Here’s a story that ran in the paper today about the basketball program family reunion in French Lick.
FRENCH LICK â€” Tom Crean looked out over the course, surveying the golf carts toting tall men wearing crimson golf shirts.
Heâ€™d invited them to this quaint resort town â€” only recently resurrected to its former glory â€” 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.
â€œIt was an amazing scene,â€ said Mike Woodson, the prolific forward from the late 1970s. â€œWe havenâ€™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 itâ€™s something we can build on for the future. Right now weâ€™re probably at an all-time low, but I think in the future weâ€™ll make some moves once Tom gets out and recruits. This shows how much support he has.â€
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.
Sundayâ€™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 yearâ€™s team attended, and at least one group ended up talking until 3 a.m.
â€œThere wasnâ€™t much that needed to be said,â€ Crean said about Sunday. â€œThe spirit was just in the air.â€
Mondayâ€™s golf outing included a touch that Knight â€” who was invited but did not attend â€” would have loved: each group shot free throws at the turn. Each made attempt was a point off the teamâ€™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 Timberwolvesâ€™ 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 yearâ€™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.
â€œIâ€™m just really excited to see coach Crean and learn more about his leadership,â€ said Tom Abernethy, the versatile forward from the undefeated 1976 team. â€œIâ€™m not one that likes to look back too much, but look forward. It will probably be that with Tomâ€™s first team wins and losses arenâ€™t going to be what everyone would hope for and love to have, but thereâ€™s a lot more than wins and losses on my mind. Thereâ€™s the character of the coaches and the players, and what IU wants to stand for and has stood for. Thatâ€™s what is important to me. Iâ€™m not going to care about the record.â€
Woodson said the weekend was a first step in repairing many of bonds that were broken in the aftermath of Knightâ€™s firing and the ensuing struggles. That, he thinks, will help Crean rebuild the program quickly.
â€œThereâ€™s been so much tradition over the years in Indiana basketball and none of us wants to see our program in the stage itâ€™s in now,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™ve just gotta build on it and get it to the top of the charts in college basketball. Because thatâ€™s the Indiana program I know.â€
An Indiana program that appears now, after a few days in French Lick, ripe for its own resurrection.