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In Indiana, Basketball Is in a Sad State

Once a Source of Pride, the Game Is Losing Its Place in Hoosier Hearts

By Mark Schlabach
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, January 15, 2005; Page A01

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Indiana University Coach Mike Davis was sitting at his breakfast table one morning last week when his 5-year-old son, Antoine, walked into the kitchen. "Daddy, I had a dream last night," Antoine told him. "I was playing for Purdue and dunked."

"A dream?" Davis asked his son. "That sounds like a nightmare."

Coach Mike Davis followed the legendary Bob Knight at Indiana. He was booed at a recent home game. "It's sad," Davis said. (George Widman -- AP)

_____Game of the Week_____
Game of the Week

No. 3 North Carolina at No. 4 Wake Forest, 1:30 p.m. today

This Tobacco Road thriller is the "Gone With the Wind" of college basketball: There's no sequel to this classic. Because of ACC expansion, the North Carolina schools play only once during the regular season after meeting at least twice in every season since 1922 (the Demon Deacons didn't field a team in 1944 because of World War II). If both teams are really as good as they look, there's a good chance they could meet again in the ACC tournament final at MCI Center or at the Final Four in St. Louis. The Tar Heels have played like the ACC's best team during the past month, beating Virginia Tech by 34 points, Maryland by 34 and No. 8 Georgia Tech by 22 on Wednesday night. The Demon Deacons have won nine games in a row; the Tar Heels have won 14 games in a row. The game features two of the nation's best point guards, Carolina's Raymond Felton and Wake's Chris Paul, and two of the ACC's best big men, Tar Heels junior Sean May and Demon Deacons junior Eric Williams.

_____Top Five Mid-Majors_____
Top Five Mid-Majors

1. George Washington (11-2): Colonials should cruise until a four-game stretch at the end of the month that includes games at Richmond, at home against Xavier and Dayton, and at Temple on Feb. 5.

2. Gonzaga (12-3): Zags won't walk through the West Coast Conference this year; lost at Saint Mary's (Calif.), 89-81, on Jan. 8.

3. Southern Illinois (13-3): Salukis won toughest road test in Missouri Valley Conference, winning at Creighton, 69-63, last Sunday.

4. Hawaii (10-2): The Rainbow Warriors could be eyeing 24 victories.

5. Wichita State (11-1): The Shockers' only loss was a 64-59 loss to Manhattan on Jan. 3.

_____RPI Watch_____

Temple is off to a 2-0 start in the mediocre Atlantic 10 and undoubtedly will receive an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament if it finishes with a winning record in the league. The Owls (6-6) had an RPI ranking of 19 entering this week, thanks to the second-toughest schedule in the nation. Temple's nonconference schedule included road games at Georgetown, South Carolina, Alabama and Duke, and the Owls will play at Maryland today. Temple played Auburn, Arizona State, Pennsylvania, Wake Forest and Princeton at home and played Villanova at the Palestra. Senior guard Mardy Collins is one of the most underrated players in the country, averaging 17 points and 4.3 assists and leading Division I with 3.8 steals. As usual, Temple is taking care of the basketball meticulously, averaging 9.2 turnovers.

_____Men's Basketball Basics_____
basketball Scoreboard
Area Colleges Section
Men's Basketball Section

Many Indiana residents would argue that playing for either the Hoosiers or Boilermakers would be a nightmare these days. The state that produced legendary figures such as coaches John Wooden and Bob Knight and whose passion for high school basketball was the backdrop for the movie "Hoosiers" is experiencing an unprecedented malaise in its favorite game.

"It's a damn mess," Purdue University Coach Gene Keady said. "We had the magic and we lost the magic."

With a widely anticipated college basketball season in full swing, Indiana's two traditional powers are on the outside looking in. Indiana and Purdue have losing records entering their game here today at Purdue's Mackey Arena, and interest in high school basketball, the state's other passion, also is waning considerably. While the colleges' struggles can be attributed at least in part to changes at the top, interest in the high school game began to dissipate when the state abandoned its one-class, everybody-in, winner-takes-all postseason tournament in favor of a system that divided schools by size.

More Than a Game

Basketball in Indiana has long been more than a game. James Naismith, who invented the sport in Springfield, Mass., more than a century ago with a soccer ball and two peach baskets, once said that "basketball may have been born in Massachusetts, but it grew up in Indiana."

From Wooden (he was a Purdue all-American long before he became the "Wizard of Westwood" at UCLA) to Rick "the Rocket" Mount (the first high school player to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated) to Damon Bailey (the first eighth-grader featured in SI), Indiana's best high school and college players became state-wide icons.

How else to explain the Steve Alford All-American Inn in New Castle, about 70 miles west of Indianapolis off Interstate 70, where rooms are decorated with jerseys, basketballs and other memorabilia celebrating one of the state's most beloved players. Or Plump's Last Shot, a bar and grill in the Broad Ripple district of Indianapolis, named after Bobby Plump, whose last-second shot lifted tiny Milan High School to the 1954 state championship and inspired the film "Hoosiers."

Before they were NBA stars, players such as Charles "Stretch" Murphy, Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird and Glenn Robinson were stars of the phenomenon that became known as "Hoosier Hysteria," the state's unique high school tournament. Unlike the way virtually every other state divides its high school competitions among similarly sized schools, Indiana crowned only one state champion until 1998, staging a month-long tournament that once included more than 400 schools.

The state's controversial decision to buck tradition for four separate classes and four state champions is what basketball purists point to when they're asked about the deflation of the sport in the state. In 1990, more than 40,000 fans -- a national high school attendance record -- watched Bailey lead Bedford North Lawrence High to the state championship. Last year, about 16,000 fans watched Lawrence North High beat Columbia City for the Class 4A state championship.

"There's no interest," said Plump, who sells insurance in Indianapolis. "People don't care. Multi-class basketball just killed it. There's no interest in the sectionals. The two questions I get asked all the time are, 'How true was the movie?' and 'Will Indiana basketball ever be what it used to be?' "

More than a half-century after Plump held the basketball for more than four minutes, fired a shot and missed, but then redeemed himself at the buzzer in Hinkle Fieldhouse, Indiana basketball has mostly become distant memories. Instead of victories and championships, it's about empty seats, embattled coaches and mounting losses.

"It was something very, very special," said Purdue assistant Matt Painter, who grew up in Muncie, Ind., and played for the Boilermakers. "There's no doubt it's lost a lot of its mystique. It was everybody against everybody, and David versus Goliath. It's not what it used to be."

The Past Beckons

Fans of Indiana and Purdue can't let go of the past, either. The Hoosiers finished 14-15 last season, their first losing season since 1969-70, and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 19 years. Indiana opened this season with less than impressive victories over Indiana State and Western Illinois, then lost six games in a row in December against a schedule that has been rated the toughest in college basketball.

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