Photo Credit - IU Archives

How Landon Turner’s Dad and “Dingy” Purdue Helped Give IU the 1981 Title

As a McDonald’s All-American, Landon Turner had over 300 letters from colleges all over the country.  The Indianapolis Tech High School product could go just about anywhere he wanted — or so he thought.

Of course one of the interested schools was Indiana.

Turner had heard the rumors about Bob Knight cussing players out and more.  He vividly remembers a photo in the Indianapolis Star of Knight grabbing Jim Wisman by the jersey.

Turner wasn’t interested in playing for that “crazy ass dude.”

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Credit – Indianapolis Star

Instead, it looked like the 6-foot-10 Turner might go out of state.

Louisville had caught his eye after a visit with head coach Denny Crum.

And then Turner’s father Adell stepped in, and with just one sentence changed the course of college basketball history.

“Landon, you’re not going to nowhere but Purdue or IU.”

Resigned to his fate, Turner went to Purdue first.

He wasn’t impressed.

“When I went to Purdue, it was so drab and looked dingy and I went into Mackey Arena and it was dark and I said man, I can’t play in dark Mackey Arena like this,” Turner told The Legends of Indiana Basketball Show with teammate Steve Risley and Mike Goodpaster.

So that left IU.  And Turner saw the light.  Literally.

“I went into Assembly Hall, it was all bright, and I said this is what I’m talking about,” Turner said.

Assembly Hall wasn’t the only thing putting out good vibes on that day.

“Knight was so nice and the assistant coaches were so nice,” Turner said.

“Meeting Knight, he was so nice to my parents and I said he can’t be mean as they said he was.”

Of course Turner committed to Knight and the Hoosiers, and it wasn’t much later that Turner saw a different light.

And a different Knight.

“And then we had our first practice, and I thought oh my God,” Turner said.  “Oh my goodness.  And then he started hollering at me, move Landon, move!  Calling me names.  And he had me down by myself doing loose ball drills against the whole team.  I said ah hell, what did I get myself into.”

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Steve Risley, Mike Woodson, Randy Wittman and Landon Turner. Credit – IU Archives

Knight was particularly hard on Turner because he saw the potential.  The legendary head coach told Turner that he could be the best player in the history of IU basketball.

Of course it didn’t help Turner’s cause that he didn’t take practice seriously — a non-negotiable with Knight.

But that would change.

Something clicked with Turner midway through his junior season in 1981.

On February 19th IU lost at Iowa 78-65.  They never lost again.

So what changed?

According to Turner, it was a combination of him “getting his head together and finally starting to play some ball” and Knight “letting loose a little slight bit.”

Risley had a different recollection of what changed with the team, stating that Knight let point guard Isiah Thomas “take over the basketball team.”

Whatever changed in Bloomington in the winter of 1981, it worked.

IU rattled off 10 straight wins, culminating in a victory in the national championship game over North Carolina.

The lights were never brighter than when the team returned to Assembly Hall to meet with the fans after claiming the school’s fourth title.

Unfortunately for Turner, things would soon go dark.  And once again his relationship with that crazy ass dude would change.

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Turner addresses fans after the 1981 title. Photo credit – IU Archives

While Turner often saw the worst of Knight as a player at Indiana, he saw a much different side after an auto accident left him paralyzed in the summer of 1981, just months after the national championship game.

“When I got hurt, you know who was raising money, and doing motivational speaking, and started the Landon Turner trust fund and did all that?  Bobby Knight,”  Turner said.

That’s when Turner realized something about his coach.

“That’s when I said, oh, this is a little bit deeper than just playing basketball.  He’s more of a life coach. There he was supporting me, raising money for me, and doing things that I didn’t think he would do, but he surprised me.  He was there 100 percent.”

Now as a motivational speaker, Turner brings light into the lives of others.

“Live your life to the fullest.  Be the best you can be because your life can be snipped out in a second,” Turner said.

Of course no one knows that better than he does.

You can listen to the full interview below:


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