It is almost a relief to report that the Indiana University gymnastics team lost twice last week, proving that the school's athletes really are not invincible. In track the Hoosiers crushed Michigan State 88-42, but the really big splashes were made by the swimmers, who won their 100th straight dual meet, and by the basketball team, which all but nailed down the Big Ten title.
Despite the length of the swimmers' winning streak, basketball created the greater excitement. With the team's neat grooming and impeccable social grace, one might expect to find Streisand glowering on the sidelines and Redford dribbling in the backcourt. Coach Bobby Knight saw Patton three times, ruminates over Chinese philosophy and instructs his players like a sea gull explaining how to live. The freshman center would rather discuss restaurants than cars or music, and the leading scorer is a pinball wizard.
If these eccentricities were not enough, the team itself has had more changes of identity than a gawky teen-ager. When Knight took over three years ago, the Hurryin' Hoosiers ran up and down the floor like kids playing tag. Knight put glue on their sneakers, as well as in their defense, and the team became the Harryin' Hoosiers, producing a Big Ten title and a third-place NCAA finish last year. But midway through this season the dream of a national title was turning into a Knightmare as Indiana lost to Notre Dame, Oregon State and Michigan. Advised the coach: "Feet, do your stuff."
Back sprinting again, the Hoosiers have all but clinched the Big Ten title by playing with the determination of mice on a treadmill. Their average margin of victory in their last seven games has been 22 points. Early last week they beat Illinois 101-83; on Saturday in Minneapolis, Minnesota became their 11th straight victim, losing 73-55. With only three games left, Indiana appeared on its way to the NCAA playoffs.
The brick and mortar of the team is Kent Benson, a 6'10" freshman from New Castle, Ind. who salivates at the aroma of a well-prepared smorgasbord. Recruited as the next Bill Walton, Benson's reason for picking Indiana was simple: he liked the way Knight made Sloppy Joes. The big fellow once astounded the home folks by eating 33 pieces of barbecued chicken, five dishes of cake and ice cream and 11 soft drinks—and walking away from the table.
Height runs in his family. His sister Kathy is 6'1" and plays on her high school girls" basketball team, and his brother Kim recently sprouted four inches in a month after a nose operation corrected an oxygen deficiency. Although Kent seems to have stopped growing, Knight is determined not to let his head get any bigger.
Early this season the only resemblance Benson bore to Walton other than size was a shock of red hair. Benson did not make his first free throw until the 15th game. Not only didn't he start in the Big Ten opener against Michigan, he did not get to play. Knight once grabbed Benson by the scruff of the neck and shook him when he leaned from the team bus to yell at a friend. And when Benson went home for Christmas and reported back with the news that he had not touched a basketball for three whole days, Knight went berserk. "I don't think I've ever been madder in a gym in my life," recalls Knight. Benson was duly contrite. "Right then and there, that's when I really grew up," he says. In fact, he was so impressed that now he constantly carries two rubber balls, squeezing them to strengthen his hands.
Benson scored 18 points and had 15 rebounds against Minnesota, and in his last three games he has made 56 points, hitting on 25 of 36 field goal tries.
Forward Steve Green is another Hoosier hotshot, glowing under the heat of the team's swift style. He and his teammate in the other corner, Scott May, are hitting well over 50% of their shots, capitalizing on the team's propensity for "the truth"—what the players call an open 15-foot jump shot. Green and May showed Minnesota the truth all night long, scoring 36 points on combined 16-of-30 shooting.
Green's passion is playing the pinball machine at Rocky's, a campus hangout. "It relaxes your mind and it helps your quickness," he says. Benson slept in Green's fraternity-house room when he visited Indiana as a high school recruit. The accommodations were not impressive, just a couple of mattresses thrown onto the floor. Then a dozen sorority girls walked in the front door. "I had never seen them before," recalls Green, "but I told Kent, 'This happens all the time.' "
College basketball is filled with coaches who have shiny foreheads from dealing with players who display the temperament of poorly bred Doberman pinschers. One minute they're licking your hand, the next they're biting it. But Bobby Knight is one tough customer and his players learn to appreciate that. His mien would wipe the sneer from a hard hat's face, and short hair and manners are as much a part of his team's demeanor as the pass and cut offense.
The coach holds no respect for people who play out their lives in comfort under a plastic bubble. He reveres Army heroes. He was, in fact, the coach at West Point for six years. A favorite quotation from George Patton hangs on his office wall, and he likes to read from The Art of War, written by Sun-tzu five centuries before Christ. Knight's memory is such that he can recite almost play by play each of his team's losses, not only from this season but from years ago. And he is so competitive that his team shrinks from playing casual shooting games with him.
Knight's caustic tongue abrades many, but his friends enjoy his outspokenness. He usually eats lunch at a dowdy neighborhood diner run by a one-handed cook named Smittie. Last week a doctor friend showed up wearing a turtleneck sweater, a double-knit jacket, plaid cuffed slacks and wing-tip shoes. Said Knight dryly, "You've got three different styles on today, none of which happens to be current."
Even though his team is scoring more, Knight still puts his faith in defense. He ran onto the floor to reward Scott May with a pat on the hindquarters after a saving play against Michigan recently. And when his team crept close to the 100-point mark against Illinois a few weeks ago, he turned to his assistant, Dave Bliss, and said, "I hope we don't make it." When Indiana reached 100, it was the first time a Knight-coached team ever had scored that many. A few days later the Hoosiers did it again.
Knight freely uses a group of nine players, running them in and out on whim and for reason, and he has employed nine different starting lineups. The team's third-leading scorer is John Laskowski, its sixth man. "We're all just a bunch of average high school ballplayers who work together," says Laz. "He makes you give 100% and you even amaze yourself with what you can do." Indeed, in Indiana the basketball is going swimmingly.