Guilty Your Honor, With An ExplanationS

There are two things I wish. First, that Indiana wasn't 1-11 in the Big Ten. And second, that Daulerio hadn't taped porn over the first 18 minutes of this instructional video.

Then I could have broken down exactly what I meant yesterday about how the Hoosiers aren't going to be hanging any more championship banners at Assembly Hall anytime soon. This video, circa 1985, produced by the fine folks at Kartes Video Communications Inc., was purchased by me at a sporting goods store in Indianapolis in 1987. A year hasn't gone by where I haven't referred to it at least once.

That's because Knight on the video doesn't so much show you how to coach the game, but rather how to watch it. How the real beauty of it all isn't the guy shooting, but rather the six passes and three screens it took to get him open. Knight asks you to appreciate filling the lane, spreading the floor, blocking out, setting a proper screen, throwing a proper pass and getting back on defense. It's about the sublime artistry of footwork, and moving without the ball. And of how depending on each other is everything, and playing for yourself is a dead end.

And yes, there's a section on taking the charge. I happen to be good at that; I had plenty of practice yesterday with many of you. I can stand your brickbats and epithets, and the knowledge that many of you Hoosier fans would shoot me if you could. But I know that they would be gentle bullets; bullets of love.

But before getting into the specifics of that, let me get into this.

In the aforementioned 1985, I was a rookie reporter at the Peninsula Times-Tribune in Palo Alto, Calif. Our sports editor, jokester that he is, decided that one of my first assignments would be to go to Rickey's Hyatt House hotel and interview Indiana coach Bobby Knight. I knew little about Knight, so yeah, why not?

So I show up at Rickey's and listen to Knight speak at the coaches clinic there; one of the other speakers was Jim Valvano, as I recall. I had just started coaching a sixth grade school basketball team at the time, so I figured I'd get some pointers as well. While Valvano and the other coaches talked of recruiting and TV and tournament victories, Knight actually talked about the game. He talked of how to set a screen, of defensive drills (help and recover!, I furiously wrote on my pad), and blocking out.

Afterward, as he walked down the hall toward the parking lot, I intercepted him. "Um, coach Knight, could I ask you a few questions?" Of course I found out later that that wasn't the way to obtain an interview with Bobby Knight; by all rights I should have been crowned with a nearby waste basket. But he stopped, and said, "Ok."

We talked for about 20 minutes, all the questions I had. I went back to the office and reported that I had gotten the interview. "What?" the sports editor asked, befuddled. "You're kidding."

So that started my love affair with Indiana basketball. In 1987 I made the trip to Bloomington, to watch a few games in the state high school tournament, and to catch a game at Assembly Hall, against Iowa and coach Tom Davis. (15 bounce passes per possession! Not one of them more than six inches off the floor!). That trip proved to be a harmonic convergence of Indiana basketball. Not only did the Hoosiers win the national title that season (their last one), but I got to see Damon Bailey play in the semifinals of the state playoffs at Bedford North-Lawrence High.

Two things stand out for me from that game: How the Bedford gym was bigger than most small college gyms in California, and how, in the third quarter, Bailey took a spill and looked like he might have broken his ankle. I've never seen a place that held so many people go so completely quiet all at once. It was as if someone had announced that Kennedy had been shot. But Bailey bounced up, finished the game, and of course went on to play for Knight four years later.

That was also the year that the movie Hoosiers came out, which I saw on its opening night in an ancient downtown Bloomington theater — also packed — as everyone cheered the montage scene where all of names of the Indiana towns went by.

Not shown in the photo above: Other Hoosiers memorabilia, such as my J. Edgar Hoosiers matchbook, Indiana key chain that plays Indiana, Our Indiana (it still works), Assembly Hall ticket stub, and Bobby Knight autographed photo. I made the Indiana trip every year after that until 1995. I've meant to return, but Knight's gone now, the state high school tournament is split into divisions (blasphemy), and hell, it's just so hard to get away.

What was the question? Oh, yeah. I've been to Bloomington.

Guilty Your Honor, With An ExplanationS

On your next point, how Crean has this great freshman class coming in; I'll give you that. Should have mentioned it. And Indiana will improve next season. But that doesn't change the main theme; that Indiana basketball as you have known it is gone, probably forever. In terms of wins and losses, we've reached the end of an era. Oh, Bloomington will still be a great basketball town, but what I mean by basketball backwater is that the Hoosiers will always take a back seat to Duke and North Carolina and UCLA and even Wake Forest and UConn. They're no longer special. Email me the next time Indiana reaches the Elite Eight. I'll be waiting.

This has nothing to do with the beauty of the campus and the community, which many of you have cited in emails. Um, what? San Jose State has a nice campus, too, but they're not beating Pitt.

No, that magical, John Feinsteinian year of 1987 is gone forever, and not Tom Crean nor the return of Steve Alford or Norman Dale himself is bringing it back. Knight lifted the program by the weight of his genius. Yeah, he had blue chippers, but the bulk of his rosters were always populated by JC transfers (Keith Smart, Dean Garrett) and local kids (Bailey, Joe Hillman, Alford) which he took and beat the likes of Syracuse and Shaquille O'Neal's LSU in the Big Dance. Sure, you'll continue to pack Assembly Hall, but do you think that success is coming back?

I've talked to Knight a handful of times since meeting him that day in 1985. Once I asked him why he gave me that interview. "Because," he said, "I saw the stuff you were writing down. Out of all the reporters there, you were the only one interested in things that matter."

So if I'm wrong about Crean and Indiana, I'll be the first to say so, and the Hoosier Reds will be on me. But be aware that you're in my wheelhouse on this one. I've been watching the situation for more than 20 years. And I've been taking notes.