by Kent Sterling
There is something special about Assembly Hall. It used to be a bizarre building that was mistakenly designed to accommodate concerts played to one side or the other.
What it has become is a shrine to basketball at a place that understands and appreciates the game better than anywhere in the world.
It was Bob Knight’s house for 29 years, but he hasn’t been back since the idiocy of a zero-tolerance policy was enacted and enforced over 13 years ago. This building belongs to Tom Crean and the players he brings in to build on the legacy established by McCracken, Leonard, Schlundt, Bellamy, Buckner, May, Benson, Thomas, Woodson, Tolbert, Wittman, Kitchell, Dakich, Alford, Smart, Cheaney, Graham(s), Guyton, Evans, Haston, Jeffries, Fife, Oladipo, Hulls, and Zeller.
There are programs with rosters of players and coaches that can certainly rival those, but there is something undeniably special about basketball in this state and in this building. Despite being built for a multitude of purposes, it stands as an imperfect but thoroughly unique theater for exactly what it holds and displays – the hearts, efforts, and banners of Indiana’s shared love of basketball.
There are no suites for donors or boxes filled with boosters, just a wooden floor bracketed with hoops at the ends and 17,472 Hoosiers who support the guys with Indiana on their chest and only a number on the front.
When I walk into Assembly Hall, I think about the night Dan Dakich set the great Paulie Balst and I up with a couple of nice seats, and this was before there was any level of legitimate security in the building, and we walked across the court toward Dan talking to his dad on the bench. We thanked him for the ducats, and he introduced us to his dad. We sat down like we owned the place next to Mr. Dakich.
With every minute that passed I became more and more worried that Knight was going to walk through the tunnel and find us in his seats. Mr. Dakich was a cool customer, chatting with us, and I stopping hearing anything he and Paulie said. My eyes were glued to the tunnel with eight minutes left on the clock prior to tip. Finally, knowing the Mr. Dakich had been down this road before, I asked why he wasn’t worried about Knight seeing a bunch of strangers on his bench.
He said, “Knight comes out at the same time before every game. We’ve got a couple of minutes.” He seemed sure of himself, but I still could think of nothing else. I was probably 30, and getting caught trespassing on Coach Knight’s chairs paralyzed my thoughts.
Finally, Mr. Dakich said, “Pretty good time to go now.” As we got to the corner of the floor, out came Knight. I’ve never been that relieved.
Like Assembly Hall, the basketball isn’t always perfect but the experience of watching a game here is. For a long time, people campaigned to build a new and improved home for Indiana Basketball – one with suites, video boards, and all the amenities of a new arena. Something like the Yum! Center in Louisville would be nice.
It would be nice, but you don’t mess with imperfection.