In a quest for choice seats at Saturday evening’s Hoosier Hysteria, particularly dedicated IU basketball fans camped outside Assembly Hall more than a day in advance.
Their efforts were rewarded.
Doors closed when Assembly Hall reached its capacity of 17,472 at 5:37 p.m. Saturday, nearly an hour and a half before player introductions began at 7 p.m.
“As happy as I was seeing so many people get in, I also feel for the people who weren’t able to get in,” IU Coach Tom Crean said. “I don’t think any of us envisioned that it would move that fast today. I was just hoping for a packed house.”
The turnout came as no surprise to senior guard Jordan Hulls.
“The fan base has always been huge for us,” Hulls said. “Maybe not to this extent, but I didn’t see an empty seat in the house, and that was pretty special.”
Hulls has now taken part in four Hoosier Hysterias during both high and low times for the program.
The evening’s emcee, ESPN SportsCenter co-anchor and IU alumna Sage Steele, had an even larger frame of reference and said the hoopla and excitement for the season kickoff now is far beyond what it was in her college days.
“As (Director of Basketball Operations) Calbert (Cheaney) and I were talking about, it was different then,” Steele said. “Coach (Bob) Knight would come in, and everybody would watch practice, and it was cool and fun and there were thousands of us, but not 18,000, and not lines of kids outside.”
- A number of former players from various eras of IU basketball were present Saturday evening.
Matt Roth, Daniel Moore and Tom Pritchard, seniors on last season’s team, received ovations and waved when they were mentioned. Kory Barnett, a teammate of theirs last season and now a graduate assistant for the team, seized the microphone at one point to tell an embarrassing story about senior forward Derek Elston.
“There is no way this thing starts off with us behind the scenes without those people,” Crean said. “We didn’t have anybody to tell them in the locker room what it meant to play at Indiana or what it would take to succeed in the Big Ten, what the daily practices were like.”
Several of the former players were among the judges for the dunk contest, including Moore and Pritchard. Joining them were three Hoosier stars from the 1990s, A.J. Guyton, Pat Graham and Matt Nover, as well as Jerry Memering, who played for IU from 1970-73.
- Two current Hoosiers were noticeably absent from many of the night’s festivities.
Freshman forward Hanner Mosquera-Perea had a flare-up with his foot injury and was seen wearing a protective boot. Crean said it was primarily a precaution and that Mosquera-Perea has made considerable improvement in practice.
Junior forward Will Sheehey was sidelined with an ankle injury from a recent practice. Crean said it was not serious, but the team was not taking any risks. He was a partial participant in practice earlier in the day.
Both players were expected to give junior guard Victor Oladipo a challenge in the dunk contest but did not compete due to their injuries. Walk-on sophomore guard Raphael Smith filled in for them.
- As fans waited for introductions to begin, T-shirt cannons fired cotton projectiles at the crowd.
No one was safe, including the media. Several shirts came crashing into press row behind the scorers’ table, hitting computers and, in one instance, a reporter’s face.
Each player on both teams carried a shirt with them as they were introduced and tossed it into the clamoring masses of fans.
Elston showcased an especially powerful throwing arm, launching his shirt across the court and into the upper reaches of the lower bowl.
- An autograph session preceded the evening’s main festivities. Fans could receive player signatures on items such as shirts, hats, basketballs or, in one case, a baby.
The signing group of Hulls, Sheehey, Elston, freshman forward Jeremy Hollowell and transfer walk-on sophomore guard Jonny Marlin were at one point presented with a toddler decked out in IU regalia. The players dutifully signed the child and passed him down the line, smiling all the while.