IUSportCom Copy Editor, Drew LaMontagna, shares his emotional experience being at Assembly Hall for the last time as an undergrad and what it meant to him.
When I was younger, the phrase “You don’t know what you have until it’s gone, so appreciate it while you can,” was pounded into my head by my parents. I always just nodded my head and replied annoyed, “OK mom,” or “OK dad!”
Throughout the years, the types of things that left my life without my permission were things like the mini drum set my aunt and uncle got my cousin for his birthday when I was 10, only for it to be returned to the store a few days later after countless hours of me “testing them out,” or the giant trampoline in my backyard that I spent days on just goofing off, only for my old man to take it away because of “insurance reasons.”
Now, as I have grown older, those types of things have changed from inanimate objects to life experiences, to me growing up.
When I was a little kid, before I even knew what college basketball was, I remember seeing the IU logo. The first time I saw it, I thought that it was a demon’s pitchfork. I know, that sounds bad and relatively stupid, but the point is, I never forgot about that logo. For whatever reason, it stuck with me.
As I got a little older, I realized that it wasn’t the demon’s pitchfork that I thought it was, but that it represented Indiana University. Later, when I got into high school, I had no idea what the school itself even had to offer, I just knew that I at least wanted to visit, just because of that pitchfork memory that was tattooed in my brain so many years prior. Junior year came around and I took my official college visit to see the campus, and the rest is history.
I can remember my first few weeks of freshman year back in 2009, I swear, I never had anything but a smile across my face. Indiana just offered me so much, I couldn’t get enough. I was meeting new people, starting the next chapter of my life, eager to familiarize myself with the college experience, and of course, was anticipating the greatness of Indiana basketball. What was there not to love?
The first time I was lucky enough to experience the electric Assembly Hall was when I broadcasted a game for WIUX, the student radio station on the Bloomington campus. I barely knew what student media was, yet there I was in the fall of my freshman year doing color commentary for an Indiana University basketball game, against another Big Ten opponent, nonetheless. I remember studying the players prior to the contest. I remember confusing Verdell Jones and Christian Watford on air. I remember commenting on what great defense Derek Elston was playing. I remember noticing Jordan Hulls’ effort, as he resembled Sonic the hedgehog running up and down the court.
On Senior Night, all of those things came to mind as I stepped into Assembly Hall for the last time as an undergrad. This time, I wanted to be sure appreciate every tiny detail, every second, just like my peers had always preached, because this too, would soon be taken away from me without my permission. I wanted to soak up every moment.
There have now been three times in my life I have gotten the legitimate chills watching Indiana basketball. I said this in this week’s edition of The Starting Five, but I’m not talking about the type of chills you get just watching an exciting game. I’m talking about the moments you will remember for the rest of your life. Moments when you look back and remember that engraved photographic image instilled in your head, a feeling that is indescribable to anyone but yourself. The first time I experienced this was against Kentucky in December of 2011, when Christian Watford hit that last second three-point shot over the then No.1-ranked Kentucky Wildcats. I remember exactly where I was, exactly what I was doing, exactly how I felt. The second time? When I covered Hoosier Hysteria to begin this season and remember thinking to myself just how good this Indiana team could be, I could just sense it. Call the statement cliché, but it’s the truth. Again, I remember exactly where I was, what I was doing, and how I felt. The last and most recent time I got these sort of chills, the type that force you to curse under your breath without even really knowing your doing it? Tuesday night, as I revelled in the 17,500-strong crowd for my final time as an undergrad.
I looked around in the sea of cream and crimson that stood ahead of me, from the people courtside to the ant-size fans on the tops of the rafters. I promise you, I literally could not find a single empty seat. It was incredible. Then, it began – the Indiana montage through the years on the jumbo-tron. The steady beat that gently rises in tempo. Watching game-winning shots from previous championship teams. Seeing Bob Knight’s angry face pop up, prompting an outroar from the Hoosier Faithful. Fast forward to the current team – seeing clips from Tom Crean’s first press conference, and the beginning of a new chapter for the great IU program. The cheers get louder. The “Wat-Shot” pops up and is repeated three or four times but from different angles. I could feel the vibration from the floor creeping into the Italian leather shoes I wore just for the occasion. It was at this moment that I realized that Indiana basketball is something of its own. It’s a tradition that exceeds any other. From players like Don Schlundt, who helped lead Indiana to a National Championship in 1953 and was IU’s first three-time All-American, to the likes of Scott May, who was a backbone for the 1976 undefeated team, to the great Isiah Thomas, Steve Alford, Calbert Cheaney. The list goes on and on. Sure, every school has big names, but it goes beyond that. Indiana is more than just names and rings, it’s a family. Not just for the players, but also for the fans, and I am lucky to have been a part of it.
