Aug. 26, 2008
French Lick, Indiana -
In what is believed to be the largest gathering of former players and managers of the Indiana University men's basketball program, more than 180 gathered on Sunday and Monday, August 24 and 25 in French Lick for an Indiana Basketball Reunion made possible by the generosity of Mr. Bill Cook and the Cook Group. Overall, 300 invited guests enjoyed the two-day event.
"I think the thing that sits with me in the biggest way right now is the power of the unspoken word," said first-year Indiana Coach Tom Crean. "Just watching people interact, watching them catch up, watching the excitement that people had to just be together, gave me and I think everybody that was here an incredible feeling, more important than anything else of what Indiana basketball is all about."
The invitees began arriving at the West Baden Springs Hotel late Sunday afternoon. Following a reception, the players and managers got together to take an overall group photo, along with another group photo for players from each decade from the 1940's through the 2000's. In addition, the guests were able to enjoy an impressive collection of memorabilia that included the five NCAA Championship trophies that are displayed in Assembly Hall and other assorted items such as jerseys, warm-ups and programs, courtesy of IU collector John Pfeifer.
Longtime "Voice of the Hoosiers" Don Fischer, who has been with the program since the 1973-74 season, served as emcee of the dinner program. The group was shown a DVD featuring the new Basketball Development Center, which is scheduled to be completed next August.
Crean then addressed the crowd with his primary message being that for the program to move forward, it was important to get the former players back and involved with the program.
"We sat down and began to talk, and we were in the middle of going through some things at Indiana and the transition and the question was asked, 'How can we help?' The number one thing is we have to get the players back," noted Crean.
Cook Group Incorporated Chairman of the Board and President of the Indiana University Trustees, Stephen L. Ferguson welcomed the guests on behalf of the Cook Group. The program then concluded with remarks from former players Mike Woodson, Wayne Radford, Slick Leonard, D.J. White
, Dane Fife and Calbert Cheaney
"Just to be here and be a part of this era, a part of this lifestyle and a part of Indiana University, I will never forget it," said Ray Tolbert who played for the Hoosiers from 1977-81. "You can't beat the nostalgia that's here. It is great to come back and break bread with some of these great players that are here, and to continue our excellent
tradition. I think Coach Crean is going to do an excellent job and he is starting off on the right foot."
Monday morning saw several of the former players and managers meeting at the Donald Ross Course in French Lick where 20+ foursomes competed in an 18-hole scramble. The team of Chuck Franz, Phil Isenbarger, Ted Kitchel and Randy Wittman won the event by shooting 11 under par.
A LOT OF THANK YOU'S
Coach Crean was very appreciative of those who helped make this event possible and moved by the response of the former players and managers.
"I think it has got to start with Mr. Cook and Mr. Ferguson and Aimee Hawkins-Mungle, from Cook. All the former players that work out at Cook, Scott Eells, Chuck Franz, John Kamstra and Wayne Radford, were very instrumental in getting their teammates here. On the Indiana side, Scott Dolson, Kelly Bomba and Anne Fagan of the Varsity Club did a great job of putting things together, along with B.J. McElroy and Beth McLaughlin, in our office. Marty Clark, our Assistant Athletic Director for Equipment put together a fantastic array of gifts, compliments of adidas, which was was really nice. Mr. Pfeifer's display of memorabilia was also a big help. The staff's at the West Baden Springs Hotel and the Donald Ross Course provided us with a first class experience."
"There were different ideas: Can we do something in Bloomington, should we go to Indianapolis and other things were brought up about a scholarship golf outing that Coach Knight used to do. But it really was Mr. Cook's idea to have something here; it was Mr. Cook's idea to bring everybody back together like this. I couldn't envision what this would look like, but they knew and they knew it would be spectacular. But I don't think they could have imagined it would have looked like this, with a response like this."
THOUGHTS AND OBSERVATIONS
"It is just great to come back to something like this to see all of the older players that I looked up to, and it is just great. I'm glad that Coach Crean and Mr. Cook all put this on to get these guys to come back. I think the most important thing is getting guys like myself and especially the older guys to come back and just be a part of the program. When I get a chance to come back to work out with the younger guys, I always would do that to give back to the program."
"When I found out that they were going to put this together, I was really excited because I haven't seen so many of these guys for probably ten years, since (Coach Knight) had the IU golf outings, so it has been fantastic seeing some of these guys that I haven't seen for years and years. It is always fun coming back to Indiana and seeing everybody. It is kind of like being the cousin that lives somewhere else, and you come back and see how everyone is doing. Everybody is doing great."
"This past weekend has been incredible. I've been talking to a lot of the guys last night and this morning, and the timing of this was excellent. The good feeling that exists here with Tom Crean running the program and how guys have really rallied around him to support him, and I feel as though what Tom has done over the last couple of months in terms of reaching out to former players that haven't been contacted in decades has really gone a long way to boost our program."
"I think the biggest thing about (the reunion) is how many players have come back and how many of these guys have talked about how big of a thrill this was for them just to be here with all their teammates, former managers, guys that they've heard about but never played with. To meet each other and to know that they are all a part of a huge family that maybe for a time was a bit dysfunctional but is no longer that way. These guys have been truly excited to be here, and for that to happen again made everybody involved with Indiana University believe that this program is on its way back, and it is on its way back quickly. Not with what is happening on the court at this point, but with what has happened internally with the atmosphere of the program and the people around it. From that standpoint alone, this has been a tremendous weekend."
"One of the things that was incredibly amazing is whether you were D.J. White, Adam Ahlfeld, and Lance Stemler, who just finished their eligibility or all the way back to Robert Mehl and Gene Faris who played in the 40's, there was something for everybody, and it showed that the Indiana tradition rivals any tradition in any sport anywhere in the country. To have everybody be together for a couple of days showed everybody that it is alive and well and that that tradition will continue to build on."