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What Is Indiana Basketball Today?

Three coaches, 18 years, and countless wins and losses later, IU basketball finds itself in a precarious position.

The firing of Tom Crean has mostly been put in the rearview mirror. It’s now Archie Miller’s turn to put IU basketball back in the forefront of the College Basketball world.

As Big Ten play starts up for good in 2018, it’s safe to say there have been ups and there have been downs so far in the Miller era. That is to be expected with a first year head coach and most fans have accepted that to a certain extent.

Crean went to Sweet 16’s, won Big Ten Championships, and experienced a good amount of success, save for his first few seasons climbing out of the Kelvin Sampson hole. So now with a new leader, what is Indiana basketball?

The outside of the new south lobby at Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall in Bloomington, Indiana. (Josh Eastern)

“I think that Indiana is still one of ‘the’ programs in the country,” author and Washington Post columnist John Feinstein said. “It’s not like Crean didn’t have any success, he just didn’t make the Final Four. He had some very good teams. I think people expect Archie Miller to have success because he had a good deal of success at Dayton. Everyone is sort of waiting for Indiana to be important again.”

The perspective of Indiana basketball changes, whether it’s fair or not, almost based on how old you are. Because its last Final Four appearance came in 2002, most current students don’t have recollections of it.

Current ESPN college basketball analyst Jay Bilas said if you’re his age, you’ll have a longer perspective. If you’re younger, they haven’t been to that elite level in quite some time.

“Indiana has been very good, but I think if people compare it to – ‘wait a minute, we’re not as good as we were in the seventies,’ well, they’re right,” Bilas said. “The bones are great here so I don’t think it’s that far-fetched that Indiana can and will be great again, but people want consistently great. I think they’ll get that, but everything seems to have its ups and downs.”

The roots of Indiana basketball go deep. The five banners hanging in Assembly Hall tell the story of the history of the program. Before the 1987 banner was hung, the most recent banner of the five, the public got a deeper look into one of America’s most storied programs.

Heading into the 1985-86 season, Feinstein had the idea of writing a book. You may know it as Season on the Brink. Back when he was thinking about writing the book, Feinstein said he thought there were three coaches who he could pitch a book to a publisher on: Dean Smith, Bob Knight and John Thompson.

Feinstein started to cover and know Knight around the 1984 Olympics. He also happened to be in Bloomington the week leading up to the chair throw, although wasn’t at the game against Purdue. After that visit, Feinstein wrote a column about the chair throw. Knight called and thanked him for telling both sides of the story.

After that sequence of events, Knight invited Feinstein to dinner at the Final Four while they were both there. This was a turning point.

“I realized he was inviting me into his inner circle,” Feinstein said. “I always thought that if I could get a big name coach to give me total access for a season, there was a book to be done. I had never written a book, but I thought that was a good idea.”

After dinner, Feinstein said Knight invited him to his hotel room. At the Final Four back in those days, Knight shared a room with legendary Cal coach Pete Newell (just a few hundred combined wins in that suite). From there, Feinstein had to pitch his idea.

Knight: “Have you ever written a book before?’

Feinstein: “No.”

Knight: “Do you have a publisher?”

Feinstein: “No, I didn’t think there was any point to get a publisher until I talked to you.”

Knight thought that was a satisfactory response. From there Feinstein went to find a publisher. Five publishers rejected him, but you only need one. The sixth said yes.

The relationship between Knight and Feinstein progressed from there and Feinstein got the access he wanted when he visited Bloomington again in 1985.

“He let me in the locker room before practice,” Feinstein said. “I watched practices, had dinner with him, was in their locker room before their game on a Thursday night against Illinois. I had the sense that he might be willing to give me the type of access I was thinking about.”

From there, the book went on and was quite successful. It was a look into a College Basketball program unlike basically anything that had been done up to that point.

Still today, it is unique in the fact that nothing all too similar has been documented. It may have helped that Indiana went on to win its fifth title a year later.

Nonetheless, Feinstein did say there are common themes into today’s College Basketball landscape. He summed it up with a quote that fits Knight all too well.

“Knight went overboard sometimes with some of the things that he did,” Feinstein said. “But overall, most of the guys who played for him I always said ‘swore at him while they were there and swore by him once they graduated.”

When you look at Indiana basketball presently, that may not necessarily be the case. Things change and, as Bilas pointed out, that sentiment is still fairly prevalent at a program like UCLA. After John Wooden left, he still said he thinks there is a shadow cast over that program.

As we all know, things change over time. Indiana basketball may not be what it was 30 years ago. But in today’s college basketball landscape Indiana basketball is important an important brand.

“There are people who sit up in the stands that are older, that are still big money people there that say ‘well that’s not how Wooden would have done it.’ Or ‘back then we would have done this,’” Bilas said. “Well, it’s not back then anymore. Things change. Moving past the way things used to be is important. You want to value your tradition and your culture, but you have to get with what today is all about.”

I am a senior from Seattle, Washington majoring in Media. I am formerly of the Indiana Daily Student where I covered Indiana men’s soccer team and women’s basketball. You still can find me broadcasting for WIUX Student Radio and on BTN Student U outside of The Hoosier Network. Former intern at 710 ESPN Seattle and broadcaster for the Falmouth Commodores. Email: Follow me on Twitter: @JoshEastern.

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