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Bobby Plump, the real Jimmy Chitwood, enjoying his second moment in the spotlight

By Mike Wise
Thursday, April 1, 2010; D01

So itty-bitty Butler is playing in the Final Four this weekend, just a 15-minute drive from campus. And the country has been flooded -- flat-out, nauseatingly inundated -- with Indiana basketball nostalgia. And you're going to tell me with a straight face that the movie "Hoosiers" was an extremely dramatized account of a real high school basketball team and its star player in the 1950s?

Yep.

You mean to say the coach wasn't a last-chance lifer with a shady past who looked like Gene Hackman?

No, sir. Marvin Wood was just 26 years old. He took over for Snort Grinstead, who was fired for ordering new uniforms against the superintendent's orders.

Did he at least court the hot teacher in homeroom by strolling beside cornfields?

Nope.

Tell me they at least had an alcoholic assistant coach who ran the picket fence -- you know, Shooter, whose portrayal earned Dennis Hopper an Oscar nomination for best supporting actor?

Not true, either. The assistants were very good family men.

Did this Coach Wood at least sound like current Butler Coach Brad Stevens, who looks 33 going on 16, about as young as Ollie, the team manager-turned-player from "Hoosiers"?

No again.

Did he at least say "pop the ball" and preach four passes before each shot?

Hate to say it, but almost all of it is dramatized -- even the part where they say the coach had a player measure the rim and distance from the free throw line at Hinkle Fieldhouse at Butler. Now there was a guy on the team who said, "Could put a lot of hay in this place, couldn't they?" and that broke the tension of playing in such a big building.

And how would you know all these things "Hoosiers"?

Because I played for the Hickory Huskers. I'm Jimmy Chitwood.

Huh?

I'm the guy at the end of the movie who made the last shot to beat the big school. I'm why Angelo Pizzo wrote the screenplay.

You're not Maris Valainis. He's a golf pro in Irvine, Calif.

No, I'm the real-life Jimmy Chitwood.

Bobby Plump is 73 today. His restaurant, Plump's Last Shot, is located in the Broad Ripple section of Indianapolis and features draft beer, lots of tender red meat and memorabilia from 1954, when Plump was a 6-foot-1 guard for the Milan (pronounced My-lin) High Indians, who defeated Goliath, a.k.a. Muncie Central, in the final of the Indiana high school state tournament.

You can actually still see the grainy footage of that shot at the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in New Castle. Nearly 25 years after the movie came out and more than five decades after he became as big a part of Hoosier lore as Oscar Robertson, Larry Bird or Bobby Knight, Bobby Plump is fine with the fictionalized account.

"Made sense," Plump said in an interview this week. "I mean, Angelo kept asking us for controversy and we had none. You can't have a movie just about hugs and kisses. You needed some controversy. I liked every minute of it. And the important thing is they got the last 18 seconds right."

Plump is in the national spotlight this week almost as much as his beloved Butler Bulldogs. But what really happened to the kid who said, "I'll make it," and swished that ball through the rim at the end of the movie?

He turned down the NBA after an all-American career at Butler, where his free throw record stood for nearly four decades. The industrial league, where he played for the Phillips 66 petroleum company, actually compensated him more than the nascent NBA in the late 1950s. After a few years, he hung up his Chuck Taylors, came back to Indiana and became an insurance salesman before parlaying that business into a financial-planning firm. He also wrote a book in 1997, appropriately titled "Last of the Small-Town Heroes."

He met a nice, pretty girl named Jenine at a sophomore dance in college. That night, both of them were dumped by somebody else. They fell in love and parented three children, including one boy who went on to star in high school and play junior college ball in Wyoming.

"All of us were born in April," said his daughter, Kelli. "Dad had June off when he played in the industrial league. Go figure that one."

His son now runs Plump's Last Shot. But it's his old man who's made a slew of appearances at the restaurant recently because, well, it's Butler and it's Bobby Plump. In Indiana this week, Mister, it don't get much bigger than that. Best thing of all? It never went to his head, which is now a thick thatch of white.

When you thank Bobby Plump for his time, he replies: "No, thank you for your time. It's just nice to be remembered after all these years." And he means it.

By the way, Bobby Plump likes Butler to win it all. What, you thought Jimmy Chitwood would take Duke? No chance. Never.

"Unless the university president and athletic director decided to change the name, they're not the Butler Underdogs," Plump said. "They're the Butler Bulldogs, and they might just bite."

Interestingly, Jack Nicholson was first asked to play the coach in "Hoosiers" but already had a filming commitment. And the real-life announcer in the 1954 championship game, Hillard Gates, is also the movie's announcer. The final scenes were all shot at Butler's Hinkle Fieldhouse. There was also no drama at the end as to who would take the last shot. Like Plump said, only the last 18 seconds were the absolute truth.

He said his movie consultancy only came in handy at that point, when he showed the director and the actor exactly where he began dribbling, how he rose, squared and fired -- shocking a state the moment that basketball pierced the cotton, making a Hoosier immortal out of a teenager in high tops.

"Every time I see the movie, I just thank heavens that that shot still goes in," Bobby Plump said.

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