IU united again?


Here’s a story that ran in the paper today about the basketball program family reunion in French Lick.

FRENCH LICK — Tom Crean looked out over the course, surveying the golf carts toting tall men wearing crimson golf shirts.

He’d invited them to this quaint resort town — only recently resurrected to its former glory — for moments like this. Former Indiana basketball players sent golf balls flying across the Donald Ross Course Monday, spending the time between swings laughing about Bob Knight rants and cringing about losses that still haunt them so many years later.

Inevitably they would talk about what they had learned.

From the rants and the defeats and from each other.

Crean, not even six months into his job as the head coach of the Hoosiers, immersed himself in the crowd, just as he had Sunday night when even more former players gathered for a dinner at the hotel.

“It was an amazing scene,” said Mike Woodson, the prolific forward from the late 1970s. “We haven’t had anything like this since Knight left. Knight set the trend for a lot of us. It was really nice to see guys come together and bond together in fellowship and have a good time. I think it’s something we can build on for the future. Right now we’re probably at an all-time low, but I think in the future we’ll make some moves once Tom gets out and recruits. This shows how much support he has.”

The family reunion had been planned and executed by Crean, Indiana University staffers and Bloomington entrepreneur Bill Cook, who refurbished and rebuilt the French Lick Resort.

Sunday’s dinner became an open mic night, with players from every era sharing stories. Team members dating back to the 1940s and as recently as last year’s team attended, and at least one group ended up talking until 3 a.m.

“There wasn’t much that needed to be said,” Crean said about Sunday. “The spirit was just in the air.”

Monday’s golf outing included a touch that Knight — who was invited but did not attend — would have loved: each group shot free throws at the turn. Each made attempt was a point off the team’s final score.

In other words: free throws matter.

But the mood was relaxed.

Woodson, now the coach of the Atlanta Hawks, stood at the fringe of the 18th green, gently chiding Randy Wittman as the Minnesota Timberwolves’ coach lined up a putt.

Calbert Cheaney and Dan Dakich shared a brief word and long handshake. Wayne Radford, now a Cook Inc. employee, promised to get himself teamed with Ted Kitchel, a superb golfer, at next year’s event. Recent graduates Rod Wilmont, Errek Suhr, Adam Ahlfeld and Lance Stemler chatted. Criss Beyers, once a graduate assistant under Knight and now an assistant athletic director for South, sank a sloping 35-foot putt only after Steve Ferguson, the president of the IU Trustees who is also the Chairman of the Board for Cook Inc., had tried the same putt and saw his ball roll off the green.

For many of the attendees, the weekend offered a first chance to get to know Crean.

“I’m just really excited to see coach Crean and learn more about his leadership,” said Tom Abernethy, the versatile forward from the undefeated 1976 team. “I’m not one that likes to look back too much, but look forward. It will probably be that with Tom’s first team wins and losses aren’t going to be what everyone would hope for and love to have, but there’s a lot more than wins and losses on my mind. There’s the character of the coaches and the players, and what IU wants to stand for and has stood for. That’s what is important to me. I’m not going to care about the record.”

Woodson said the weekend was a first step in repairing many of bonds that were broken in the aftermath of Knight’s firing and the ensuing struggles. That, he thinks, will help Crean rebuild the program quickly.

“There’s been so much tradition over the years in Indiana basketball and none of us wants to see our program in the stage it’s in now,” he said. “We’ve just gotta build on it and get it to the top of the charts in college basketball. Because that’s the Indiana program I know.”

An Indiana program that appears now, after a few days in French Lick, ripe for its own resurrection.

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7 comments:

  • Jason H. #1


    Tuesday, August 26, 2008 - 7:01 PM EDT

    Great article! Thanks for always keeping fans informed!

  • Mikie #2


    Wednesday, August 27, 2008 - 10:04 AM EDT

    would be nice if knoght could stop being a baby and join the rest of the iu alumni

  • eric #3


    Wednesday, August 27, 2008 - 10:29 AM EDT

    This is a wonderful event. That Tom Crean would recognize the assets he has in former players and the tradition of the program, and take a strong step like this to utilize those assets, is a validation of his hiring. This is exactly what IU needs, as Tom Abernethy so eloquently says.

    I agree that it would be nice if Coach Knight would re-establish contact with the program. With so many of his players, and Bob Hammel, one of his closest friends, embracing Coach Crean and this event, I would think that he’d reconsider his estrangement from IU. Come on Coach, bury the hatchet, stand with the people who helped YOU build on IU’s tradition and help Coach Crean do the same thing.

    This event should become an annual tradition, and Coach Knight should not only be invited, but encourage by his players and Mr. Hammel to attend.

  • IU Alum #4


    Wednesday, August 27, 2008 - 10:17 PM EDT

    • eric said, “With so many of his players, and Bob Hammel, one of his closest friends, embracing Coach Crean and this event, I would think that he’d reconsider his estrangement from IU.”

    Did I miss the quotes from Bob Hammel where he embraced Coach Crean and this event? He is working with Bill Cook on a book and would have an interest in seeing the former players but I haven’t seen him say anything in print about Crean.

  • Mike #5


    Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 11:23 AM EDT

    Knight stop being a baby? That will happen as soon as pigs fly. He is the biggest hypocrite in the world and he only cares about Knight. It doesn’t matter that there is nobody left at IU that was a part of tossing him to the curb, he will never return. He wants loyalty to him, but he can’t be loyal in return. He sure wasn’t loyal to Texas Tech, quitting in the middle of the season. If one of his players did that to him, he’d never talk to him again.

  • eric #6


    Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 11:43 AM EDT

    IU alum, I took Hammel’s attendance as evidence that he’s embracing the ‘Crean Administration.’If he was not, I don’t think he’d accept an invite from the current staff. He’s retired from the H-T, so he wasn’t there as a reporter. The book with Mr. Cook I know nothing about. If you equate attendance with approval of the current staff by former players, it would seem most of them have embraced the program under Tom Crean, and I thought the same would go for Mr. Hammel. Maybe I’m wrong but I hope not.

  • IU Alum #7


    Thursday, August 28, 2008 - 7:39 PM EDT

    I can see why you might come to that conclusion but I don’t think it’s as you stated. Bob’s writing a book about Bill Cook and Cook paid for the event. Hammel knew that many of Knight’s and McCracken’s players would be there and he would take the opportunity to get to see them.

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