Big Charlie – Austin Basketball Legend
“Charlie was the toughest guy I ever met. He was the strongest human being I’ve ever known” Gordon Deaton – Teammate of Austin basketball player Charlie Brandenburg
In the mid-1960s when high school basketball in Southern Indiana was typically associated with a wide open fast paced style of basketball, the name Charlie Brandenburg of Austin High School was often mentioned as a player who benefitted from the style of play as much as anyone. Big Charlie as he was often called, because of his muscular physique that made him look like a man among boys, was known for his soft jump shot and rugged rebounding. When Brandenburg graduated from Austin in 1965 he was the all-time leading rebounder in Indiana, an accomplishment for the most part that has went unrecognized.
Growing up in the small town of Austin, Charlie was well known for his athletic ability but also made a name for himself as a street tough kid who enjoyed a good fist-fight. It didn’t take long for others on the street to learn they shouldn’t mess with the big strong good looking kid, or those in Charlie’s circle of family and friends. Officially in the high school basketball program Charlie was listed as 6’3” for the era certainly a tall kid, but not indicative of why he was called Big Charlie. The word big had more to do with his broad upper torso and massive arms, and his weight was listed as 220 pounds, big for a high school kid even by today’s standards.
When Jim Whitaker was hired as the Austin High School basketball coach in the 1963-64 season he brought with him a style of play often referred to as “barn-yard basketball” a fast paced basketball style that fans across Southern Indiana were falling in love with, and a style that was complete opposite of what Austin basketball teams had played in the past. In fact, in Whitaker’s first year the Eagles averaged 76.9 points per game, a school record that still stands at Austin High School. The style of play was a perfect match for Brandenburg, and the records he complied in two years of play under Whitaker are amazing.
In the 1963-64 season Charlie’s junior year the Eagles finished with a 16 & 6 record and the team is considered one of the best Austin teams ever. Brandenburg a junior averaged 22.4 points per game and teammate Tom Rigdon, a guard averaged 21.9 point a game, it is the only time two Austin players averaged 20 or more points a game in the same season. That year Charlie averaged 21 rebounds a game while grabbing 462 boards. He had 34 rebounds in a win against rival Scottsburg, a 91-86 three overtime thriller, and late that season against Vevay he grabbed 37 rebounds.
In the 1964-65 season the Eagles won 13 games while losing eight, and Charlie’s senior year is one of the best seasons ever by an Indiana high school basketball player. That year Brandenburg averaged 24.9 rebounds a game, a mark that is still an Indiana High School record. He also averaged 23.8 points per contest with a school record of 48 against Henryville. Against Vevay that season he set a new rebound mark, with 38. Charlie’s 524 rebounds for the season raised his career total to 1,183, which at the time was the all-time record in Indiana. Ten times in his high school career Charlie grabbed 30 or more rebounds in a game, and incredibly 30 times he grabbed 25 or more rebounds in a game.
Gordon Deaton a lifelong resident of Austin played varsity basketball with Charlie and close to 50 years later has strong memories of him. “Charlie was the toughest guy I ever met. He was the strongest human being I’ve ever known; he had thick hands with a big barrel chest and broad back. Charlie jumped off of both feet when going after rebounds and he was an outstanding jumper.” Deaton says Big Charlie was always doing something that no one had seen before. Like the night at Southwestern Hanover when a misguided elbow broke his nose. “Charlie’s nose looked like it was split in two; his nose was hanging down over his lip. The worse thing I ever saw. Coach Whitaker took white tape and wrapped his nose and face to keep the nose in place. Charlie looked like a mummy, but the craziest thing about it is, Charlie played the entire 2nd half like that. His jersey was blood soaked from top to bottom, but he ended up playing a great game with about 30 rebounds that night.”
Charlie’s arsenal included a soft jump shot at the free throw line, and down low he used both left and right handed hook shots, and was deemed unstoppable in the low post. Those that played with him and against him commonly agree he was one of the best players they have ever seen play at the high school level. His coach Jim Whitaker once said, “The guy was phenomenal. He loved to play and play hard. He played above the rim as much as anyone I’ve ever seen at the high school level, the kid went after every rebound in the game. Back then a kid from a small school in Southern Indiana didn’t have a chance of making the Indiana All-Star team, and that’s a real travesty because there wasn’t a better player in the state of Indiana that season.”
After high school Charlie accepted a basketball scholarship to play for New Mexico Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico. The coach of Highlands was John Givens, who later became the first head coach of the Kentucky Colonels during the American Basketball Association’s first season in 1968.
When Charlie Brandenburg graduated from Austin High School he was the all-time leading rebounder in the history of Indiana high school basketball with 1,183 rebounds. His record was passed by George McGinnis in 1969 with 1,638 in his career. Since that time only six players have passed Charlie and his record is now 7th on Indiana’s all-time list. Big Charlie – the forgotten legend remains a basketball icon in the small community of Austin.
Sadly In 1990, while playing in a pickup game of basketball at the age of 45, Charlie suffered a heart attack and passed away, but his legacy remains as strong as ever.