Day 5: Indiana | Traveling Violations
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Bracey Wright was one of the best freshmen in the country and then figured his sophomore year at Indiana would be his last. Instead a back injury kept him for working out in the summer. He lost his timing, his stamina and his shooting accuracy.
And now he is still here, back for a junior season.
"To me, last year didn't happen," said the 6-foot-3 guard from The Colony, Texas. "Basketball is a lot of rhythm. If you have a job or do something and you don't do it for three, four months and try to come back and be on top of the game like before, it is going to be extremely difficult to do."
Which it was. Wright never recovered from missing that summer.
"I think the Bracey criticism was unfair," IU coach Mike Davis said. "He was not cleared to jog until September. Your offseason is what you are as a basketball player. And then he was asked to carry the load."
Wright actually upped his scoring average to 18.5 points a game. But he shot only 34.3 percent to do it.
This year, however, with an improved frontcourt to keep defenses honest, a healthy back and all that timing back, he expects again to be one of the best in the country.
"It's a new year," he smiled.
- Davis has a huge television in his office, in part because he is a tape hound. Few coaches in the country watch more tape of more different teams than Davis. He has everything from NBA practices and former IU games to random college contests.
It is not just basketball, though. Saturdays after practice are reserved for watching college football while having a long, loose-running staff meeting.
Davis is a huge football fan. He knows the teams, the players and the coaches.
But he also is just a television hound. During weekdays, the TV is always on, and even "Judge Judy" gets watched.
- Although he has met Tyrone Willingham only twice, Davis is a big fan of his fellow state of Indiana coach. IU and Alabama (his alma mater) football are his favorites, but Notre Dame is near the top of the list.
Which is why watching the Irish travel to Tennessee to get a huge victory Saturday was cause for some joy in Assembly Hall.
- To watch the games, Davis ordered a huge pile of chicken wings from the local Buffa Louies. But not before asking our 6-9, 320-pound wheelman Bret Bearup if he was hungry.
"Is this a trick question?" Bearup asked.
- There are low-major programs, mid-major programs, high-major programs and then the truly, truly elite programs. You know you are visiting a school (such as IU) in the last group when there are so many managers sitting around that one of them has time to go out and get us coffee.
And when I say out, I mean driving to Starbucks and coming back.
Valued reader email of the day
(My response in italics)
Great article on retiring Coach Keady … humorous, sensitive, insightful. Good work. First-time reader of your stuff … won't be last.
John G. May
First-time reader? Where have you been? Thanks though. And I am printing this to illustrate a point. The purpose of this trip is not to visit the top 10 teams in the country but to have some fun and visit some of the best stories. Gene Keady is one of them.
So please, people, stop e-mailing me about not going to Kansas or Connecticut. We know they are good. Besides, we went to those places last year.
- There has been a lot of buzz during the trip about the recent NCAA sanctions against Missouri. The Tigers were caught making excessive phone calls to Western Union. No, no, just kidding.
Mizzou was caught committing a bunch of semi-serious infractions and the penalty is a one-year ban on off-campus recruiting. Quin Snyder and his staff can have prospects visit but can't go out to watch anyone play or conduct a home visit.
"This is going to prevent Quin from visiting some of the finest martini bars in America," Bearup said.
We talked to some of the Mizzou staff, and they are painting it well. Because the school just opened the state-of-the-art, $75 million, 15,000-seat Paige Sports Arena, if there was ever a season to have this happen, this is it.
- Headline on Yahoo! Saturday morning: "Beheadings on the rise worldwide."
Someone keeps official numbers on this kind of thing.
- Note on Paul Harvey's radio show Saturday: Prescription glasses are now being sold for dogs. The name? Doggles. Only in America.
- Auburn transfer Marco Killingsworth has to sit out this season due to NCAA rules. But he already has made an impact by providing a great practice partner for the young Indiana frontcourt. Plus he has become the team barber. Two players, Pat Ewing Jr. and Lucas Steijn, refuse to visit him, though, so Killingsworth is looking to play one-on-one games with them for their hair.
- For dinner we visited the Bloomington institution Nick's English Hut along with IU assistants Kerry Rupp and Dusty May, who was accompanied by his wife, Anna. Nick's has some good food – Bearup had the famed stromboli – but our favorite part is that the beers are served in chilled jars. And each round brings a new chilled jar.
There is nothing worse than a bar that gives you the first beer in a frosted mug and then just refills that mug the rest of the night. After two beers, the mug is warm. It completely ruins the joy of the original frosted mug.
If you have enough pride to frost the original mug, why would you give up on it for subsequent rounds?
Nick's understands this.
- IU assistant Kerry Rupp was Utah's interim head coach last season, taking over when his boss, Rick Majerus, had to resign due to health problems. Rupp reports that Majerus has lost 40 pounds and is eager to start the season as a color commentator for ESPN.
- While we certainly sympathize with college administrators' disdain over the facilities arms race in college sports, we doubt IU understands how out of date their offices and locker rooms are.
Clearly, Bob Knight didn't care about such things. He won anyway. But in an era when plush, modern and fabulous facilities are everywhere, the IU staff shares a cramped office where the assistants don't even have their own private space.
Indiana is Indiana, of course. It has tradition and fans and so many other special things. But the lack of commitment to this stuff is apparent. One day it might catch up with the Hoosiers.
- There were times last year when the Hoosier offense was as useless as the reservation department at the Downtown Courtyard Indianapolis, but the addition of D.J. White and the steady improvement of Ewing Jr. should change that. "The low post is actually going to be the difference," Bracey Wright said.
- Total mileage thus far: 678.1 miles.
- Next campaign stop: Louisville, Ky.