IU’s epic season more than perfect

IU’s epic season more than perfect

by Bob Hammel, Sports Editor

March 30, 1976

PHILADELPHIA – Calling it a perfect season understates the basketball achievement Indiana’s 1975-76 team completed Monday night. It was better than perfect, these Hoosiers’ 32-0 season. It was unique.

From the March 30, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

It came in two parts. It was a nine-inning no-hitter, each out a day or two – sometimes five or seven – apart in 14 different cities. Time to think before each try; a dozen days killed in hotel rooms waiting for one more inspired opponent to take a cut, one more revved-up crowd to do its imploring for the interruptions that never came.

And, after the 27th out, there stood Ruth, Gehrig, Foxx, Simmons and Cronin. No slips allowed.

And none came. A perfect year. A national championship like none before?

No?

Find another team that stamped itself No. 1 with as bold and thorough an opening victory as Indiana’s over UCLA way last November … and stayed at the top, the No. 1 target for a whole year.

Find another that threw back so many credentialed challenges – 11 of the Hoosiers’ 27 regular-season opponents were ranked in the nation’s Top 30 when they got their shot.

And forget about finding a tournament path to match the one that this Indiana team paved into an avenue to immortality – no challenger left standing with a chesty claim because all had been personally dealt with.

From the March 30, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

There was an obvious nasty side to a tournament path that laid St. John’s, Alabama, Marquette, UCLA and Michigan in front of the top-ranked team.

But there was a poetic side, too. Marquette, No. 2 virtually all year long, was convinced, 65-56. Alabama fresh from thumping a year-long Top 10 club, North Carolina to solidify its own membership, was hurdled.

And there were St. John’s, UCLA and Michigan – by coincidence, regular-season opponents that for special reasons weren’t convinced No. 1-ranked Indiana was all that superior. St. John’s lost by 20; UCLA by 14.

Which left Michigan, in the odd position of being able to take a national championship by “winning” a three-game serious, one to two. When the Wolverines fell, 86-68, there were no straw men left to prop up. Indiana was No. 1. N.C.-Double-A, the Hoosiers had gone all the way.

“Kind of a two-year quest,” Hoosier coach Bob Knight called it. A year ago he had a broken dream and shattered ball club that – who knows? – might have been more dominant over its peers than even this club, till fate snapped Scott May’s arm. He also had a morale-propping letter in his possession from Clair Bee, a man 44 years older than Knight but a confidant who urged.

“Take a deep breath. Get your bearings. Set your sights on even greater heights and start all over again.

“The young men, the leader, rebounds swiftly from adversity … strengthened by the very blow that cut him down. Now he knows the rough spots that pit the roads and the quicksand that lies so innocently nearby. He knows because he has fought his way up that path of agony – almost to the very top.

“Then, suddenly, refreshed by the driving desire that has always inspired young leaders, he grasps the new challenge with eager hands and races for the starting line.

“He will be back.”

“I went into this game thinking about so many people who had invested so much of themselves into our program,” Knight said late Monday night.

“I think of an 80-year-old man (Bee) sitting up in the mountains in New York watching this game on television. Nobody has been more influential on my basketball life than he has been.

“I think of my college coach, Fred Taylor. Not a person out there in the Indiana crowd was rooting harder for us than he was.

From the March 30, 1976 Bloomington Daily Herald – Telephone

“I think of Pete Newell … Stu Inman … and today, John Havlicek came to our game and spoke to our team in its pre-game meeting on what it’s like to play in a championship game and what it would be like to win.

“I went into this game thinking of all those people … and our kids. They played five damned good basketball teams in this tournament and won the championship, and more than anything else the way they won it means a great deal to me.”

At 35, he is among the youngest men ever to coach a national collegiate basketball champion. There’s some coincidence in two men who got there slightly earlier – his own coach, Taylor, winner in 1950 at 33, and the man who coached Indiana to its first two titles, the late Branch McCracken, 32 when his 1940 team won.

“I think it’s a goal of any coach to have an opportunity to play in the NCAA, first of all,” Knight said. “When you start in it, it’s almost beyond the realm of comprehension that you might win it.”

He’s not waiting for the joy of victory to seize him. “I’m sure it will come to me tomorrow or some other day,” he said.

“But I’m going to go right into building for next year. There’s a high school all-star game in Washington, D.C., this week and I’ve got a reservation on a train to go down to it (today).

“They pay me pretty well at Indiana, and they don’t pay me to relax. We’re losing five really strong people and we’ll just have to start in with what we have next Oct. 15 and see how we can do.”

The post-game press session brought back other year-old memories … of a day in Dayton when, after he had answered the last question about the last Hoosier defeat, he departed with a hoarse thank you and a promise: “It’s been an enjoyable year for us. We’ll be back some day.”

Monday was some day.