In Boston a few weeks back, I met a librarian who, like me, hails from Indiana. Actually, she hailed from Terre Haute, and like everyone else who’s lived there she had a Larry Bird story. Her dad used to work at Indiana State University, in the bookstore, and one day in the mid ’70s a young, peach-fuzzed Bird ducked through the door and bought his first batch of school books. That’s it — that’s the whole story. “But my dad still tells it all the time,” the librarian said.
Today I’ve got a nearly 5,000-word feature up at SB Nation. It previews the upcoming season for Indiana State’s basketball team. (In short, they’re going to surprise some people and maybe even make some noise in March.) But it also examines the larger dynamic of what it means to root for — or coach for, or play for — a school whose defining moment happened decades ago and who must now build for success in four-year cycles.
One point I make in my feature is that we need to stop thinking of the Gonzagas and Xaviers of the world as “Cinderellas.” After all, those programs spend more money on basketball than many high-major schools. Certainly, they spend more money than Indiana State. The hoops-first schools do so by dropping or deemphasizing football, and one thing I couldn’t fit into my story is that Indiana State hasn’t done this. In fact, the Sycamores AD has doubled down on the school’s Division II program. The university’s latest ten-year plan sets the goal of constructing a new stadium downtown — a place that will ultimately be the campus symbol and post-card view. “Football’s kind of the crown jewel of the athletic part of that ten-year plan,” one school official told me. But to me, that seems misguided. Indiana offers so much tradition and in-state talent for basketball, and I wonder whether the Sycamores would be better off pouring those resources into creating a top-notch mid-major basketball program.
For now, though, they’ll have to settle for being a top-notch team this year. Read about it in my feature. A lot of their success flows from Jake Odum, a local kid who made his name starring for an obscure AAU team known as the Terre Haute Jammers. That picture up top is of the Jammers a few years back. Odum is on the front row, kneeling right next to the trophy.