Fans will enjoy watching the guys in suits come out of the tunnel in November almost as much as the current players.
One-by-one the program greats will emerge.
There’s Jordan Hulls, and there’s Randy Wittman. Look, there’s Calbert Cheaney, and here comes Mike Woodson.
Four former IU basketball stars with careers as much as 33 years apart, and they all will have roles with the 2023-24 Hoosiers.
Hulls joined the staff a year ago to become the recruiting director. Wittman has been a non-staff advisor to Woodson since he took the IU head coaching job. And you’ve likely heard by now that Cheaney is the new IU basketball director of player development.
And what do these beloved former IU players all have in common beyond wearing the candy stripes, scoring more than 1,300 points, and winning Big Ten titles?
Each of them played on one of Indiana’s last four teams to be ranked No. 1 in the nation.
And interestingly enough, none of those teams won a national title. In fact, none of them reached the Final Four. Indiana’s last No. 1 ranked team to win a national title came in 1976.
There’s a common thread that at least in part helps explain why No. 1 ultimately led to disappoint in 1980, 1983, 1993 and 2013.
Woodson was the unquestioned leader of the 1980 squad, a team that opened the season ranked No. 1. But injuries to both Woodson and Wittman that year ultimately derailed a national title run. People around the program at the time insist the 1980 team was better than the 1981 squad that won it all. A late season return by Woodson did fuel a six-game winning streak to close the regular season, and the Hoosiers won the conference title. But Woodson has said he was out of gas by the time the NCAA Tournament rolled around.
Wittman’s final season at IU was 1982-83, and that team opened the season 10-0 and earned the No. 1 ranking in December after a win over Kentucky. That IU squad won the 1983 Big Ten title despite a late season injury to Ted Kitchel. For a long time, a solo 1983 Big Ten title banner hung in Assembly Hall, a tribute by former head coach Bob Knight to the fans for willing the team through the injury during a three-game homestand to end the regular season. Much like the 1980 team, the injury to star forward Kitchel proved to be too much for IU to overcome in the NCAA Tournament.
Led by Cheaney in his senior season, Indiana’s 1992-93 team was one of the program’s best to not win a national title. The Hoosiers were in the top-10 for the entire season, and by the start of February they ascended to the No. 1 ranking. You may be noticing a theme by now — this time there was a late season injury to star forward Alan Henderson. Days after the injury, IU suffered its lone loss in the Big Ten that season to Ohio State. Cheaney and the Hoosiers would go on to the Elite Eight, but the season would end there in a disappointing loss to Kansas.
Hulls and the 2013 Hoosiers were IU’s last team to be ranked No. 1. They opened the season with the top ranking and spent 10 weeks of the 2012-13 campaign at No. 1. The untimely injury theme continued however, as being No. 1 seemingly became something of a curse. This time it was Hulls, who suffered a shoulder injury in an NCAA Tournament round-of-32 game against Temple, and he suffered through a Sweet 16 loss to Syracuse days later with a shoulder brace and obvious discomfort.
In between those 1980 and 1983 teams, Wittman won a national title with IU in 1981.
Meanwhile, Woodson, Cheaney and Hulls were part of three of Indiana’s best teams to not raise a banner. Instead, all of their senior years ended in bitter disappointment.
And now they’re all back in Bloomington, hoping for a another chance. This time in suits.
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