When things aren’t going well, every last detail gets picked apart.
Even by friendly in-house program legends.
IU basketball radio voice Don Fischer is in his 48th year calling Indiana games. For nearly a half century Fischer has seen it all, and from time to time he feels compelled to speak out. And that is exactly what he did on the radio this week.
Fischer joined host Dan Dakich on 107.5 The Fan in Indianapolis on Monday to discuss Indiana’s loss to Rutgers the day prior. Dakich of course has a long history with the program as well, both as a player from 1981 to 1985, and as a coach from 1985 to 1997 and then in 2008.
With their long histories and unique insights into the program, it is always an interesting listen when the pair gets together to talk IU basketball.
Fischer was troubled by what he saw long before the opening tip on Sunday against Rutgers.
“I was scared to death when I watched our warm-ups yesterday,” Fischer told Dakich. “I’ve watched this for years now. It’s not just with this team. It’s not just the last four years, it’s not just the last eight. It’s been ever since Bob Knight was let go.
“I watch teams warm-up, and I can almost tell you whether they are ready to play or not based on how I perceive them in their warm-ups. The reason I say that is because if you’re out there, big smiles on your faces, and everybody is having a good time as you warm-up, you are not ready to play the game.”
Fischer wasn’t taking a cheap shot at the players or the program. In his normal good-natured way, he simply gave an impassioned opinion through the filter of someone that has seen 14 Big Ten championship caliber teams up close and personal.
Fischer’s reference to Bob Knight is instructive. Right, wrong or indifferent, anyone over 40 in some way, shape or form sees the program through the lens of the way things were under Knight. That is no doubt unavoidable for Fischer, who called three national championship game victories during Knight’s tenure.
What Fischer was specifically referring to is what has become a routine with this team in recent years during pregame. Several of the players attempt shots from just inside half-court before they leave the floor. And the overall mood of the team throughout pregame is generally on the light side. It doesn’t look like the habits of a team that is laser focused. But it is a small part of the overall pregame ritual that includes the typical layup lines, stretching, and shooting.
I was seated just off the floor a full 90 minutes prior to tip-off on Sunday. I can tell you that what I saw didn’t stand out as anything unusual as it relates to how this team warms up before each game. I’ve watched them approach the pregame in much the same way at home and on the road, and before both wins and losses.
But that doesn’t mean Fischer is necessarily wrong in the bigger picture. This is a program that hasn’t reached the NCAA Tournament since 2016, although it likely would have last year. It is reasonable to opine that a sharper pregame focus might lead to more sustained winning. When a team goes 82-66 over the last four-plus seasons, everything is on the table.
For Fischer, the lack of strong leadership from the players is to blame for things not being more serious during the pregame, when the coaches are often still in the locker room ironing out the final details.
“It goes back to having a leader,” Fischer said. “It goes back to having someone on your team that says ‘this is crap, don’t be out here screwing around, we’ve got a game to play and you better get ready to play.’ Every time I see it I know good and well Indiana is going to have a problem.
“I can make a judgment on Indiana because I’ve been around it for 48 years now. I’ve seen Indiana basketball at its absolute best and at its absolute worst. I know what success looks like, and I also know what a fierceness to want to win looks like, and it was not there yesterday.
“You almost want to go down there, and huddle them up, and go ‘you’ve got no chance in this game today guys. Not one iota of an opportunity to win this game because your minds aren’t right.’ And that’s what it looked like to me, and I know I’m just a broadcaster, but I know what winning looks like, and it wasn’t there.”
Dakich has been an unabashed program critic in recent years. He mostly just let Fischer have his rant on Monday. But he certainly seemed to agree with the overarching point.
“When you don’t have anybody that smacks you around and straightens you out, it’s a big problem,” Dakich said.
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