Homecoming

Homecoming

Enthusiastic fans welcome champions

By Kurt Van der Dussen, H-T Staff Writer

April 1, 1987

From the April 1, 1987 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

It was said NCAA-winning shot-maker Keith Smart, the sense of “collective family” among the players and fans that lured him to Indiana University last year.

The family turned out more than 12,000 strong at IU’s Assembly Hall Tuesday afternoon to proffer the triumphant Hoosiers a raucous welcome home.

Long before 11:50 a.m., when the airplane bearing the Hoosiers back from their heart-stopping fifth NCAA basketball championship landed at Monroe County Airport to an enthusiastic greeting from 300 or so supporters, the floor and main level of Assembly Hall were filling with fans, a sea of red rising steadily higher in the seats.

With members of the IU Pep Band providing able assistance, the crowd was getting into it by late morning. The first rounds of “Go Big Red!” reverberated through the hall shortly after 11 a.m. By 11:55 a.m., when a loud cheer greeted word that the team plane had just landed, the main level of the Hall was half-full. Fifteen minutes later, it was close to full, and fans were amusing themselves with “the wave,” which did five good circuits before dissipating.

Down on the concrete floor, from which the venerated Branch McCracken floor had been removed, there was a growing crush of bodies – and not all of them belonged to students.

Toddling around the open south end of the floor was tiny 2-year-old Anna Reed of Indianapolis, garbed head-to-foot in IU sweatpants and a cream-and-crimson IU dress hand-sewn by her mother.

“We wanted to bring our kids down to see the ball players and the excitement,” said Jackie Reed, who was with her husband, Mike. The other “kid,” 8 1/2-year-old Sarah, was still living down her shame from the night before.

“I fell asleep with four minutes to go. I don’t know how I did it,” she said.

“We wrote a note and stuck it on her bed so she’d know the outcome when she woke up,” said Mrs. Reed.

One die-hard Hoosier fan dressed almost completely in red had both a camera and a videocassette recorder to commemorate the event. He had been waiting for 2 1/2 hours for the rally to begin.

“I can’t believe this many kids don’t have class on Tuesdays,” he said deadpan.

“We do,” a student replied. “We’re skipping.”

“Classes are canceled all week,” another lied.

Later when the team would get its say, senior Todd Meier would look across the ocean of faces and ask with mock innocence, “Aren’t there any classes today?

About 12:20 p.m., the floor mob began killing time by lobbing rolls of toilet paper. Several succeeded in festooning the north scoreboard with long streamers, and when one roll landed atop the narrow edge of the board and lodged there, a roar went up.

It should have been allowed to remain there in perpetuity; instead, a dead-eye knocked it off. Others succeeded in lobbing “3-pointers” through the top of the lofty scoreboard overhanging center court.

Finally, at 12:48, the team arrived and as IU All-American Steve Alford led the way onto the platform holding the NCAA championship trophy above his head for all to see, pandemonium ensued. When coach Bob Knight finally approached the microphone, the din became almost physical – a thunder of vocal artillery for “The General,” just as it had echoed over much of Bloomington from Showalter Fountain and East Kirkwood Avenue Monday night. Knightian heroes George Patton and U.S. Grant would have felt right at home.

He turned it into a mutual admiration society.

“There isn’t a group in the country that’s more deserving, student body and fans combined, to have something like this brought back to you than you people are,” he said to renewed tumult.

Then an irritation surfaced. “How many of you kids are from the Louisville area?” he asked the thousands of students in attendance. Several hundred arms and lungs responded. “Tell the mayor of Louisville to turn his damn sign around!” he commanded them, referring to the highway sign on the Indiana side of the Interstate 65 bridge over the Ohio River that welcomes motorists to Louisville, home of 1986 NCAA champion University of Louisville.

Had the rally been in Jeffersonville, they would have gone forth to do it themselves.

Knight lavished praise on his coaching staff, introducing each to applause. “While you people are out at Nick’s, we’re looking at tape,” he said to laughter.

Then he began introducing the players one by one, each to his own ovation. Those for starters Smart, Steve Alford, Dean Garrett, Rick Calloway and Daryl Thomas, senior Todd Meier and super-subs Steve Eyl and Joe Hillman were deafening. Seniors Alford, Meier and Thomas, said Knight “were the heart of this team.”

I know how much they appreciate the support you gave them,” he said of the players. “I know how much they wanted to win it … The best fans and the best team in the country.”

Knight then noted that the win was “the swan song in IU athletics” for retiring IU President John Ryan. Last year, he said, he’d told Ryan that “we would try to bring this trophy home for him.” And so, he said, the team was presenting Ryan with the trophy.

Ryan was not left speechless by the honor or the occasion, noting that “I know you want to hear from the players and I want to hear from the players – but you can’t hear from them until you hear from me.”

The students present, he told them, were living some history: “You’re gathered in the presence of five national championships,” two won under the late, great McCracken and three more by “the greatest basketball coach in America,” Knight. And Knight in turn found a message of inspiration for those students in the IU victory.

“There’s never been a team I’ve taken greater pride in, not for what they accomplished but for the way they accomplished it,” he said, citing come-from-behind victories against Auburn, Duke, Louisiana State, Nevada-Las Vegas and finally Syracuse.

There comes a time in life, he said, when everybody finds himself behind and in trouble. That’s the time, he said, to “tighten your belt and get the ball to Keith Smart” – a Keith Smart of your own you can count on.

