Scott Dolson knows what peak IU basketball looks like.
In fact, the new Indiana Director of Athletics’ first impressions of the program as a young boy came at a time when the Hoosiers were flirting with, and then finding perfection.
“Growing up in northern Indiana, I was eight years old when the undefeated 1975 IU men’s basketball team lost to Kentucky in the Elite 8. I remember being absolutely crushed after that loss, Dolson told the media during an audio conference on Thursday morning.
“The following year of course IU had the perfect season going undefeated and winning the 1976 national championship. I was hooked for life. I wanted to be the next Quinn Buckner or Scott May.”
Countless young boys and girls developed a passion for IU basketball at a young age like Dolson.
But few have been able to turn that into nearly a lifetime of involvement with the program like the Michigan City, Ind. native.
For Dolson, it started just months after that perfect 1976 season, when, like so many others at the time, he made the summer pilgrimage to Bloomington.
“I was fortunate to make my first trip to campus that summer of 1976 as a nine-year-old to attend the Bob Knight basketball school, and realized for sure I wanted to be a part of the IU basketball program,” Dolson said.
But again, wanting to be part of the program, and actually doing it are two very different concepts for virtually everyone else. That was especially true for Dolson, who admits that he knew at a young age that his basketball skills would not be his ticket to Indiana.
That’s where the most unlikely of individuals enters the Dolson story as we now know it. Someone that did have the basketball skills to land an IU scholarship — and helped Dolson forge a path that would eventually lead him to the AD chair some 36 years later.
Delray Brooks didn’t spend anywhere near that long at Indiana.
The 1984 co-Indiana Mr. Basketball from Michigan City Rogers High School arrived in Bloomington with great promise, but transferred out of Knight’s program in the middle of his sophomore season.
But it was a conversation Brooks had with his friend and classmate before he ever arrived that would alter the course of IU Athletics.
“Fortunately for me my high school best friend, Delray Brooks, ended up being named Mr. Basketball, a McDonald’s All-American,” Dolson said. “He committed to IU. When he did, he encouraged me to become a basketball manager because of a couple other player roommates were managers as well.”
That encouragement by Brooks helped Dolson realize the one way that he could become part of the IU basketball program.
It is a connection that Dolson hasn’t let go of since. And it’s an assist from Brooks that he has never forgotten.
“If it weren’t for him, I would never have had that opportunity and here I am today, Dolson said.
“I’m telling you, had it not been for Delray encouraging me, I was coming to IU regardless, but when I did get the call this week, great news, I immediately thought back to that day because when Delray committed, he said, Hey, you really need to think about becoming a manager because you love IU more than anybody I know.”
Brooks would play just one full season with IU. The 6-foot-4 guard transferred to Providence after becoming frustrated with a lack of playing time during his sophomore season.
But Dolson was just getting started at Indiana.
“My entire career started with IU athletics in the fall of 1984 as a freshman manager for the IU basketball program and has been packed full with incredible experiences and leadership opportunities ever since, culminating with the announcement this week,” Dolson said.
In 1987 Dolson was able to be a part of one of the iconic Indiana basketball teams that he fell in love with more than a decade earlier.
Brooks would have been a junior on Indiana’s 1987 national championship team.
But because a player of Brooks’ talent had transferred, Knight had to go out a recruit an athletic guard to replace him.
Dolson’s friend was still there in New Orleans at the Final Four in 1987.
Led by up-and-coming head coach Rick Pitino, and star guard and future college and NBA coach Billy Donovan, Providence was the darling of the Final Four that year. Averaging 14.4 points per game, Brooks started for the Friars and played a key role in their magical run.
The Brooks/Indiana reunion didn’t come full circle as Syracuse ended Providence’s Cinderella story in the national semifinals. 77-63 at the Louisiana Superdome.
Like his time at Indiana, Brooks’ stay in New Orleans was brief. But Dolson got to be a part of IU’s most recent national championship a couple days later as the Hoosiers knocked off Syracuse. Of course Keith Smart, the player Knight brought in to fill the void left by Brooks, hit the game-winning shot that night.
It was a dream realized for Dolson, and something that would have never happened without Brooks.
Now 33 years later and running IU Athletics, no one understands the expectations to return to those glory days better than the new man in charge.
“I feel like I’ve grown up in the men’s basketball program, completely understand the expectations, the high expectations that we all should have, Dolson said.
“It’s not only important for the athletic department, the university, the state, it’s important for Hoosier Nation. I want the same thing that everybody wants.”
Dolson knows what everyone wants because he was once just like any other Indiana fan. Dreaming of national titles and a way to be a part of it all.
Both dreams were realized in ways that he could have never imagined.
And an assist from Delray Brooks made it all possible.
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