Saturday, March 23, 2002

Hoosiers aim for return to royal echelon of NCAA

By Randy McNutt
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        AURORA, Ind. — In an old brick building at 319 Second St., a round revolution was brewing.

        A determined cell of Indiana University fans was plotting to take over the basketball world, and the clock hadn't even struck 11 a.m. on Friday.

[photo] Janet Lawless of Rising Sun shows her pride in the Indiana University Hoosiers, who upset No. 1 Duke in the NCAA South Regional Finals on Thursday.
(Gary Landers photo)
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        “This is pretty big,” Steve McHenry was saying. “My mother called me last night, going crazy. She said, "Save me one of those IU flags. Whatever you do, save it! I'm putting it next to my American flag.'”

        Her sentiment sums up the Hoosier mentality: IU basketball is about as popular as patriotism these days.

        Mr. McHenry should know. He owns After Hours, an embroidery shop in this small Ohio River town in southeastern Indiana. Not surprisingly, he sells IU sports items — “key chains, calendars, license plates, hats, T-shirts — you name it,” said his girlfriend and shop co-owner, Kathy Whitman.

        Of course, the items are in demand this weekend. They were displayed prominently in his shop window in the Victorian downtown.

        On Thursday night, the Hoosiers upset No. 1 Duke 74-73 in the NCAA South Regional semifinals. The victory put IU back in the NCAA tournament's final eight for the first time since coach Bob Knight took the team there in 1993.

        The Hoosiers will play Kent State today.

        “Folks are all fired up,” Mr. McHenry said. “This is big IU country. So big that people still follow Bobby now that he's down at Texas Tech. I'm really surprised by the number of people who ask us for Texas Tech hats — well, not really.”

        “Yes,” Ms. Whitman said, “this is one big basketball state — the biggest. And Aurora is a hotbed of it, too.”

        “But we're not prejudiced,” he said. “I even stock a University of Kentucky cap.”

        “I hid it yesterday,” Ms. Whitman said.

        All across southern Indiana, IU basketball has caught the attention of fans who are used to winning — and grateful for it.

        “I am right now a big IU fan, because they beat Duke,” said Vivian Fish of White Oak, as she emerged from a store in Aurora. “Coach Davis deserves this. He followed Bob Knight and he's a nice guy, a decent man.”

        Her daughter, Aurora resident Jennifer Bingham, is into basketball, too. She has added an unusual hood ornament to her blue Mazda — two people shooting basketball.

        “What? Are there any IU fans here?” she said. “Aaihhhiihi!”

        Over in Dillsboro, Virginia Huber, proprietor of the Novel Approach used-book shop, was only starting to calm down by Friday afternoon.

        “Oh, I was prancing and pacing Thursday night,” she said. “I kind of like the Hoosiers, as you can see.”

        She opened her arms to reveal a large IU Hoosiers logo on her red sweatshirt.

        “Yeah, she's an IU nut,” said Charles Huber, her husband.

        “Well, I admit it,” she said. “I couldn't even go to sleep last night, I was so excited. Now, I have to go through this again. Kent State will be tough.”

        Mr. Huber makes and paints wooden signs showing the IU initials. He has had so many requests for them, he has had to turn most people down.

        At Dillsboro Elementary School on Friday, the teachers showed their support on “jeans day” by wearing their IU sweatshirts, said Principal Bill Lakes.

        “It was a pretty emphatic statement,” he said.

        “You have to understand Indiana people and IU basketball,” added Janet Lawless of Rising Sun. “They just love that game.”

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