Todd's UM story through the eyes of his dad

Division I college basketball hasn't had an undefeated national champion since nearly a decade before Todd Abernethy was born. But he's heard a lot about that last one.

Indiana went 32-0 in 1975-76, one year after Kentucky had ended the Hoosiers' undefeated run 92-90 just one game short of the Final Four. In those two seasons Indiana went an amazing 63-1.

Tom Abernethy, Todd's father and a frequent visitor to Ole Miss and Oxford the past four seasons, was on those teams, a key starter on Indiana's 1975-76 team that won it all and never lost.

Tom Abernethy, who played in the NBA for the Lakers, Warriors, and Pacers, has been pleased Todd has gotten the chance to play on a championship team this season and experience a winner before leaving college. But for the Abernethys, it's always been more about the total experience than just winning and losing.

"A lot of people will judge success by wins and losses," said Tom, a South Bend native who lives in the Indianapolis suburb of Carmel and owns Indiana Basketball Academy, a year-round facility for kids. "For Todd it's always been bigger than that. Relationships and what God is calling him to do has been the bigger driving force for him."

Todd says his dad's basketball experience and knowledge have been invaluable to him.

"My dad, with his basketball history, has a great balance being a father and a coach," said Todd, whose 20-12 Ole Miss team hosts 25-7 Appalachian State in round one of the NIT Wednesday night. "He knows the game so well. He gives me advice. He knows when to stop. It's not all basketball. He loves me apart from basketball. Sometimes kids and parents struggle because the parents are so overbearing and put too much pressure on the kids. My parents have done a great job, and I really respect them.

"It means so much to me," Todd continued. "I'm so thankful to have two parents who love me and support me. My dad's job being so flexible, it gives them an opportunity to come and support me. Every year they have come to a lot of games, and this year they have come to even more, home and away."

Todd, recently engaged to Ole Miss track team member Micah Pioreck of Memphis, has a lot of support from back home in Indiana. His first season in college, the Rebels played at Evansville and beat the Purple Aces on a last-second shot by Kendrick Fox. There were some 70 people there supporting Todd.

"People from my high school, coaches, kids, friends, it was one of my best memories," Todd said.

And that was only for starters. This season has wrapped things up just like everyone would have wanted – in winning fashion.

"As a parent you always want great things to happen for your children," Tom said. "God has grown him and me through the setbacks and the losses. That being said, it's been such a blessing this season as the team is winning and they're able to enjoy the success they haven't been able to enjoy in the past. So it's fun. You don't ever get tired of winning."

The trips may have gotten a little tiring. Tom and Todd's mom, Susie, have made it many times. They've also been joined by Todd's older twin brothers, Andy and Matt, as well as other family members and friends at various games.

"We've been here a lot. We know the Square very well," Tom said, smiling. "We've gone to several football games and baseball games. We've spent a lot of time here. We couldn't be any more happy if Todd had gone anywhere else."

And he almost did. He committed out of Heritage Christian High School to Wright State in Dayton, Ohio. He hadn't yet signed when WSU head coach Ed Schilling was let go. Todd began to look into other options.

Memphis was a strong one. John Calapari was interested in him. After Todd decided on Ole Miss, Schilling actually rejoined Calapari as an assistant coach, as he had been under Calapari at UMass.

"At the end it was Ole Miss and Memphis," Tom said of Todd's choices after he decommitted from Wright State. "We made a big trip down here and visited both schools. After that, it seemed pretty clear to all three of us, Todd, Susie, and me, that Ole Miss had a lot to offer as a full college experience.

"And Todd loved Rod Barnes and looked forward to playing for a coach like Rod Barnes. I think Rod's faith and the type person he is was real appealing to Todd."

Which made last season's end all the more tough.

"It was sad when it happened and as dad I asked Todd if he wanted to transfer and go somewhere else for his senior year," Tom said. "But Todd had not even thought about transferring. He said he felt God had him on this campus and on this team for a reason. It wasn't even a consideration for him."

Andy Kennedy has been a blessing for Todd as well, according to Tom.

"Todd has appreciated Coach Kennedy so much," Tom said. "Todd cannot say enough good things about Coach Kennedy. He has done such a great job with Todd and really everybody and helped them have such an enjoyable year. I admire his coaching abilities and really am excited about the future of Ole Miss basketball with what he's been able to do. I'd never say anything negatively about Rod Barnes. I loved Rod Barnes, and Todd loved Rod Barnes. As a dad I've been really happy to see how Todd has responded this year and how Coach Kennedy has responded to Todd and encouraged him and the other players and gotten out of them the God-given abilities they each seem to have."

Tom has watched Todd basically every step of his career and been a big part of it, too.

"I've been fortunate enough to be able to coach all my kids," he said - Andy and Matt played NAIA-level college basketball. "I coached Todd and his team through AAU and we traveled all around the country for tournaments. One interesting story was we were a final eight team out of 120 at an AAU tournament at Disney World. In that final eight game we played Lebron James and the Ohio team. LeBron's team beat us by 16 that day. The next year we played Lebron again and we ended up beating his team by one. Todd was our best player both those years. He was a good basketball player growing up. He had the potential all along. It's been enjoyable this year to see him be able to show the potential he had. It's taken experience and time for him to get to this point."

Tom says he's also been very pleased that Todd and his teammates have experienced a winning season and postseason play this year. It's reminded him of his playing days and the winning they did in Bloomington.

"It took a lot of effort and work and concentration to win all those games back then," said Tom, who played all four of his college years for IU head coach Bob Knight; Bob Weltlich, the Ole Miss head coach from 1977-82, was an Indiana assistant then. "It was very special, and that doesn't happen without sacrifice and a unique set of circumstances with a great coach and great players and everything in place."

Tom admits that every year he and his family and former teammates keep an eye out on a team that might be headed toward an unbeaten mark, which for 31 seasons hasn't happened.

"It's kind of become a joke in our family," he said. "We watch to see when a team might go all the way or finally lose. The bottom line is we did what we did and we're no better or worse. But in 1976 we won it all, and we were what we were and today is what it is. But we do joke about it and remember we were the last undefeated team. And it was special. There are so many good teams now. There are so many talented players in this country. It's just tougher today."

He and Knight, now the head coach at Texas Tech, remain friends.

"We have a great relationship, and I consider him a very close friend, and hopefully he would say the same thing," Tom said. "We had such respect for him. It was amazing to play for a guy who knows the game so well and had us so prepared."

Tom has season tickets behind the bench for Indiana games at Assembly Hall. The past four years he's made less games there and more games here. He'll likely spend more time in Bloomington at games again.

He will also have more time to spend at Indiana Basketball Academy ( now that Todd's college career is winding up. Tom says it's his way of staying in the game and also helping kids get started in life.

"What it's evolved into is a place for kids to learn the game and learn to have fun playing the game," he said. "It's not high level where we try to get kids ready for the pros or for college. We get kids from about four years old up to around 12. They're all local. We just love ‘em to death and show them you can have fun playing sports and develop character through sports. We teach them the game and we have fun doing it. It's amazing how successful it's been. We have a Bible basics class at the end of every class that we do for about five minutes where we teach real basic elementary truths from God's word. That's an optional thing; this isn't a Christian camp per se, but we have a lot of kids who come for that part of it. It's a fun, safe, enjoyable environment, and Todd's also been a big part of it."

Just like he and his dad and their entire family have been for Ole Miss basketball for four seasons.

"Ole Miss and the whole community of Oxford have provided a great college experience for Todd in a big way," Tom said. "He's just grown up here."

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