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ART IMITATES LIFE IN INDIANA : REAL HOOSIERS : Basketball Is Still King in Land Where Bob Knights and Bobby Plumps Rule

March 01, 1987|MARK HEISLER | Times Staff Writer

INDIANAPOLIS — It's two hours before the basketball game between Purdue, located 60 miles northwest, and Indiana University, which is 60 miles south. An FM rock deejay takes a phone call on the air.

"Do you know why Jesus wasn't born on the Purdue campus?" the caller asks

"No," the deejay says.

"They couldn't find three wise men," the caller says.

It's the malice that counts. A local bar announces Mutual Animosity Night. Another station does an update from courtside in Purdue's Mackey Arena, which is still awaiting the fans and, indeed, the teams.

Nothing has happened since the last update, of course, so they play an old interview with Indiana Coach Bob Knight in which Knight claims that this is a nice rivalry, all right, but so are the Hoosiers' rivalries with Notre Dame, Michigan, Iowa, Illinois, et al.

"When you've had a little success . . . " Knight allows, modestly.

The rivalry, of course, endures, but this has surely had its desired effect. There isn't a Purdue fan listening who wouldn't die happy if he could just strangle Bob Knight first.

Boilermaker fans stream into Mackey. Only a handful of tickets have been allotted to IU, so unless you're some Hoosier's dad, girlfriend or a $10,000 annual contributor, forget it. In the Purdue student section, kids roll their gold sweaters up over their bellies, a la Knight, showing the bulge from the pillows they've stuffed under their shirts.

"When he walks out there, they'll boo his butt," Purdue Coach Gene Keady says. "He loves it."

Knight makes them wait for the privilege. He doesn't come out during warmups. His team goes back into the dressing room and reappears, still without him.

Finally, five minutes before the game's start, he walks out, to a boo they can hear out on the Interstate. Unconcerned, he walks over to Keady and extends his hand. Keady shakes it. They exchange a little laugh. Knight chucks Keady behind the ear with a rolled-up program. Even Knight's greetings are physical. The crowd boos louder.

They start the game. Large bodies start flying every which way.

In "The Hustler," when Fast Eddie Felson walks into the big downtown pool hall to stalk Minnesota Fats and inquires about a house rule, the guy behind the counter raises an eyebrow and sniffs, "This is Ames, mister."

And this is the Big Ten, mister. This is Indiana.


You want to know what happens to Jimmy, Hickory High's star guard in "Hoosiers," after he wins the state tournament?

He goes on to Butler University, sets scoring records, outgrows his shyness, stays on in Indianapolis and becomes an insurance executive with a heavy schedule of public appearances.

Sometimes he vacations in Palm Desert, so he can visit his daughter in Rancho Cucamonga. Honest.

"Hoosiers" was modeled on Milan, a school of 135 in a hamlet in the southeast corner of Indiana, that beat powerful Muncie Central in the 1954 state final.

The star player was modeled on the real-life Bobby Plump.

The coach, in real life, was Marvin Wood, who now lives in a suburb of South Bend and coaches women's basketball at St. Mary's College.

And the first thing you have to know is that it isn't pronounced Mi- lahn .

"It's My -lyn," says Plump, laughing, from Palm Desert. "Those people in that other country pronounce it wrong. There's another town in our area spelled V-e-r-s-a-i-l-l-e-s. It's pronounced Ver- sales ."

The movie, of course, was only inspired by the Milan Indians.

In real life:

--Wood, the coach, wasn't a newly arrived middle-aged man with a checkered past, but a 24-year-old go-getter who was in his second year at Milan.

Wood's predecessor, Herman (Snort) Grinstead, had been abruptly fired for defying the school superintendent and buying new uniforms. Wood, teaching school in French Lick, soon to be the birthplace of--heraldic trumpets, please--Larry Bird, heard of the opportunity, applied and got the job.

"(Grinstead) and the superintendent were cross-ways anyway," Wood says. "That was the final straw that broke the camel's back.

"They had a student walk-out in support of him before I came to town," he says, laughing. "I wasn't aware of it. I probably wouldn't have come if I was."

--Unlike the coach played by Gene Hackman, Wood was anything but crusty.

"Marvin Wood was a quiet, authoritative individual," Plump says. "He was very quiet. I never heard him raise his voice.

"He thought he had a problem in training his first season. There were a couple of boys who were staying out late. So New Year's Eve, he told us, 'I want you in by 1 o'clock. Anything you're going to do, you can do by then.'

"I double-dated that night. We were coming back, took a short cut and got a flat tire. We changed that thing faster than it's ever been done outside the 500-mile race (which is what Hoosiers call the Indy 500).

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