Seeing this program go from a 10-win season in 2009-2010, to finding itself, for now, co-Big Ten Champions, far exceeded my expectations. Hell, I thought at the beginning of last season that if IU got far in the NIT, that would be a successful year. And this year? It’s championship or bust, and every Hoosier knows it.
A lot of credit has to go to the senior class of this championship team – committing to play at IU during the darkest of times in program history and understanding that it was going to take a lot of time, sweat and hard work to even come close to a winning season.
“They didn’t walk into any leadership. When you talk about walking into a program that had upperclassmen that had success, upperclassmen that knew what it was like…they didn’t have any of that,” head coach Tom Crean said of his seniors. “So for them to do the things that they did and deal with what they dealt with early on and to get this program where it’s at right now, that’s a big story.”
I don’t know what exactly it is, but for whatever reason, I feel like in some way, myself and the rest of this senior class has been a part of that journey along with Elston, Hulls and Watford. Sure, we weren’t in the gym doing drills and practicing shots late night, we weren’t in the film room breaking down the next opponent, but we’ve experienced the tough times and we never lost faith, because you can’t – it’s Indiana basketball.
These freshmen and sophomores and the Hoosiers of the future did not and will not go through what we and the few classes prior to us did. They are walking into greatness, into what is known as Indiana basketball. I’m not saying we as seniors appreciate it more, but I think it should definitely count for something.
When the senior ceremony started, the first thing Crean did was point up to the student section and say “First off, let’s hear it for all the senior students up there.”
“You started out with us when we get 10 wins, and now you are a part of a Big Ten champion, congratulations,” he continued.
When he said that, it was a great feeling, and it all comes back to the emphasis on family – the fabric of Indiana University. I’m not just talking about basketball. I’m talking about visiting another school to watch your Hoosiers take them on, seeing someone at the local bar wearing candy-striped pants, and the two of you becoming instant friends through that Hoosier connection. I’m talking about the alumni, who go out of their way to come back to this school and lend a hand any way to students they don’t even know, just to give them a leg up on a potential job after they graduate. I’m talking about the extremely diverse age group at any game, ranging from six to 96, who all share the same enthusiasm.
Indiana is its own culture, one that will never be forgotten, regardless of the passage of time. It’s a culture where your friends from high school visit and even admit, “Damn, dude, Indiana is sick.”
It’s when you see relatives you haven’t seen in a while and they ask you how school is and you reply nothing short of “Oh, I love it.” It’s Indiana.
Being a senior, I feel like the conversations between friends beginning with “Do you remember freshman year when we did this?” or, “Remember sophomore year when so and so did this?” have become a revolving door, one that stings that much more each passing day. My last game in Assembly Hall both covering and watching the Indiana Hoosiers, had that same sort of displeasure.
Yet, I’m OK with it, because I appreciated every second I was there. I embraced the fans and the enthusiasm, the chants, the clapping, Martha The Mop Lady, everything. I made memories I will never forget: waking up at the crack of dawn to meet up with friends and start game day; dressing up like an idiot behind the student section and making friends with random people I will never see again; my buddies taking pictures of me falling asleep in the stands at the Michigan game because of partying just a little too hard; covering my last game as a member of student media. Sure, some of them are dumb memories, but they are memories nonetheless. I am glad to have been a part of every single one of them and will feel that way for years to come, long after my undergrad days here are over.
Tom Crean said of his seniors that “Really, you look around, there’s just not many that are like that.”
Well, the same can be said for not only the seniors of the men’s basketball team, but every person on this campus, every individual that takes pride in wearing the cream and crimson, no matter how old they get, no matter what situation they may be in. And at the end of the day, there are few greater feelings.
I’m not too concerned, though. Although my days in Assembly Hall as undergrad are over, I certainly did appreciate them, and I sure as hell will be back.