“When you’re down eight points, just remember last night when we were down eight,” he said. * Wit sharp as shots in mutual love feast By Kurt Van der Dussen H-T Staff Writer

Back a lot and forgotten month ago, when the Indiana Hoosiers were visiting Purdue for what would be a disappointing defeat, Steve Alford spotted a “welcome” sign for IU that stuck in his memory – and his highly competitive craw.

“Keady’s Kids will be in New Orleans without you,” it predicted of Gene Keady’s then-ascendant Boilermakers with regard to the NCAA Final Four.

Funny what time can do to restore the natural order of things, as Alford noted in his senior valedictory to more than 12,000 monumentally appreciative Hoosier fans Tuesday afternoon in IU Assembly Hall.

Alford who is developing a wit to match the sharpness of his jump shot, recounted seeing the sign in Lafayette. After the derisive laughter of IU fans recalling Purdue’s early NCAA belly-up subsided, he delivered a summation as sweetly on the mark as his first-half-ending three-pointer against Syracuse Monday night.

“Well, Bobby’s Boys brought the banner back to Assembly Hall!” he exulted to a rafter-lifting explosion of applause.

Purdue wasn’t the only IU villain to feel the Alford sting. “Now that my eligibility is up, if any of you are interested in any calendars …” he propositioned – a reference to his controversial one-game NCAA suspension from the 1985 IU-Kentucky game for appearing on a sorority fund-raising calendar.

The ensuing outburst of triumphant laughter was the best chance IU fans have had yet to say “Take that!” to the NCAA officialdom whose Holy Grail the Hoosiers walked off with Monday night. And IU fans young and old turned out en masse Tuesday at Assembly Hall to honor – and listen to – their conquering heroes.

After voicing his own appreciative thoughts to the crowd – and receiving its adulation – coach Bob Knight announced he was going to “turn it over to Steve” so the players could speak. But the first up was senior forward Daryl Thomas, who jibed to the crowd’s delight that “For once in his life, coach is wrong.”

Like almost every player that followed – and all spoke at least momentarily – Thomas thanked the fans for their support. “It’s something I’m going to carry with me the rest of my life,” he said. “I love all of you.”

Then came senior forward Todd Meier, who said he was glad to add another championship banner to the south end of the Hall. “We’re No. 1,” he declared to more tumult.

Alford then spoke briefly, saving his best lines until after the others had their turns. His first words were on behalf of the team, thanking Herald-Telephone sports editor Bob Hammel: “Not only does he write for the paper but he’s a very special part of the team,” he said.

“It still hasn’t soaked in yet … That’s a dream come true,” said Alford of the championship he has sought for four years. He alluded to the white home jerseys IU wore throughout the tournament, noting that for the season, “we didn’t lose a game” in them.

Then it was junior center Dean Garrett. “I’m still kind of shocked,” he said. “This is what it’s all about, this (championship) ring on our fingers.” But he said he knew the crowd really wanted to hear from “the Ice Man,” Keith Smart, whose 16-footer with four seconds to go won the game.

“This has been like a dream come true,” said Smart, but for different reasons than Alford: A year ago he was playing junior college ball. He said he came to IU because when he attended the IU-Iowa game in January 1986, it struck him that the team, the school and the fans were like “a collective family … That sold me on coming here.”

He spread credit liberally among the coaches and the reserve players who pushed the starters to the limit in practices. “It was a team effort,” he said. “I think the group next year is going to be trying real hard (to win another championship),” he said.

Sophomore forward Rick Calloway at first seemed lost for words – “This is just a great feeling – oh God!” he exclaimed.

“I read in the paper where you guys tore up Showalter Fountain,” he said with mock reproach. When a voice demanded his reaction to Smart’s game-winning shot, he replied, “Yeah, I gave Keith a big kiss.

“I slept with him last night,” he said of his New Orleans roommate.

Sophomore guard Joe Hillman was next. “There were 64,000 people there (in the Superdome), but these are the ones that really count,” he said of the fans, who responded with similar affection.

“This wasn’t a lot of fun,” he said of the tournament, nothing that IU was behind almost every game. “This team never quit,” he said. And he paid homage to seniors Alford, Meier and Thomas, noting that “they’ll always be a part of this team and they’re always welcome back.”

IU’s “sixth man,” junior swing man Steve Eel, admitted being taken aback by the whole thing. “Coming from Ohio, I’d heard of Indiana basketball, but I’d never envisioned anything like this,” he said.

Sophomore Kreigh Smith took only a moment to thank his teammates. Freshman Dave Minor did the same, as well as laud the coaches, who he said ran the team through “film after film, walk-through after walk-through.”

Sophomore Brian Sloan said he wasn’t going to say much because “I’m a weak guy and I might start crying.” But he didn’t, instead praising the fans – “I know you cheered your hearts out for us” – and his teammates – “I could talk up here for hours about these guys.”

Academic junior Magnus Pelkowski was like Eyl: awed. “I’ve been he three years and I love this place,” he said. “We don’t have anything like this back in Colombia. No way. No way.”

Sophomore Jeff Oliphant said that even when IU was behind, he “had the confidence in these guys that they’d bring us back and we’d be there at the end.”

By now, many in the crowd were chanting “To-ny! To-ny!” for 5-foot-7 freshman guard Tony Freeman. But he spoke only a few seconds, adding his thanks to the fans for their support.

The last player up was sophomore Todd Jadlow, the team’s lone “red shirt” for the season. “I hope that next year we’re back here, making the same speech.”

That brought a gentle come-on-guys rejoinder from Alford, who suggested that everyone enjoy this year’s championship for a while first.