I grew up in basketball country.
Let me rephrase that. I grew up in Indiana Hoosier country.
I was probably about six-years-old when I first remember my dad listening, intently, to the radio during IU basketball games. He’d moan and groan or cheer along with the commentator describing the action on the court.
I even remember listening to the famous Milan State Championship game in 1954. (Yes, I AM that OLD!)
Naturally, I grew up a Hoosier fan. Still am, although it’s been tough for the past 20, or so, years.
We suffered through the not-so-successful coaching rein of Lou Watson; winning barely half his games. Another sour memory of Coach Watson was during the 1969 NCAA finals in Louisville, KY. No, Indiana wasn’t playing, but Purdue was. My dad spotted the coach in the crowd going in to Freedom Hall for the games. When Dad mentioned what a great IU fan he was, Watson took his name and address and promised to send four tickets to one of the games the next year.
No tickets arrived that next season, or any season thereafter. Needless to say, my dad and I (and older brother, Tom) were happy when Lou was replaced, in 1972, by a young coach from Army; Bobby Knight.
Ah, yes…The General. And, his plaid coats. Indiana had won two previous NCAA championships in 1941 and 1953 under Branch McCracken. Knight brought three more, including the, yet unsurpassed, 1976 undefeated team. Hoosier Nation cheered the players and worshipped Robert Montgomery Knight and his coaching genius!
…until he began throwing chairs across the floor and people in trash cans, breaking phones at the scoring table, kicking his own son during a game, choking a player (R.I.P, Neil Reed) and pretty much cursing anyone who dared question him. It took a while, but even this Knight worshipper, got fed up with the antics.
Enter Mike Davis who “only” took us to the final game of the 2002 NCAA Championship, and would’ve hung another banner in Assembly Hall had it not been for a devastating ankle injury to starter and 3-point specialist, Tom Coverdale (who had previously warmed the bench during his time under Knight).
Screams from critics, “Fire Davis,” reverberated through Hoosier Land. “Knight would’ve won with that team.” (Not unless he’d changed his stubborn attitude about Coverdale) So, Davis was fired.
And then came the infamous Kelvin Sampson. That’s all. I refuse to glorify those miserable 2 + years.
Tom Crean? He brought IU back from sanctions and disgrace. Even beat # 1 ranked, arch-rival Kentucky, # 2 ranked Ohio State, and # 5 ranked, Michigan State. “You rank ‘em. We spank ‘em”, came the cheer. He lasted 9 years with pretty good success. A couple BIG championships, Sweet Sixteen appearances, and top 5 NBA lottery picks (Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo).
I was pretty satisfied with Indiana’s next pick for head coach. Archie Miller had been solid at Dayton; taking the Flyers to the Big Dance several times. Although the recruits coming in belonged, mostly, to Tom Crean, they were solid 3, 4, 5-stars; including 2018 star, Romeo Langford.
The season started out with promise. After a hiccup at Arkansas, the team was solid until the injuries started. I won’t go into every one, but let’s just say eight potential starters have been hurt for as many as a half dozen games. Two promising recruits have been out the entire year.
Injuries aren’t the only problem, however. Outside shooters like Rob Phinisee, Langford, and graduate transfer, Evan Fitzner have had their shooting woes. For those unfamiliar with basketball; when you can’t shoot from the outside, that allows the defense to collapse in the paint making senior star, Juwan Morgan, ineffective. Add a pitiful free throw percentage and you have the perfect storm.
But, enough technical stuff. I’m no expert and certainly don’t sit here and second guess the coaches or players. They did, however, just lose their eighth straight game! To Rutgers!!
I think I can speak for all Hoosier Basketball fans. We are sick at heart! Sure, we have political frustrations, mass shooting are happening every other day, climate change is here, and will continue to wreak havoc with the weather, government workers were without paychecks for more than a month, and may be, again.
All these day-to-day problems make the excitement of basketball games even more important. They help ease the stress of the daily news cycle. When the Cream and Crimson is winning, we true fans bask in the “Glory of Old IU.”
We hurt when we’re losing…for the fans, the coaches, and especially the players.
But, there’s always next year.
(Humming, softly… “Indiana, Our Indiana. Indiana, we’re all for you…”)