Undefeated ’75-76 Hoosier inducted ‘virtually’ into hall of fame

On one side of the screen was television analyst Clark Kellogg, sitting in front of a backdrop with the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame’s logo.

On the other side was former Hoosier great Quinn Buckner, headphone cords flowing out from his ear, sharing his remembrances from the sport’s last undefeated national championship team.

This was how Indiana’s 1975-76 men’s basketball team was inducted into the hall Wednesday night, virtually. During a pandemic, there couldn’t be a get-together, with a crowd cheering Buckner and his teammates. But Kellogg and Buckner could speak to what the Hoosiers accomplished, following up a 31-1 season in ’74-75 â€” that lone loss coming in the NCAA tournament â€” with a 32-0 mark and a win over Michigan for the national title.

“Listen, we had seniors. They were smart, tough, and knew what their roles were,” Buckner told Kellogg. “There was a clear mission of what we were trying to get accomplished, and we were determined to try to do that. As a senior, this is your last shot. Whatever motivation you had as a junior is different.”

IU may have very well won a championship the year prior if it weren’t for Scott May breaking his arm. The Hoosiers beat Kentucky by 24 points early in the regular season, but they lost to the Wildcats by two points in the third round of the NCAA tournament in 1975.

May returned with fellow seniors Bob Wilkerson, Tom Abernathy, Jim Crews, and Buckner. Kent Benson, a star junior, helped anchor the middle. It was a veteran team, perfectly constructed. Especially in hindsight, given their record.

But Kellogg, during his induction interview, pressed to find out if there was any adversity overcome, or “friction” between teammates, during the season.

“Hey Clark, I played for Coach Knight. He doesn’t have dissension,” Buckner said. “I’m sorry, you know better than I do, the culture he established was he wanted it to be united. At times, he would do things where he would have the entire team, let’s just say, less than happy with him. It’s just weird how it galvanized the unit.”

Bob Knight was willing to challenge his group. He came to Buckner and May, specifically, before the season and asked them if they would like an opportunity to play No. 2 UCLA at a neutral site to open the schedule. Buckner recalled saying, “Yes, let’s do that.”

Buckner and his classmates were freshmen when the Hoosiers lost to UCLA in the Final Four. As a senior, Buckner’s team beat the mighty Bruins, 84-64, which set a tone for the rest of the season. IU would have to play UCLA again in the 1976 Final Four.

“I remember they had Richard Washington, who’s a great player. He said (the opener) was an exhibition game,” Buckner said. “My nature is not to talk. My nature is to do what we do. But I made that very pointed, though. Like OK, if that was an exhibition game, this first game in the semifinals round is real. Let’s see what you have.

“We were very mild-mannered off the court, if you will, but on the court, we were a very competitive group.”

IU beat the Bruins, 65-51, in the Final Four. The Hoosiers whooped Michigan, 86-68, to finish off a perfect season.

“Coach Knight told the crowd on our senior night, ‘Take a look at this group because you’ll never see another one like it again,'” Buckner said.

Wednesday night was just another night in the spotlight for a rare group, though it was somewhat muted by the pandemic. After Kellogg’s interview with Buckner, the induction moved on to the unveiling of the Hoosiers’ plaque on the hall of fame’s wall, alongside the 1963-64 UCLA Bruins and the ’65-66 Texas Western Miners.

There was just a zoomed-in shot of the engraving, silvering lettering set against a black, rectangular background, which is on a wall at the hall of fame in Kansas City, Mo.

“1975-76 INDIANA HOOSIERS TEAM,” it reads.

But regardless of the manner of induction, the honor was still meaningful for Buckner and his teammates.

“This is huge for a lot of them for a variety of reasons,” Buckner told Kellogg. “Thanks to you and all who considered our team, because there are a lot of great teams out there.”

But no team since ’75-76 has been perfect. Dick Weiss, the former Philadelphia Daily News sportswriter, underscored that fact during the virtual ceremony.

“Indiana was the closest thing I’ve seen to the perfect team. You had five players who ended up playing in the NBA, including three All-Americans … for a coach who had a brilliant IQ and really was a slave to the idea that basketball still had the purest aspect to it,” Weiss said. “Bob Knight was not only a brilliant mind, but he got players to play with the type of mental toughness that made them almost invincible on the basketball court.

“And he created a situation where his team finished 32-0.”

2 comments

  1. Scott May ‘broke his arm’….? Huh? A seasoned journalist should know better than to say such a thing. Makes it sound like it was a boating accident….Was he tubing on Lake Monroe.

    PURDUE broke Scott May’s arm! Latter weeks of the season ….at Hack-me Mackey Arena. This was back when Boilers were allowed to defend with police batons so they could keep up with Hoosiers. What would be a ‘flagrant two’ and an ejection today, a ‘Spoilermaker’ purposefully assaulted May on a breakaway layup and, with malicious intent, slammed May’s arm against the backboard glass.

    My gosh, do your homework, Blau.
    Yes, Scott May broke his arm….while playing the game Joe Lunardi now uses to pick his Final Four. Get your facts straight, dude.

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