by Jim Lang
I am a Hoosier.
I grew up in a home where cheering for Indiana University was pretty much a requirement, especially when the Hoosiers were playing basketball.
I own an embarrassing number of Indiana t-shirts and multiple pairs of candy-striped pants.
I remember playing Abraham Lincoln in my theatrical debut at Lad ‘n Lassie Kindergarten. Unfortunately, my kindergarten play conflicted with another event — an important IU tournament game.
In a day before cell phones, my poor dad had to divide his time between watching his son shuffle onto a stage in a beard and top hat and racing out to listen to the game on the car radio.
In fact, so many of my memories growing up involve IU basketball and Hoosier Hysteria.
I remember the dread and confusion of the attempt on Ronald Reagan’s life in 1981 and the uneasy feeling of muted joy and sadness that surrounded that day, which occurred on the same day that IU defeated North Carolina for the national championship.
I remember falling in love with the 1986 film Hoosiers when it was released, especially since its release coincided with another significant event that occurred soon after…
I remember screaming and scaring the bejeezus out of Samantha, my pet basset hound, when Keith Smart’s shot swooshed through the hoop in IU’s 74-73 NCAA championship win against Syracuse in 1987. When your dog shoots you a look that reveals she’s questioning your sanity, you know you may be too fanatical.
I remember every Bob Knight controversy — the jackass introduced as a Purdue fan on his weekly television show; the infamous Ivan Renko that sent sports journalists on a worldwide hunt to find the IU recruit that didn’t exist; the game-face, whip, and crystal ball press conferences during the NCAA tournament where Knight and his team seemed like they were having the times of their lives; and, of course, the chair. Blend these and other moments with his charity work, emphasis on literacy and advocacy for the IU library, and insistence that his players attend class and earn degrees, and you see why his legacy at IU remains…complicated.
I remember the excitement I felt every time I had the chance to attend a Hoosier game in Assembly Hall when I attended IU as a student, including the thrill and momentary panic when leaping from my seat in the first row of the balcony after Jay Edwards hit a buzzer-beater to defeat an outstanding Michigan team that would win the NCAA title later that season (more on this game later).
I remember when IU basketball was represented by outstanding student athletes like Calbert Cheaney, Chris Reynolds, and Alan Henderson, who worked to earn degrees while excelling on the court.
I remember living and teaching in “Purdue Country” in Greencastle, Indiana for three years, and the fun I had when IU defeated the Boilermakers, and the grief I suffered from friends and colleagues when they lost.
I remember attending the old Indiana/Hoosier Classic games in Indianapolis each year with my mom. Each December, IU fans would fill the old Market Square Arena on two consecutive nights to watch IU deliver a holiday tournament beating to hapless opponents like Colgate, East Carolina, or Ball State. Usually, the only suspense of the night was how quickly IU could score 100 points or how many warm pretzels I could consume before the spunky manager was sent into the game to score his only points of the season.
I remember, too, the embarrassment of phone calls, NCAA sanctions, and the sleazy coaching tenure of “He Who Shall Not Be Mentioned By Name.”
And, I remember the hope that arrived with Tom Crean that IU could return to the values appreciated by so many Hoosier fans, and the careful rebuilding that has been one of the great stories of college athletics.
So, when our second week of working at IU’s High School Journalism Institute was based on Hoosier Hysteria, I was as excited as a Hoosier fan after a buzzer-beater win over Kentucky.
And, the week did not disappoint.
Last Tuesday, we joined our journalism students at a special screening of Hoosiers at the IU Cinema, followed by a Q&A session with writer and producer Angelo Pizzo. Like always, I cheered (inwardly, of course) and teared up (the hospital scene between Shooter and his son always gets to me).
Before I could even recover from the emotions of the movie screening, we were off to a press conference interview with former IU guard Jordan Hulls and his father, J.C., at Ernie Pyle Hall.
The Hulls family exemplifies what Hoosiers love about IU basketball. Their love for IU and for each other, their message of persistence and hard work, and their willingness to spend an afternoon with eager sports journalists on a busy Tuesday afternoon were reminders that while many programs are more concerned with recruiting “one-and-done” players who treat college as a pit stop to the pros, Indiana seems to once again be about something more substantial and meaningful.
Twenty-four hours later, our student journalists and I were back in Ernie Pyle Hall, this time listening to retired Bloomington Herald-Times sports editor Bob Hammel answer questions and share stories of Hoosier basketball and the tragic 1972 Munich Olympics.
One of Hammel’s stories caused me to relive the thrill of that 1989 IU-Michigan game that IU won on a last-second three-point shot. I still remember that game as one of the best I have ever seen in person in Assembly Hall, probably because I was cheering wildly while clinging desperately to the iron railing from my front-row balcony seat at the end of the game.
So, last week I got paid to be the ultimate IU basketball nerd, and in doing so, had the chance to reconnect with so many fun Hoosier moments and memories.
Which explains why, on the way out of Bloomington, I spent part of my paycheck on yet another IU shirt.
How many days is it ’til basketball season begins, anyway?