If you drive down any street in Indiana, especially Southern Indiana, you are likely to find a kid out shooting free throws. It may be in the driveway or it may be with a random basket on a silo - it doesn't really matter. The sport of basketball is different in Indiana. It defines Indiana more than any other state (with good arguments from Kentucky, Kansas, and North Carolina). While Peyton Manning's tenure with the Indianapolis Colts may have increased the popularity of football in the state - it still doesn't even remotely compare to basketball.
Yes, the days of non-classed high school basketball are over which still devastates many in the state to this day - but basketball still reigns supreme and nowhere in the state is basketball more important to daily life than Bloomington, Indiana. The Hoosiers have never had much of a football program and that has certainly helped the popularity of basketball - but much of the passion that exists around Hoosier basketball is driven from the program's past. The Hoosiers have been blessed with three of the greatest coaches ever to live in Everett Dean, Branch McCracken, and Bob Knight. The coaches have also brought in a number of the greatest players ever to play the game of college basketball. As proof, 44 players have been named to an All American team during their tenure at Indiana. These great coaches and players have produced 5 National Titles which currently is tied for third with North Carolina and behind only UCLA and Kentucky in NCAA Division 1 basketball.
While all of this is important and can be considered a main driver for the passion that has been developed around Hoosier basketball - there are a lot of other traditions that have defined the Hoosier program for years that no other program can claim as their own.
The Assembly Hall was recently named the #1 college court design by ESPN - and rightfully so. The Assembly Hall is no longer the largest arena in the game as it currently seats 17,472 people, but it possesses one of the coolest experiences you will ever have as a fan of college basketball. Sports casting great Gus Johnson went as far as to say it is "the Carnegie Hall of basketball". It is a very old building - opened in 1971, but the tradition in this building is second to none. The five national championship banners hanging from the south end of the arena are iconic and the steepness of the east and west stands create one of, if not the best, home court advantage in all of college sports. The decibel level has frequently been measured around 115 - which will never be understood from an outside observer until you actually attend a game here. Consistent noise levels like that can cause permanent damage to your ears and OSHA doesn't allow that noise for more than 15 minutes per day. Those types of noise as well as good teams have led to home winning streaks of 50 and 35 during this building's tenure. A new arena was actually approved by the Board of Trustees in 2007 - but there was so much negativity towards the idea after that, Indiana has decided to renovate The Assembly Hall instead. That renovation will start after the upcoming season and will hopefully lead to this iconic building being around for decades to come.
Don Fischer is commonly known as "The Voice of the Hoosiers" and has been for the past 41 years. Think about that for a second. If you are a Hoosier fan who isn't yet 41 years old - you have never known another radio broadcaster besides Don Fischer. I am one of those who fall into that category and I can't imagine what it will be like when that is no longer the case. Fischer is named the Indiana Sportscaster of the year almost every year and has been inducted into multiple Halls of Fame. If Hoosier fans are not lucky enough to be attending the game at The Assembly Hall - you can bet they will be listening to the radio at home instead of listening to whoever happens to be broadcasting on television that night. There is something magical about listening to Fischer broadcast a game and I have to believe he is one of the main reasons people have become fans of Hoosier basketball over the years. He is also known for his legendary sign-off of every broadcast in which he states "Keep your heads up, be vigilant, and God Bless America." The day Hoosier fans no longer hear that sign-off - well - there will be a lot of tears shed.
The William Tell Overture is played at the eight minute timeout of the second half of every Indiana basketball game and has been called by many neutral observers (such as sports casting great Billy Packer) as the "Greatest College Timeout in the Country." The cheerleaders will start by gathering at half court to bow to the Indiana flag over and over before getting up and grabbing flags that spell "Indiana Hoosiers" and running around the court some more. Typically a couple members of the crowd dressed up in costumes will get pulled onto the court to help as well. Once the Overture is complete, the band leads the crowd right into the Indiana Fight Song and then cuts off all instruments and lets the crowd be heard. There have been many times during big games in The Assembly Hall where this moment has literally sent chills down my back and I imagine that is the case for most Hoosier fans. While schools like Purdue chant "IU Sucks" during their timeouts - it is nice to see a school with a great time out tradition like Indiana. If you attend a Hoosier game for the first time, I can guarantee one of your top memories will be the William Tell Overture at the eight minute mark of the second half and I can only imagine what opposing teams think when that noise comes booming down on top of them.
The Candy Stripes have also become iconic over the years. While opposing players and fans may think they look ugly or silly - the candy stripes are a tremendous tradition of Indiana Hoosier basketball. When you see the candy stripes come out of the tunnel, you know who it is and at least in the 70's, 80's, and 90's - that was an intimidating thing to think about. While on the subject of clothing, it is also worth mentioning the no name jerseys worn by Indiana players. You rarely see this anymore in today's world of "me, me, me!" At Indiana, players play for the name on the front of their jersey and that is way it should always be. Indiana fans are among the most educated in the country and nowhere else will you find the kind of cheering that occurs at The Assembly Hall when a player dives onto the court for a ball, or takes a charge, or runs into the stands to try and save a ball. Hoosier fans demand effort and selflessness not seen by other fan bases.
In 2010, after a twenty year hiatus, Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance and Indiana University announced the return of "Martha" who is also known as the "Mop Lady" by many Hoosier fans. This iconic commercial from the 70's now plays right before the players come onto the court every game and begins to fire up the crowd. This video clip does a great job of showing how deep the religion of Indiana basketball drives into the state. And when I say "religion" - I mean it. Many refer to attending an Indiana Hoosier basketball game as "going to church" and they mean it. Indiana basketball is ingrained into the hearts and minds of most in the state, and there will never be anything which overcomes that.
Even with the Hoosiers predicted to struggle again this season by many of the various "experts" out there, all of the above traditions will continue to reign supreme in Bloomington. Many of these traditions are what kept the Hoosier faithful around during the dark years at the beginning of Coach Crean's tenure. Where else in the country does a basketball team sell out a 17,000+ seat arena every night when the team wins 6 games the whole year? The answer is nowhere besides Indiana. It's just different here.