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100 Things Hoosiers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die
By Stan Sutton
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2012 Stan Sutton
All rights reserved.
The Hoosiers Are a Perfect 32–0
From November 29 in St. Louis until March 29 in Philadelphia, the 1975–76 Indiana Hoosiers were unblemished, unbeaten, and unfazed. Over the course of four months and 32 games they reached a level of perfection that no one has equaled in the 36 years since.
There were unbeaten teams before them but none since. Each season hence, Indiana fans have watched another university open with 10 — or maybe even 15 — straight victories only to know that somewhere before or during March Madness, that team was almost certain to fall.
There are multiple reasons why Indiana's perfect season may not be matched again.
For one thing, the season is longer. By November 29, the date the 1976 Hoosiers launched the season, the 2012 IU team had played six games and one exhibition contest. Since '76, major college powers are more likely to play in an early-season tournament, sometimes meeting a couple of teams that could contend for the national title. One may argue that the Maui Invitational or preseason National Invitation Tournament (NIT) have the second strongest field of the year, trailing only the NCAA.
Another factor might be intersectional battles in the middle of the conference season, something such as North Carolina vs. Michigan State as a national television showpiece. These games offer great exposure but can detract from the conference games at hand.
Finally, the 1976 Hoosiers enjoyed a slightly shorter road to the title, playing five opponents that were all ranked in the top 20. The current winner must play at least six games and often is shipped across the country to increase parity in the field. The only break IU received in that area was to play its first game in South Bend, prior to two in Baton Rouge and two in Philadelphia.
Other teams received breaks no longer available through rule changes. Kentucky won the 1958 NCAA without leaving its home state. UCLA's string of national titles was easier because it always played in the West Regional, which was deemed weaker at the time.
The building blocks that led the Hoosiers into college basketball's throne room began with the hiring of West Point coach Bob Knight in 1971. The once-proud Hurryin' Hoosiers of Branch McCracken had become an average team while archrival Purdue was enjoying more success. The Boilermakers recruited three straight Indiana Mr. Basketballs between 1964 and '66, landing Denny Brady, Billy Keller, and Rick Mount. Mount had led Purdue to the national championship game in 1969 and Purdue had a new playing facility, Mackey Arena, while the Hoosiers were still playing in a building largely used for track and field.
Knight, who became head coach at West Point at age 24, wasn't timid about making changes. He switched the team's nickname from Hurryin' Hoosiers to Hoosiers then replaced McCracken's hurry-up offense with a slower-paced one.
Both changes struck a nerve with some of the old-time IU fans who liked both the name and game of McCracken's teams.
The cupboard wasn't bare when Knight arrived; the roster included Steve Downing, Joby Wright, John Ritter, and Bootsie White but was missing George McGinnis who turned pro after his sophomore season. In short order Knight supplemented them by adding Steve Green, John Laskowski, Quinn Buckner, Bobby Wilkerson, Kent Benson, and Jim Crews.
Indiana went to the NIT in Knight's first season then rallied to overcome Minnesota and win the Big Ten in 1973. He then reached the Final Four while starting two freshmen guards, Buckner and Crews, and building around Downing, a first-round draft choice.
McCracken won two national championships, but his 1964 team lost 15 games despite having three future NBA players, Dick and Tom Van Arsdale and Jon McGlocklin. McCracken retired after the 1965 season and was replaced by assistant Lou Watson, a star for IU in the late 1940s and early '50s.
Watson won a Big Ten championship in 1967, but the Hoosiers finished with three losing seasons in the next four years. Watson missed the 1970 season because of cancer surgery on his back, and aide Jerry Oliver stepped in as acting head coach.
When IU set out to hire a new coach in 1971, they were determined to hire a disciplinarian. The man they came up with was the alpha wolf of disciplinarians — Knight.
Knight was 30 years old, and as one of his early players said, "He wasn't about to mess this up."
Joby Wright recalled being called into Knight's office. "I went in and I had my Afro and my blue jeans. I was going to show this guy. He's never seen no tough guy like me," Wright said. "And the first time I met him he read me the riot act. Coach went off, 'You're going to go to class! You have to toe the line!' Then he put his nose against my nose and said, 'Did you hear me?'"
There was nothing cheap about Indiana's 32–0 slate. The Hoosiers opened with a 20-point victory over defending champion UCLA in what can best be described as a grudge match. The Bruins won the title in 1975 that surely would have belonged to Indiana had not star forward Scott May broken his arm late in the season. That set the stage for a stunning 92–90 loss to Kentucky in the regional final — a loss most IU fans believe was a direct result of May's injury.
