Human InterestPersonal History


I’m sure I wasn’t born with Indiana University basketball in my DNA. That’s impossible. My DNA did, however, include genes for height, competitiveness, and a keen interest in sports that is most often piqued by an Indiana University hoops contest. Since the time I had red hair, freckles, and acne, I have loved watching basketball, especially, Indiana University basketball. IU is my team—always has been and always will be. This late in life I have no interest in aligning myself with any team besides the “Hurryin’ Hoosiers.” Win or lose I’m in! And this season, losing has occurred far too often. 

My dad didn’t play basketball, but he must have like watching it because sometime in the 1950’s he began watching IU games. I know he loved to watch boxing because he watched the “Gillette Cavalcade of Sports” boxing matches every Friday night! My younger brother and I watched sports with him. His job was to buy radio, television, and major appliances for L.S. Ayres & Co., the major retail department store in Indianapolis, so we always had new TV with the latest technology. I don’t recall when we actually got our first television, but I know we watched Troy Rutmann win the 1952 Indianapolis 500 Mile Race in the only local broadcast of the race before cable TV came into existence. It was probably about that time that Indiana University home basketball games started being televised on the second TV station to be started in Indiana.

That station, WTTV, was founded in Bloomington, IN by an Armenian-born engineer with the  memorable name, Sarkes Tarzian. Born in 1900, his family moved to the U.S. in 1907. He graduated from high school first in his class and was awarded an academic scholarship to the University of Pennsylvania. He studied electrical engineering with special interest in broadcasting and earned his bachelors degree in 1924 and graduate degree in 1927. After graduation he got a job with RCA in Bloomington, and later founded his own company, Sarkes Tarzian Enterprises. In that capacity, he started a VHF radio station in 1946, and in 1949, WTTV. Since it was located in Bloomington, it followed naturally that some Indiana University basketball games were broadcast. If we had an antenna strong enough to pick the signal from channel 4, we were able to watch most home IU games. 

In the 1950’s, Indiana University basketball had already established a reputation after winning the NCAA tournament in 1940. They had a legendary coach in Branch McCracken and balanced teams that always featured a star player. Don Schlundt, Archie Dees, Frank Radovich, Bob Leonard, Walt Bellamy, and Jimmy Rayl were just a few of them. 

At that time, the NCAA tournament was not as we know it today. There were only 8 teams playing for the title in 1940, when IU beat Kansas 60-42 in the championship game. In 1951, the tournament expanded to 16 teams, and to 22 teams in 1953 when IU won its second championship. Again, it was Kansas they defeated, this time by only one point, 69-68.

It was in the mid 1950’s that I developed a passion for IU basketball. With the help of WTTV channel 4, players like Dees, Schlundt, Radovich, Hallie Bryant, and Herb Lee became household names. We got to watch all their home games, and IU basketball increased in popularity through weekly local TV exposure. And the Hoosiers won most of the time. It was about then I began playing basketball on our grade school team. I made the team in the sixth grade and played every year through high school until graduation in 1962. When you play basketball, it follows that you enjoy watching it, and I did. Channel 4 made watching IU possible. In 1958, as a high school freshman, our coach, Roger Schroder, had the whole freshman team over to his house for dessert and to watch IU and its 6’11” sophomore sensation, Walt Bellamy. He was an extraordinary scorer and rebounder and was All-American at IU his junior and senior years. 

All of these events during my grade school and high school years flipped on a neon flashing sign inside me that said “lifelong fan of Indiana University basketball.” And I was.

From September, 1962 until June, 1965, I attended Indiana University. As a student, I was able to buy tickets to home games and went to a game if I didn’t have a test the next day. That was the era (1962-1965) when Tom and Dick VanArsdale and Jon McGlocklin were the stars. They were exciting to watch. Their records the first two seasons (‘62-‘63, ‘63-‘64) were 13-11 and 9-15, not great. But their senior season (‘64-‘65) was Coach Branch McCracken’s last year, and they finished 4th in the Big Ten with an overall record of 19-5. Actually going to IU games as a student and watching your heroes play gave that flashing light inside me a power boost.  

Coach McCracken was a volatile personality. He regularly had explosions of anger that could get him in trouble with the refs. He was known for stalking the sidelines and jumping up from his chair to berate the officials. A silly rule was made by college basketball’s controlling body that forced coaches to stay seated during the games. It was never stated as such, but it could have been called “The Branch McCracken Rule.” Sitting still was impossible for McCracken so to make it easier for him to comply, a seat belt was installed on his chair to keep him from standing up during the game. He wasn’t supposed to unfasten it, but he did, then stood up and received a technical foul. That rule didn’t last long.

