of what made him a great leader, his poise under pressure and putting others before himself."
Funeral arrangements Waltman were pending. In addition to his wife, Waltman is survived by a son, Kevin, a daughter, Suzanne, and several grandchildren.