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March 29, 2012

HUNTER: Why I love Indiana basketball

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — Why do I love Indiana basketball? For so many reasons. I want to start with that this is not a negative account on any other coach, not John Calipari (in fact, Indiana coach Tom Crean’s relationship with Cal has influenced me), not Bob Knight, not anyone. This is why I, Perry Hunter, love Indiana basketball.

First, I am from Indiana. When I was a little kid, I did like the Kentucky Wildcats and that was because of one reason — a Hoosier by the name of Kyle Macy was on the team. As I grew up, I started to see the difference between the programs of UK and IU and I fell in love with Steve Alford. From that year in 1984 when they upset North Carolina, I have been a Hoosier fan.

Second, coaching in Indiana, I have seen the level of respect that not only other states, but other countries have given me, a sub-.500 varsity boys’ basketball coach. Just the mere fact that I am a high school coach in Indiana brough instant credibility.

Third, I absolutely love that their are no names on the backs of the Hoosiers’ jerseys. I love that they still wear the candy-stripe pants. I am a 21st Century type of guy, but I am also quite the traditionalist, and that stuff matters to me.

I could go on and on, but I will finish with Tom Crean. After what happened to IU post-Kelvin Sampson, I spoke with Coach Crean at a team camp. Just him and me. This is after he shook every kid’s hand in the gym, but he was quite frank with me. If he had known the total devastation that the program had been under, it might have made him think differently, but ultimately he said “It’s Indiana.”

When I first saw him, I kind of thought he was full of it, if you know what I mean. I mean, how could a guy shake every hand, sign every autograph, and talk to everybody and be real? Call me cynical. At a second team camp, my wife had brough my children down to watch us play and I introduced myself to Coach Crean and my kids and wanted a picture.

He proceeded to talk to my daughter about TV shows that his daughter of a similar age was into. He sat her beside him and took real time with her. My son was two and he could dribble a basketball. Coach was impressed by that, and I told him my son could dribble two basketballs at once. He didn’t believe me, and at that time someone else came up to speak with him and we walked away. During a down time, Coach Crean walked across the gym to get me and my son because he wanted to see the two-ball dribbling little kid. When my son did the skill, Coach was amazed.

Flash forward a year and half later at the Hoosier Basketball Coaches Association clinic. Coach Crean was a speaker and when he was finished, he stayed and signed every autograph and posed for every picture. When there was no one left in the building, I walked up to him to introduce myself and he remembered me and asked how my family was doing. I was speechless.

Finally, after the tornado hit Henryville within a few days I received a text message from Coach Crean. Me, the former Henryville basketball coach who doesn’t have any 6-10 guys who can jump out of the gym. We texted a few times and he was asking all kinds of questions, wanting to know what he could do to help. Ultimately he ended up speaking with some of the tornado survivors, which I can only guess made their day.

And then the other night at the UK post-game press conference he says this: “My hope, if God will grant me one thing with this team, is that every one of these young men is the spiritual leader of their families as they move forward. ... When you can look at them and you know that their kids and their wives look at them, and they know that’s the spiritual leadership, spiritual compass of their home. That’s important to me.”

And that’s important to me, too Coach Crean.

Good luck UK and U of L in the Final Four. What a great game that should be and to showcase basketball in the Kentuckiana area.

Perry Hunter is a history teacher and the former varsity boys’ basketball coach at Henryville High School. You can read his blog online at coachperryhunter.blogspot.com.

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