The preconference schedule in 1975–76 featured four ranked opponents, including No. 2 UCLA. At times the perfect season appeared in peril, including back-to-back narrow victories in December when IU edged eighth-ranked Notre Dame 63–60 in Bloomington and 14th-ranked Kentucky in overtime at Louisville's Freedom Hall. St. John's — ranked No. 17 — fell to IU 76–69 three days after Christmas.
The difficulty of IU's schedule is reflected in the fact that the Hoosiers' non-conference opponents won more than three-fourths of their other games.
Although Indiana had gone unbeaten within the Big Ten in 1975, the '76 campaign loomed as more of a problem. Coach Johnny Orr's Michigan team posed perhaps the biggest challenge, but IU managed an 80–74 win in Ann Arbor against the No. 19 Wolverines. The February rematch in Bloomington would be a bigger threat with Indiana rallying from near defeat to win in overtime. Only Kent Benson's tip -in at the end of regulation saved Indiana's bacon.
Purdue was always a threat to the Hoosiers, but IU won by four in Bloomington and by three in West Lafayette.
The Hoosiers' closest game in the NCAA Tournament was a 74–69 victory over No. 6 Alabama. UCLA, now ranked fifth nationally and anxious for revenge for the 20-point loss in November, went down 65–51 in the semifinal of the Final Four. That left Michigan, a team even more anxious to avenge two regular-season defeats by IU.
The lightning-fast Wolverines led by six at halftime, boosted by an early-game injury that sidelined Bobby Wilkerson for the night. But the Hoosiers rebounded for 57 points in the second half and won going away 86–68. May led the Hoosiers with 26 points, and Benson had 25.CHAPTER 2
Smart's Shot Bails Out Title
For the past 25 years it has been known simply as The Shot. Any 15-year-old kid could have made it. It was the kind of shot where one goes to the left of the basket, tells himself this is for the national championship, and launches a 16' jumper that finds nothing but net. The kid jumps up and down in mock celebration and imagines the roar of 65,000 people surrounding him.
The only difference is that Keith Smart lived the real dream. Destiny, or perhaps it was the Syracuse defense against Steve Alford, put him in the right spot at the right time He really didn't have time to think, but his play over the preceding 12 minutes suggested the moment belonged to him.
It was the most important shot in IU history, a play that gave the Hoosiers a 74–73 victory and their fifth national championship. For Smart it brought lasting fame, lifting him from a moderate role on a great team to fame that will last well into the twenty-first century.
The play can still be seen on YouTube, where one version has more than 150,000 hits. Syracuse freshman Derrick Coleman, who had 19 rebounds in the game, barely hit the front rim on a free throw with 26 seconds to play. Indiana's Daryl Thomas rebounded and gave the ball to Joe Hillman as Alford headed up court on the right side with defender Sherman Douglas guarding him tightly.
After crossing the center line, Hillman passed to Smart on his right then got the ball back as Smart crossed over to the left side of the court. Keith dribbled toward the baseline, but orange jerseys surrounded him so he dropped the ball off to Thomas, who was perhaps 8' from the basket with no openings. As Smart headed closer to the baseline Thomas returned the basketball to him, and the 6'2" junior launched his jump shot with six seconds remaining.
Indiana was a point behind as Syracuse's Howard Triche tried to defend against Smart, but the shot was perfect and the stunned Syracuse players didn't call a timeout until one second remained. The Orange tried a long pass, but Smart, who scored 17 points in the second half, intercepted.
Had Douglas not stuck so tightly to Alford, the hero's role might have fallen on Steve's shoulders. An Olympic starter three years earlier, Alford was playing the final year of a fantastic career and had scored 33 points in the semifinal game and 23 so far in the Championship Game. His name was synonymous with "one shining moment."
Yet, when Smart's shot penetrated the Superdome net, Alford was standing helplessly under the basket, looking for a possible rebound.
"On the final play Daryl Thomas made an incredible decision not to force up a shot," Smart recalled years later. "After the pass to Daryl, I moved to another area of the floor. Our post players understood that when I moved they would pass the ball back to my new location. Howard Triche ran back to where I originally was, and I was able to get the shot off because it allowed me enough space to get off a shot.
"I wasn't thinking about pressure, I was just playing. I wasn't thinking about what I had to do or the situation. If I had been thinking about the time, or what I had to do, or the situation in the game, I probably wouldn't have taken the shot. I was just focused on playing, and that was what was available."
Smart had been removed from the game with about 12 minutes left after making a bad pass to Thomas that went out of bounds. While sitting Smart received constant encouragement from coaches Joby Wright, Royce Waltman, and Ron Felling, and when he returned to the floor Smart was ready to play.
"I wanted to make sure I didn't do the same thing that got me out of the game," Smart said.
