Friday, February 15, 2008

From Myles Brand to Kelvin Sampson: The decline of Hoosier hoops.

Twenty-two years ago my buddy Jason and I sneaked off our conservative Christian college campus and broke curfew to go sit in the bar at the Sheraton Inn down the road. Why would two Bible college students risk reprimand and possible expulsion? To meet Bobby Knight, of course.

Someone told us that the Hoosiers stayed at the Sheraton when they were in town to play Michigan State's Spartans, and we wanted a chance to meet the man all us Hoosier boys simply called, "Coach." The team was in a meeting for most of the evening and, by the time they got out we were nearly drifting off in sleep. We looked up just in time to see coach disappearing into an elevator. Disappointed that we missed him, I left a note for Coach at the front desk asking for an autograph. Sure enough, the man who everyone said was a notorious hard case mailed me his signature the next day.

Growing up in Indiana, meant being immersed in the culture of crimson and cream (aside from a few miscreants who preferred the black and gold). Every basketball player I knew dreamed of wearing the red and white striped warm-up pants before sell out crowds at Assembly Hall. A trip to the barber shop meant seeing the new calendar that Indiana printed every year with head shots of each of the players and coaches. Every boy I knew dreamed of playing for Coach. His tantrums were legendary. He would strip the hide off his best player if he missed a back screen, or if he was careless with the ball. It wasn't unusual for him to park his most productive scorer on the bench if they didn't hustle on defense.

Moms shook their heads when they watched Coach. Dads simply nodded their silent approval. I heard more than one say, "I wouldn't mind my boy playin' for him." Sure he was hard. Yes, he was tough, but by golly he graduated his players and paid attention to the rules. Oh, and he won national championships along the way, too.

When Coach got fired several years back for violating Myles Brands, "no tolerance policy" the namby-pambies got what they wanted. Coach was out. Foreigner Myles Brand was rewarded with a coronation to the throne of the NCAA, and Mike Davis, a talented but star-struck young coach inherited a team that made a deep run in the NCAA tournament.

The kinder, gentler Mike Davis lasted just long enough for Hoosiers to figure out he wasn't Coach. He was a nice guy. Like Knight, Davis gave a lot of money away, but unlike Coach, we couldn't get it done in the "W" column. Davis was out.

Better informed Hoosiers than this old boy wagged a knowing finger when Oklahoma coach Kelvin Sampson made the move to Bloomington. A rule breaker in the house that Bobby built? How could it be? Now it looks like Sampson is going to be canned for repeated recruiting violations - something that would never have occurred in the Knight years.

Two yeas ago I got to meet and visit with Hoosier legend Kent Benson. As part of the Hoosier's undefeated national championship team, Benson is a minor god in Indiana. When Kent Benson speaks about Indiana basketball, people listen. I'm told that Benson said recently that he would not attend another Indiana basketball game as long as Sampson is on the bench. Looks like he may be back at Assembly Hall pretty soon.

The two questions that occupy the minds of the Hoosier faithful this week are, with Sampson almost assuredly out, who will be directing traffic courtside? And, can the tarnish be wiped off a program with a pristine past?


Anonymous said...

Go BOILERS!!!!!!!!

Scott - Butler

Anonymous said...

Even as a Purdue man, it's sad to see the current condition of Hoosier basketball. I'm okay with them losing (and certainly encourage it) but not with the off-court affairs...

Soren said...

Coach Knight is available again. Think he could return? Not a chance. And the Golden Boy Steve Alford just moved farther west. Sampson is definitely on his way out. It's just a matter of time (you should see how he is getting ripped in the Fort Wayne paper).

Rod Bisher said...

My first basketball coach in college was Howard Nourse. Now you may not know that name, but I bet if you were to ask Coach Knight, he would tell you that he knew him from his playing days at Ohio State in 1960 as part of the National Championship Team. Howie (as we, his former players call him)
was the backup center to one Jerry Lucas, who of course went on to NBA stardom as the center for the NY Knicks. Howie told us a couple of stories about Coach Knight and one of them I remember was that he was always studying the game because he didn't play that much at OSU...he had another guy in front of him who was pretty good...John Havlichek, who became a legend with the Boston Celtics. But Howie said Bob Knight had an amazing basketball mind and was a great student of the game. He went on to say that he always knew Bob Knight would be a coach even back then...he just had that aire about him.
He talked to him several times as the years went on and said that he was proud to have played with him and know him.
Fred Taylor, the coach of that OSU championship team, (and, for you trivia fans, for whom the original Converse Canvas Basketball Shoe was named) was the inspiration for Coach Knight's teams at Indiana.
Knight said Taylor's teams were "always a working model for me. They played good defense, they ran the fastbreak when they had it and they were well disciplined. Fred Taylor was an absolute giant in coaching," Knight said. "You could have no way played for a better coach in college from whom you learned more and in no way could have had a better friend.
What's my team? My team is an extension of his team."
In November 1998, Ohio State dedicated Fred Taylor Drive outside its new arena, the Schottenstein Center.
At the ceremony, Knight remarked how Taylor ''has been responsible for the basketball we see played in the Big Ten today -- and a lot elsewhere in the country.''
Andy Geiger, the athletic director, said at that ceremony that Taylor's players ''have always conducted themselves as gentlemen on and off the court.''
Afterward, the controversial Knight said: ''I kind of take exception to that. He didn't turn out a real gentleman in me.''
I would concur with Coach Knight's statement, but I'll bet that if he were to ask most of his former players, 98% who graduated with degrees from college, I think he showed them not only how to be gentlemen, he showed them how to be men.

Soren said...

Cool story Rod. But aren't those Converse shoes called CHUCK Taylor's?

Anonymous said...

Great stories Frank and Rod!

If the Hoosiers have any sense....which lately they haven't shown any, they will hire someone with Knight connections. Dakich, Crews and Fife come to mind but I'm sure there are others out there. I can't see Alford leaving New Mexico and I'm not sure I would want him to coach IU. Could you imagine the pressure he would be under?

One final comment. I think it is interesting that Knight retires and about 2 weeks later this deal with Sampson explodes. While I don't think it will happen, I still wonder if The General will be back leading the Hoosiers again.


Kokomo, IN

Rod Bisher said...

Hey Mike,
I stand totally corrected on the Converse Basketball shoe name...I can't believe a basketball fanatic like myself missed that one. Especially because I used to buy them all the time. Duh...must be cobwebs in the synaptic relays. Guess that's what wikipedia is for.