INDIANAPOLIS -- Leon Agullana was drinking beer, talking basketball, laughing, reminiscing and staring into the eyes of the man who, nearly 70 years ago, shattered his basketball dream.
The man across the table from Agullana was an unlikely comrade. Most people probably know his name, Bobby Plump.
But Leon Agullana, does that ring a bell? Probably not. Agullana knows that. He knows he was on the wrong side of "Hoosiers."
He was there when Plump's Milan, a small country school, waltzed into the big city March 20, 1954, and beat Agullana's team, basketball powerhouse Muncie Central, in the Indiana high school state basketball championship game.
Agullana didn't like Plump much then, in that moment. But as the years have passed, the two have become dear friends. No one could be happier for Plump's fame than Agullana, even if that fame came at his expense.
After all, just about everybody has heard the winner's story, the Plump side of the story of that night inside Butler Fieldhouse. That game was the stuff Hollywood scripts are made of, a real-life sports drama turned 1986 movie "Hoosiers."
But not many have heard Agullana's side.
The real-life cast of characters from that game has dwindled through the years. Just four players on Muncie Central's 1954 roster are still alive.
Agullana is one of them -- and he is the last living Muncie Central player who was on the court as Plump made the last-second, game-winning shot that turned a speck-on-the-map rural school into a team of basketball lore.
'Then, just like that, it was all over'
There was a deafening atmosphere inside Butler Fieldhouse. It was intense and, notably, one sided, said Agullana, a sixth man, senior shooting guard.
He heard the booming chants: "Go, go, go Milan. Trounce the Bearcats." He heard the raucous boos as Muncie Central scored and the ear-splitting roars as Milan racked up points.
"About every person there, except a few, was for Milan, which I don’t blame them," Agullana, 87, told IndyStar last week from his Muncie home. "We had won, Muncie Central had won so much. Man, they were yelling at us and giving us hell."
As the game played out the fans in the stands, the naysayers shouting their jabs, had an effect. Muncie Central scored just 17 points in the first half, after a season average of more than 60 points per game.
Muncie Central had anticipated that Milan would try to stutter the pace. In their hotel rooms that afternoon, Muncie Central players listened on the radio to find out who they would play in the championship. Milan took on Terre Haute Gerstmeyer Tech and won 60-48.
"Then we had a quick meeting," Agullana said. "We said, 'Here’s what they're going to do to slow you down. And they are going to slow you down.'"
But none of those Muncie Central players ever thought, even for a minute, that Milan could stop them.
"We said, ‘Now we’ll have four (state championship) rings,'" Muncie Central player Gene Flowers told The Times of Northwest Indiana. "We figured we’d run on Milan. Boy, were we surprised.”
As the final seconds played out, the score was 30-30. Plump stalled and then took that famous last-second shot.
Agullana remembers the ball falling into the basket. It seemed to happen in slow motion, as if he were watching something happening to somebody else. He remembers he had an uncanny feeling that Plump would make that shot.
But he wasn't ready for it.
A dejected Agullana sat with tears in his eyes on the fieldhouse court after that 32-30 loss next to teammates crying and hanging their heads.
His tears, Agullana said, weren't just about the loss to Milan. This was his last high school basketball game, the season where he finally got his chance at playing varsity after sitting the bench all those years.
"I had waited and waited and waited," he said. "Then, just like that, it was all over."
'I finally got to be a Bearcat'
Agullana was born in Muncie to Fernando Andrew (Andy) Bonoan Agullana and Anna (Wingate) Agullana. His father immigrated to the United States from the Philippines in his late teens.
The elder Agullana was picking oranges in California when he heard about a job that paid more than $1 an hour at a Delco Battery plant in Muncie. He applied, got the job and moved more than 2,000 miles across the country.
Delco Battery had a rooming house for employees to live not far from where Anna was living and working at a machine shop. She met Andy and the two fell in love.
The Agullanas had one child, Leon, and they showered him with affection, doted on him. They supported all of his dreams. And one of those dreams was to play basketball.
Agullana was in third grade when he first picked up a basketball. It was the 1940s and basketballs had laces, Agullana said, "like a football."
"And I loved everything about the game," he said.
At Wilson Junior High, Agullana honed his skills and was good enough to make his high school Muncie Central junior varsity team. And then, "I finally got to be a Bearcat," he said.
Agullana sat the bench, at first, getting sparse playing minutes on an untouchable team. Muncie Central won the state title his freshman and sophomore seasons. In 1953, his junior season, the Bearcats lost to Richmond in triple overtime in the regionals.
Then came 1954, Agullana's senior season. Muncie Central had a giant starting lineup, players averaging 6-4. But after a couple of early losses, coach Jay McCreary switched the lineup and brought new players into the mix, including the 5-10 Agullana.
By the end of the regular season, Muncie Central was 15-5. "We had started coming together and getting better and better," Agullana said.
Muncie Central trounced teams in their sectional games by 50 and 60 points. They made it out of regionals and onto semistate, where they beat No. 1 ranked Fort Wayne North 62-48 and No. 2 ranked Mississinewa 63-48.
It was down to the final four: Muncie Central, Elkhart, Terre Haute Gerstmeyer Tech and Milan.
"We worked two days on Elkhart and two days on Terre Haute and one day on Milan," Agullana said. "Should have been the other way around."
A lot of people forget how good Milan was, not just in 1954, Agullana said. Milan had made it to the final four the year before. Still, after Muncie Central beat Elkhart, the players were sure, the coaches were sure, they would meet Terre Haute in that final game.
"Wrong," Agullana said. "It was Milan. And there we were at the end watching Bobby take that last shot."
Shattering Agullana's dreams.
But nearly 70 years later, Agullana is drinking a beer with Plump, marking a friendship that has spanned decades. A friendship born from a game where one was the winner and the other was a loser and now neither one of them care about that at all.
'There aren't many of us left'
When Plump opened his basketball-themed restaurant Plump's Last Shot years ago, Agullana gave Plump his Muncie Central letter jacket to hang in the bar as a relic of Indiana high school basketball hysteria.
Through the years, Plump changed up his restaurant decor and put Agullana's jacket in his upstairs office.
Agullana often wondered what had happened to that jacket, his daughter Lorri Markum said. "Dad thought it had been lost (or) stolen or something and didn’t think about it anymore."
But then last fall, Agullana and Plump got together to reminisce about basketball. Plump brought down Agullana's jacket. "It was a really special moment," Markum said.
These days, being the "Hoosiers" loser isn't so bad, Agullana said. As the years have passed, what Agullana remembers most isn't the loss but all the good times from those days.
And how a basketball story like the one he played a part in could never happen again. "State basketball was magical," he said. "I hate class basketball. Who can tell you who won what class last year?"
After college, Agullana went on to work for nearly four decades at Irving Materials, climbing his way up to executive secretary. He was married to Moya for 62 years, who died in 2020, and is the father of two children, one deceased.
Agullana is, without a doubt, an Indiana high school basketball treasure, said his friend Dave O'Brien of Greenwood. "He still jogs and walks every day and looks like he can still hit a 15-foot jumper."
And he is the only person left who can tell the story of what it was like to be on the court, on the other side of "Hoosiers," when Plump's famous shot fell through.
"There aren't many of us left that were on that team," Agullana said. "And I am the only one who was on the court."
On the losing side. But, Agullana says, it was an honor.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: 'Hoosiers': Only living Muncie Central player on court as Milan won