Shortly after his return, Keith made a play to score and was fouled.
The game featured 13 ties and 19 lead changes, and with 13 minutes left Syracuse led 52–44 while Smart rode the bench with only six points. He returned at 12:04 and displayed a hot hand, scoring seven quick points and assisting on four others. His layup, on a feed from Alford, tied the game.
The addition of two junior college transfers, Smart and center Dean Garrett, provided the impetus for Indiana to shake off the effects of two previous seasons in which it had lost 22 games. The Hoosiers had failed to make the NCAA Tournament in 1985 and were upset in the first round by Cleveland State in '86.
But with Smart and Garrett, and returning starters Alford, Thomas, and Rick Calloway, Indiana won 30-of-34 games in 1987 and tied Purdue for the Big Ten championship. Entering the tournament IU was ranked second in the United Press International poll behind UNLV, and third in the Associated Press rankings behind UNLV and North Carolina. Purdue and Iowa were also among the top seven teams, indicating the strength of the Big Ten.
Smart's arrival in Bloomington was unpredictable because Knight had shied away from junior college players. Smart, however, had needed the stop at Garden State Community College in Kansas to attract a scholarship.
"I got cut from the 11 grade team that won the state championship that year," the native of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, told Ryan Yamamoto of Sacramento's Channel 10. "The next year I broke my wrist in the third game into my senior season, and that was it for high school."
When Bob Knight finally saw him, Keith was wearing a gold chain and a weird haircut, which would be enough to ruin most chances of going to Indiana. His hair had a part all the way around his head with an arrow engraved in the back.
"I thought I was history," Keith said. "We had this game where we were playing against one of our rivals, and all of our players decided to cut our hair. We had a little outlet mall behind the campus that sold inexpensive gold chains. That's when Mr. T and The A-Team was a big thing, so we bought some of those real cheap chains. I didn't know Knight was coming to the game that night, and when I walked to the locker room I saw him sitting there. I had my hair and my gold chain and I thought, 'Oh, my!'"
Permanent use of the three-point shot began that season, and UNLV was one of the most effective with it. In the preseason National Invitation Tournament title game in New York the Rebels had fallen 20 points behind Western Kentucky only to use the three-pointer to pull out a victory. It was one of the early signs that no lead was safe with the new rule.
Although Knight had reservations about the three-point shot, he also had one of the best outside shooters in the country in Alford. IU's only loss in its first 15 games was a four-pointer at Vanderbilt. Iowa beat the Hoosiers in Iowa City, but they didn't lose again until late in the season against Purdue and Illinois. Syracuse was IU's seventh straight victim.
The tournament opened with Indiana beating Fairfield and Auburn in Indianapolis, and beating Duke in Cincinnati. The team reached the Final Four by rallying for a one-point win over LSU and then outshooting UNLV 97–93 in the semifinal in New Orleans.
Smart was drafted by the Golden State Warriors and played nine seasons in the Continental Basketball Association where he averaged 10.3 points through 297 games. He later coached the Fort Wayne Fury of the CBA for five seasons and guided that team to its first back-to-back winning seasons. During his first season (1997–98) he led the Fury to a franchise record 31 victories.
Smart also played in the Philippines, China, France, and South America.
In 2011, Keith was named head coach of the Sacramento Kings while marking more than two decades as a professional player or coach.CHAPTER 3
Knight's Firing Angers Thousands
It was a September morn that would have put a blush in Neil Diamond's voice, a Sunday that dawned with autumn on the horizon and joy in the hearts of most Hoosiers. It would end amid a sea of protests and delusion circling the Indiana basketball program.
Bob Knight had been fired. The General was relieved much like MacArthur, for much the same reason and with similar pubic reaction. There were no words to describe what happened the afternoon of September 10, 2000. Surreal isn't strong enough.
There had been rumors for months that Knight's 29-year reign as IU coach was in jeopardy. The bulkhead surrounding the Hall of Fame coach began crumbling when a video was mailed to the Cable News Network showing Knight's hand planted on the neck of former player Neil Reed during a practice. The word "choke" was used in most newscasts, the words "improper" and "unconscionable" in more conservative reports. Among his many followers, the action was described as it always had been before.
"It's just Bobby being Bobby," many said.
John Meunier, a reporter for The Herald-Times in Bloomington, had been expecting a call for some time and it came in mid-morning that Sunday from editor Bob Zaltsberg, who had been alerted that the firing was forthcoming by Knight's best friend, former H-T sports editor Bob Hammel. Meunier prepared for his biggest assignment.
Excerpted from 100 Things Hoosiers Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die by Stan Sutton. Copyright © 2012 Stan Sutton. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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