Team gets hero’s welcome

Team gets hero’s welcome

By Doug Wilson, Herald-Times Staff Writer

March 25, 2002

Indiana University basketball star Jared Jeffries and the rest of the Hoosier team arrive at Assembly Hall and are greeted by a throng of cheering fans early Sunday morning. Several hundred fans spilled into the streets and celebrated Indiana’s victory over Kent State Saturday night. Staff photo by Chris Howell
From the Mar. 25, 2002 Bloomington Herald-Times

Fans mobbed Indiana’s triumphant basketball players when they arrived at Assembly Hall early Sunday morning.

At least several hundred people showed up around midnight to greet the Hoosiers upon their return from Lexington, Ky., after defeating Kent State.

Fans of all ages sang the Hoosier fight song, chanted “Final Four, Final Four” and chatted gleefully as they waited for the team, which flew from Lexington to the Monroe County Airport, then took a bus to Assembly Hall.

Many fans, such as 14-year-old Ben Wood, were hoarse from screaming at the television on Thursday and Saturday nights.

Wood and sister Hannah, 10, waited anxiously, wrapped in red IU blankets. Hannah’s mom, Susan Kreig, had written “IU” in red on Hannah’s left cheek. Ben lifted his shirt to display a big “IU” he had scrawled in red permanent marker on his chest.

Their dad, Walt Wood, was also hoarse from the party he and Susan threw for relatives to watch the Kent State game. Wood remembers the 1976 championship run fondly from his days as an IU student. He had settled in Bloomington by the time the Hoosiers won the 1981 and 1987 national titles and is savoring the return to the Final Four.

The Woods, who live miles south of downtown, past Clear Creek, were thrilled when they stepped out on their porch after the game and heard jubilant fans yelling and honking their horns.

“This team has been so exciting. I felt like we had to come down here,” Kreig said. “Hannah isn’t even usually a big basketball fan, but she screamed herself silly tonight.”

In addition to bundled-up children and senior citizens, the crowd also included shirtless IU students displaying their painted chests despite the chilly weather. Several students said IU’s basketball tradition was a big reason they chose to attend IU, and the joy they’ve shared with one another in celebrating the Hoosiers march to the Final Four will be among their finest college memories.

When the team finally arrived at about 12:40 a.m., fans were lined up more than 50 feet deep across the entire length of Assembly Hall’s south concourse.

There were so many people there that most couldn’t see what was happening, but they heard the crowd roar as the bus pulled up on the opposite side of Assembly Hall to unload. A couple of minutes later, the team, led by hometown hero Jared Jeffries, emerged from the south concourse doors and walked directly through the tightly packed mob to their cars. The players, wearing street clothes and Final Four caps, gave high-fives to one fan after another.

Coach Mike Davis walked amongst the players, carrying his son Antoine, and smiling as the chants of “Davis, Davis, Davis,” rang out.

The players and coaches didn’t stop to make any comments to the crowd, but some did hang around in a parking lot full of fans to sign dozens of autographs.

Jeff Newton and George Leach stood by Leach’s car until almost 1 a.m. when state police cleared a path between the fans so Leach could pull out.

The two Hoosier big men laughed and gave fans high-fives as they signed hats, “GO IU” cardboard signs and even the bare head of one student who had shaved off his hair and written “Go Hoosiers” on his scalp in black marker. Leach and Newton cracked up as they politely declined the request of one student to sign her chest.

“Unbelievable,” Newton said when asked about his reaction to the reception the team received. “There’s a lot of love here.”

“Beat Oklahoma! Win it all,” a fan hollered to Newton and Leach.

“We’re sure gonna try,” he responded.

Tell us how you are getting fired up for the Hoosiers

This week, The Herald-Times will publish stories about how fans are getting fired up for the Indiana University men’s basketball team’s journey to the Final Four.

If you have a story, call H-T City Editor Bill Strother at 331-4361.

One example of fans rising to the occasion came before Saturday’s game against Kent State, when members of IU’s Theta Chi fraternity painted a car in Hoosier colors.

In what may be one of the biggest bargains in auto history, the fraternity members then sold the car to the Doughshack pizza store at the corner of Third and Lincoln streets for the whopping price of two calzones. A calzone is an Italian turnover filled variously with cheese, meat and vegetables.

“They were cleaning up their yard when we saw the car. They got it out here and got it painted (Saturday) afternoon,” said Rich Nawrocki, a manager at the Doughshack.

About 20 or 30 fraternity members were on the car after they brought it to the store. They said they were going to Atlanta, site of the Final Four.

Only one problem: Their Hoosier-mobile didn’t run.