Al Durham can’t determine his own legacy. He just hopes hard work will speak for itself.
BLOOMINGTON – Though he could return to IU next season if he chooses, Al Durham in recent days has sounded and looked like a man ready to begin closing a door he first opened 5 ½ years ago.
That’s when Durham, at the time a junior at Berkmar High School in suburban Atlanta, committed to IU.
Tom Crean hadn’t yet won his second Big Ten title, much less been removed and replaced by Archie Miller. Assembly Hall hadn’t been renovated yet. The program Durham committed to that day in 2015 and the one now bear remarkably scant resemblance to one another. Even Indiana’s uniforms, sacrosanct in some fans’ eyes, have undergone subtle tweaks in the time since.
Durham has been a constant, though, for a program still trying to find its footing in its new vintage. He stuck with Archie Miller through the coaching change before making himself an indispensable piece of Miller’s earliest IU teams. On senior day last weekend, he crossed the 1,000-point threshold. If this team’s NCAA tournament hopes can be revived, beginning Saturday with a win at Purdue to finish the regular season, Durham should figure prominently.
It’s an uncomfortable thing, confronting one’s own legacy. Durham knows you don’t really get to decide how you’re remembered. Just do your best, then hope you’ve made a difference.
He only knows what he’s put into his college career, and what he’s taken from it. He’s willing to let that speak for itself.
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“People are going to say what they want to say,” Durham said in a phone call with reporters Thursday night. “But of course, I would always want to be remembered as one of the hardest workers for sure. I feel like I worked my behind off for four years.
“Nobody ever gave me anything. Nobody ever said I would be this or would be that. I was always the underdog. I’m not new to it. I would like to say I was one of the hardest workers, and I lit up the room with my smile and my efforts, whichever one it was.”
Durham wasn’t by any means the most heralded recruit when he picked IU over Florida, Georgia, Miami, Virginia Tech, Rhode Island and others out of high school. The 247sports Composite rated him the No. 230 player in his class, and the No. 45 point guard.
In the time since he arrived on campus — he briefly reopened his recruitment around the coaching change before recommitting to Indiana — Durham has grown into one of the Hoosiers’ most reliable players, at both ends of the floor.
Defensively, he’s a long-armed perimeter cover Miller has counted on time and again in his pack-line scheme.
Offensively, Durham has progressed steadily up the pyramid inside Cook Hall. His scoring, rebounding and assist averages have risen every season during his career, and he’s been Indiana’s most-reliable 3-point shooter for most of the past four years.
In a larger sense, he has been a constant for a program that needed one, time and again.
“I just look at everything like a lesson,” Durham said. “I learned from everything since I set foot on campus to coming into these last days here at Indiana.”
In the intervening time, Durham has found pursuits outside basketball.
Together with his brother, he started a clothing line called Real Is Rare. One t-shirt turned into another and, drawing on inspiration from other designers while finding his own signature look, Durham steadily built a brand.
“It started probably my freshman year. I started to take interest in it. I was playing basketball, school, everything, but I wanted to test my hand, see how much it cost to make a t-shirt,” he said. “I found some time to actually look it up and research it. I actually made my first shirt at the end of the year freshman year. …
“I saved up money for three years. I went into business with my brother, and he’s been helping me since.”
Now, what was once a curiosity has morphed from a passion project into a full-blown enterprise. Durham’s teammates have come to appreciate the fashion sense of their senior captain.
“You guys should get something from it too, honestly,” said junior guard Rob Phinisee, who owns a hoodie and multiple t-shirts from Durham’s line.
Basketball was and remains the central thing, though, and Durham’s time to affect the thing is running short.
Saturday’s trip to Purdue will finish the regular season. Barring a win there, plus some serious noise in the Big Ten tournament, the Hoosiers won’t make the NCAA tournament, an event in which Durham has never played.
Any push for the postseason almost certainly begins with beating the Boilermakers in Mackey Arena, in a rivalry that has become lopsided toward West Lafayette in recent years. IU hasn’t beaten Purdue since 2016.
“(Durham) hasn’t won (against Purdue),” Phinisee said. “He’s really been on everybody to stay locked in. Don’t worry about what’s happened in the past and just focus on Saturday.”
The Hoosiers will be underdogs. That figures to suit Durham just fine. It has before.
Time runs short. Legacies endure forever. What Al Durham wants, more than anything, is simply to be remembered as someone who did the best he could for as long as he was able. He can live with the rest.
“As I look back on this, I appreciate all the things I’ve been through that have made me who I am today,” Durham said. “I just want to be remembered as somebody who stuck with it, a day-one person who worked his behind off and was never given everything, but earned everything that he got.”
Follow IndyStar reporter Zach Osterman on Twitter: @ZachOsterman.