If you were going to play basketball for Bob Knight, you had better know how to set a good screen.
Even the great ones drew Knight’s ire if their screen game wasn’t on point.
With Team USA up 23 points at halftime of the gold-medal game at the 1984 Olympics, Knight struggled to find a flaw in Michael Jordan’s performance.
Ever the perfectionist, the legendary Indiana coach dialed in.
“Mike, when the hell are you going to set a screen?” Knight yelled. “All you’re doing is rebounding, passing and scoring. Dammit, screen somebody out here!”
Knight has playfully told that story through the years as he recalled coaching Jordan, the player he referred to as the best he had ever seen.
Arriving in Bloomington later that same summer would be an Indiana player that didn’t rebound, pass or score like Jordan.
The son of a coach, McLeansboro, Illinois product Brian Sloan arrived at IU with the accolades of a future college basketball star.
Sloan won the 1984 Illinois Mr. Basketball award over future NBA players Kenny Battle, Nick Anderson, and Hersey Hawkins.
But the 6-foot-8 Sloan never became a star in college. Sloan started just 12 games over his 4 year career, scoring just 181 points during his stint at IU that spanned from 1984 to 1989.
Role players are a dying breed in today’s game, with many young athletes deciding to transfer in search of more playing time rather than carving out a niche.
Knight had a deep appreciation for players like Sloan, who sacrificed for the good of the team.
Sloan was a member of the Indiana 1987 national championship team, and his former head coach looks back fondly on Sloan’s redshirt senior season in 1989 when the Hoosiers secured an improbable Big Ten title.
In his book Knight: My Story (co-authored by Bob Hammel), the former Indiana head coach recalled Sloan’s contributions to that 1988-89 season:
“Brian Sloan averaged just over two points per game but he was vitally important.
No kid who has ever played gave himself up more entirely to the role that was designed for him. Brian Sloan is the best screener that I’ve ever coached. That wouldn’t ever register with a lot of people, but screening was the guts of our offense, the heart of it. And Brian was the best I’ve ever had because he developed a fixation for screening.
Brian epitomizes for me what you want in a kid — from the best player to the simplest role player. His whole objective was to win and do what he could to help his team win.”
Proper screening extends well beyond just getting in the way. A true pick artist knows how to hold his ground and absorb contact, use optimal angles, execute precision timing, adhere to proper foot positioning, and so much more.
No doubt in large part influenced by Knight, ESPN and ABC broadcaster Dick Vitale would rave about Sloan and his screen-setting prowess during national television broadcasts. Vitale referred to Sloan and his two points per game as a “prime-time-player” and would often freeze replays of him masterfully executing a pick for the likes of Steve Alford or Jay Edwards.
Sloan’s ability to set screens extended beyond the basketball court. If you were one of Sloan’s teammates, even an extended teammate, he had your back — and made sure you got where you needed to go.
“After Indiana lost to Cleveland State in the NCAA first round in ’86, I went with Bob Knight to his press conference. When it was over, he went straight to the bus. I went back to locker room, knowing players would be going on spring break and I was staying in Syracuse to cover Navy (David Robinson) for The Post. They’d be gone by the time I got back to Bloomington Sunday night.
Security guy says, ‘no media.’ Knight had left and he ordered to close the locker room. I said, ‘I understand you’re following orders, but if you get one of the coaches from inside, they’ll tell you it’s OK.’ Guy repeats, ‘no media.’ I ask again. He says, ‘hey pal get going,’ and shoves me.
I’m about to get really angry when Brian (Sloan) walks out sees what’s going on and says to guy “Hey, he’s with us. Leave him alone.” Guy whimpers about ‘no media,’ and Brian points at him and says, ‘he’s with US; let him in.’ Guy backed down instantly. Never forgot that moment.”
THE SLOAN FAMILY BECOMES AN INDIANA FAMILY
Why are we remembering the career of an IU player that scored 181 points today?
Brian Sloan is of course the son of former NBA player and coach Jerry Sloan, who passed away on Friday at the age of 78.
Jerry Sloan led the University of Evansville to a pair of college division national titles. The Aces had a 76-9 record during the elder Sloan’s tenure in Evansville.
Known as a hard-nosed and tenacious player, Jerry Sloan was a two-time NBA All-Star who produced more than 10,000 points over an 11 year career spent primarily with the Chicago Bulls.
But it was Jerry’s coaching career that landed him in the basketball Hall of Fame. And it was some of the same dedication and loyalty traits Indiana fans grew to love about his son that ultimately saw Sloan reach greatness leading the Utah Jazz.
Jerry Sloan owned the longest coaching tenure with the same team in professional sports when he retired. He was also the only NBA coach to record 1,000 wins with the same franchise at the time.
The elder Sloan allowed his son Brian to make his own college decision when he was a coveted recruit in high school. It was Brian that chose IU, but Bob Knight and Jerry Sloan developed a mutual respect and admiration over the years.
In My Story, Knight said this of Brian —
“He started just twelve games in four years, but his teams won 95 games. He’s a doctor now, which was another one of his objectives. He was relentless about that too. Would you expect anything less from Jerry Sloan’s son?”
The Sloan family ties to Indiana continued into the next generation.
After first charting their own courses, Brian’s son and daughter Grant and Megan Sloan both found their way to Bloomington as well.
As a reliever for the IU baseball team, Grant spent three seasons (2018-20) with the program and held opposing batters to a .159 average in his academic All-Big Ten 2019 campaign. Grant transferred to IU from Virginia.
Megan transferred to IU from Louisville to join the volleyball program for the 2019 season. She recorded 183 kills and 76 blocks for her senior campaign with the Hoosiers.
This week the Sloan family, which has become an IU family, will lay to rest their father and grandfather.
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