IU games were played in either the old fieldhouse on 10th street or the “new” fieldhouse on 17th near the football stadium. Assembly Hall with a capacity of 17,000, didn’t open until 1971 so the stadiums in my era seated only 8000-9000 people. It wasn’t hard to fill all the seats. No one had a car so we walked to the games. In December, January, and February that was a challenge, but I loved basketball and I loved IU so it was worth the trouble. From 1962-1965, I know I missed a few games but not many. My passion for IU basketball was sealed for eternity, and regardless of life’s roadblocks and bumps, I was committed. 

In September, 1965, until June, 1969, my life and my IU basketball life encountered major obstacles! That was when I started medical school. Medical school wasn’t merely an obstacle; it was lifestyle change. It was an all-consuming committment that lasted four years during which I rarely, if ever, saw an IU basketball game. 1969-‘74 were the years of my internship, military service, and residency. They were years that were not my own, ie. I worked 12 hour days, 6 or 7 days a week and spent every third night on call in a hospital. We lived out-of-state so IU basketball never crossed my mind. 

In 1974, we returned to Indiana to start practice, two major changes had happened to Indiana University basketball: Bob Knight had been hired as coach and Assembly Hall had been built and opened. Indiana basketball and the expectations of IU fans had reached new levels. After five seasons with Lou Watson who went 62-70 and one season with Jerry Oliver (7-17), IU took a chance on a young man who was the coach at West Point. This “chance” worked into 3 NCAA National Championships, numerous Big Ten championships or co-championships, and hundreds of wins over the next 30 years. It was during this era that Indiana basketball was instilled into my life in a way I had not before considered. Winning was expected. Players were expected to play above their ability. Coach Knight became a Hoosier icon because he was a winner, and his many flaws and double standards were ignored.

Over the past fifty years, the successes of Coach Knight and the Hoosiers have become ingrained in me. Every time I watched IU play I expected them to win, and I still do. In Knight’s last years at IU, wins were not the norm. In fact, after the 1987 NCAA Championship season, and until Knight was fired (2001), IU lost 8 or more games all but 3 seasons. In 6 of those 14 seasons, they lost 11 or 12 times. The bar was still set high, but Coach Knight and the Hoosiers weren’t measuring up. The past 24 seasons, the best record IU compiled was 29-7 in 2012-2013. The recruiting of star players many years didn’t make winning a guarantee. Changing coaches five times wasn’t the answer, either. But when the tip-off occurs, I still expect them to play well and win. 

This season, ‘23-‘24, has been a disappointment until just recently when they won their last 4 games. A win or 2 in the Big Ten tournament, or even winning the tournament would be a total delight, but I’m not holding my breath for that outcome. I don’t have this degree of passion for any other team, except maybe the Indianapolis Colts. It’s hard to explain, but the ups and downs of Indiana University basketball teams can make, or ruin, the moment, or the whole day. They can bring about anger, frustration, and disappointment with a loss, or elation, jubilation, or euphoria with a win. 

No, IU basketball is not in my DNA, but it certainly occupies a large portion of my psyche’. It started as a kid watching IU games on WTTV channel 4 and developing a familiarity with the IU culture and facilities. That exposure led to playing basketball in junior high and high school, and the desire to attend Indiana University for college and medical school. The ability to attend IU games during an exciting era in the history of IU sports strengthened my loyalty. Five years of living out-of-state put IU basketball out of sight but not out of mind. Returning to Indiana plus the hiring of a new coach with a winning attitude recharged the light that had almost gone out. That light stopped flashing for a large part of this season, but it always helps when you win. It’s getting back to normal.

Most sports fans have a favorite team or two. Mine has always been and always will be the Indiana University Hoosier basketball team. I don’t think my life revolves around it, but it probably does because I really do get upset when they play badly—just ask my wife. They have played badly far too often this season, especially against Nebraska in their  

quarterfinal game of the Big Ten tournament. The game was over with 8:00 minutes left in the first half in what was probably the most embarrassing loss of the season. My hope is that a combination of players and coaches can be assembled that return IU back into a level of respect and prominence that has been missing for 34 years. It is a possibility, but I may not live long enough to see it.  

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