Memories from "The Hall"
Anyone who's ever visited Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall has at least one memory, whether good or bad, that will stay with them for a lifetime. I say good or bad because I know there have been some opposing teams and their fans that have left Bloomington wishing that they had never made the trip, and hoping they'd never have to come back. In fact, there's one team that we all know for certain felt that way because they refuse to return still today. Which is very unfortunate, because face it, Assembly Hall (AH) is a special place for basketball.
My personal list of memories is longer than this column will allow, but I will share a few. First things first though. You need to keep in mind that I am a Hoosier fanatic, so not all of my memories are game related. I'm that guy who occasionally makes the 2+ hour trip north to B-Town just because I miss being there. I never make the trip there without going to AH & Cook Hall (CH) and because of that I have been fortunate enough to meet plenty of players, coaches and staff while doing so. A trip through the tunnel between AH and CH guided by trainer Tim Garl was a pretty cool experience and memory from one of those trips.
Being stopped by former coach Tom Crean while wandering the lower hallways of AH in the early morning hours of Hoosier Hysteria (HH) day in 2011 was scary at first, but turned out to be one of my fonder memories. The team was practicing and yes, I was listening intently to the bounce of the ball, the squeak of the shoes, and the voices of the coaches and players through the locked door. Coach Crean approached and asked if we (me, my wife, my son) would like a picture. It would be the third time I had gotten my picture taken with him, but we accepted. Upon finding out that I have attended every HH and that a it was my birthday, he asked if I would like to come in and watch practice as his birthday gift to me. I'm pretty sure I said yes before he finished the question and was then ushered in through the locked door and told to choose my seat. The only instructions given to me were to not be a distraction, and that if I were to leave before practice was over to please not tell anyone where I had been until practice was over. But he needed not worry because I didn't leave until the last ball was put away and then I quietly, but smiling, joined the line forming outside.
Meeting Victor Oladipo in CH while he was on his recruiting visit was a pretty cool experience as well. Anyone else would have probably thought, "who's this crazy old guy that knows who I am?" but Victor seemed genuinely happy and appreciative that some random fan knew who he was and wanted him in Candy-Stripes. Cody Zeller's parents were someone else I happened to meet in CH. I'm not sure I've ever met two nicer and more genuine people. They not only struck up the conversation after the initial greeting by me, they kept it going as I was trying to leave them alone so as to not be a bother. Calbert Cheaney was another CH meeting I had. Unfortunately I was too tongue tied, which doesn't happen often, to ask for a picture. Having watched him at Harrison High School, at Indiana University and the NBA, I was a little in awe. But he was very gracious and friendly in taking the time to speak with a lifelong fan. Sage Steele was as beautiful in person as she is on TV, and as down to earth as you and I. I definitely didn't pass up the opportunity to get a picture with her!
A bad memory from a trip to AH was from December 31st, 2011. Shortly before halftime during an Indiana run that had given them the lead against Ohio State, there was a call that needed to be reviewed. After that delay, OSU coach Thad Matta decided to argue about it some more. Like the rest of the fans there that came to watch a basketball game, I had grown tired of him and stood from my seat in the 10th row behind the basket and proceeded to tell him to sit down and shut up, or something to that effect, and in doing so, when I turned, my back virtually exploded. I went down in pain and embarrassment. I managed to get to a seated position and spent the rest of the game in agonizing pain, but with a smile on my face due to the Hoosiers knocking off the Buckeyes. It took me and my 9yr. old son almost an hour to make it to our vehicle, and the drive home was maybe even worse than the initial pain when it happened. A surgery followed and my life was forever changed.
As hard as it was on fans the first three years of the Tom Crean era, I attended virtually every home game during that time. There were a lot of long drives home late on weeknights that gave me time to think about the state of the program. And as hard as it was to continue to watch our Hoosiers take a beating game after game, I kept reminding myself that things were being done the right way and that although it wasn't showing up in the win column, improvement was happening. The games IU lost by 30 the first year, they were losing by 15 the second year, and were sometimes in games until the end with a chance to win the third year. Hey, I know it wasn't much, but it was something. I met some incredible people during those three years. Some people that longed for the glory days of Indiana Basketball to return, but willing to show their support even when it was evident that that return was a long way away. I'm still friends today with some of those people.
The list of "famous" people that I've met through being a fan of Indiana University sports is nothing short of remarkable for a regular guy from a small town who just happens to be Hoosier crazy. But the bonds I've made with likeminded people that I have met through Indiana sports is equally as remarkable. I've made lifelong friends and continue to do so with each trip I make to watch the Hoosiers, whether that is in Bloomington, or on the road.
My two most memorable moments in AH are: On January 14th, 2018 I sat in press row as a member of the credentialed media and covered a game from that perspective. Seeing and meeting Don Fischer was the icing on the cake for that trip. The other one is one that more people now claim to have attended than AH will actually hold. On Saturday, December 10th, 2011, I sat across from the Indiana bench in Section H, Row 33, Seat 113 and watched the Hoosiers go toe to toe with, and beat, the #1 ranked Wildcats from Kentucky. I could write an article about that day, and that game itself, and just may do so someday, but for now, I'll just say it was the best game and atmosphere that I've ever been a part of in my 40 years of going to games in Assembly Hall.
As much as I enjoy going back in time and thinking about all of these experiences, and many more, it only fuels the fire inside of me to make the trek north to make some new memories, and to meet some new friends. I'm pretty sure I will have to make a trip to Bloomington between now and Hoosier Hysteria on September 29th because I'm getting antsy and writing this article hasn't helped that itch any at all. If you ever have the same itch and don't really have anything to do, drive to B-Town and stop by AH & CH and meet a new friend or two. Who knows, maybe I'll see you there myself. I'll be the old guy with the smile that seems to be right where he was meant to be. I'll be looking for you...