IU team honored in Washington

IU team honored in Washington

By Bob Hammel, H-T Sports Editor

April 4, 1987

WASHINGTON – Steve Alford leaned back in a chair and said, “It has been like a dream – everything ending up like this.”

From the April 4, 1987 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

Alford could have been talking of the day, the week, the year. All have been special in Indiana University basketball, just as Steve Alford has been. There was ample supporting testimony to that Friday from the basketball coach at Indiana and the president of the United States.

Keith Smart found he couldn’t walk down Washington streets without being recognized. What a week it has been for Smart. “I finally had to take my telephone off the hook to get some sleep,” he said. “I can’t believe it. People have been calling all day and all night – people I don’t even know. I came back from class and my suitemate had a list of people who had called – a whole long sheetful of names.” Keith Smart hit a baseline shot Monday night, maybe the single biggest shot in Indiana basketball history.

The dream world Indiana players have been living in since Smart’s shot dropped cleanly through at the Superdome in New Orleans with five seconds left in the NCAA championship game Monday night moved onto one of the true world stages Friday.

From the April 4, 1987 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

President Ronald Reagan came strolling out, Vice President George Bush behind him – the storied White House Rose Garden area packed with Capital-based Indiana supporters – to pay honor to Alford, Smart and the rest of the Indiana team that won 1987’s national championship.

It also, of course, was a day that honored the Indiana team’s coach, Bob Knight.

“Imagine for one moment,” IU president John Ryan said, “being president of a university, given the privilege of coming to the capital of his nation, being greeted by the president and the vice president of the United States and distinguished senators and representatives and being surrounded by young men who can serve as models to all of the young men in the country today …

“And being accompanied – in fact, being dragged along from time to time – by a man who has proved himself to be an outstanding basketball coach, the best in the country …

“The great Hoosier poet gave us words that will enable me to make what could be a long speech a very short one:

“Ain’t God good to Indiana.”

Ryan’s words came at a reception at which a Hoosier through and through, Secretary of Health and Human Services Otis Bowen, was the host. Bowen and his staff had a gala planned. Mundane reality broke it up. A sewer backup – so massive it threatened the electrical system and police feared an explosion – forced evacuation of Bowen’s main building, including the already-decorated party site. A block away, in older, more cramped, less decorated warmth, the reception went on.

Between the White House and Bowen receptions, the Hoosiers saw a tourist’s view of Washington. They visited the Lincoln Memorial, and very quickly, their celebrity showed. Crowds of visitors, many of them high school youngsters in town on spring break, temporarily spurned the hallowed Lincoln figure to swarm on Knight and the Hoosiers in pursuit of pictures and autographs.

After the Bowen fete, Sen. Dan Quayle took the Hoosiers onto the floor of the Senate, sat them behind the desks that Quayle and his colleagues occupy, and lectured them on history as ancient as Daniel Webster and Henry Clay and as recent as the Monday Reagan visit that failed to forestall defection of 13 Republic senators and a loss for Reagan on his veto of the highway bill.

It all happened in 11 hours – from 10 a.m. takeoff to 9 p.m. return at Monroe County airport.

Alford, never shaken by events on a basketball court, seemed unable or unwilling to grasp just exactly what happened. He heard the president of the United States say about him the things that Hoosier loyalists have been saying for some time: “a conscientious student and a model citizen whose values are as important as his field-goal percentage … my kind of basketball player … America’s kind of student athlete.”

He responded as coolly as he fires jump shots: “Mr. President, this is a tremendous honor for all the players and coaching staff. We certainly appreciate you taking the time out to visit with us and letting us have the opportunity to visit with you here at the White House. We’d like to give you a team ball, autographed by all the players and coaches, representing the championship that we just won …”

But he admitted later, “I get thrilled when Coach Knight talks about me, just because I respect and look up to Coach so much and have a great deal of admiration for Coach.” And then the president of the Untied States: “Having the president talk about you … it’s just a great, great honor.”

From the April 4, 1987 Bloomington Herald-Telephone

Knight crystallized his feeling for his champions with the one play that made them that.

“I think if anything symbolizes this team, it was being difficult to play against and difficult to beat,” he said.

“There were some games where we were about to lose and these kids just wouldn’t let themselves be beaten. This (final play against Syracuse) was a great example of that,. where Daryl (Thomas) looked for Steve – Steve obviously is as good a shooter as we’ve ever had and certainly the best in college basketball today, and probably made as many big plays for us offensively as anybody who’s ever played for us. And yet Daryl didn’t try to force the ball to Steve, got it to Keith, Keith didn’t worry about getting the ball to Steve, Keith got the shot.

“Steve has meant so much to us in so many ways …

“I’m not sure that down the road I’ll ever say to one of our future players that Alford was a great defensive player. But I’ll tell you one thing, I’ll use Steve for a lot of examples for a lot of things for kids in the future and one of them I’m really proud to say is the kind of leadership Steve gave this basketball team over the course of the year.

“As I look back over this season, that’s I think the second thing that I’ll think about – next to the competitive toughness that these kids developed, Steve’s development as a leader.”

Alford also has developed as a quipster.

Bowen called Knight America’s Secretary of Basketball Excellence and said, “There are some myths about him I want to put to rest.

“The first myth is that he is tough on reporters. That is not so. Bob Knight is the reporter’s best friend. He has given the sports writers of America more stuff to write about than a barrelful of Babe Ruths.

“Myth No. 2: Bob Knight is one tough cookie and don’t mess with him. That’s wrong, too. I know personally he’s the softest touch in town when it comes to giving his time and integrity to a good cause.

“Myth No. 3: Bob Knight is a law-abiding, upstanding citizen. Wrong again. I had to use all of my powers as governor of Indiana to keep this man out of jail one time. This is true. You remember that little misunderstanding he had with the police in Puerto Rico. They wanted to extradite him, and I said, ‘No way, Jose, we need this man right here.'”

When Alford’s turn came, the highest-scoring Hoosier ever said, “I’m sure all of you have heard numerous times how hard it is to play for Coach because he’s demanding, he’s tough, he’s competitive …

“And, Dr. Bowen, that’s not myth.”