"We're going to have a fine team," says Sloan, with the assurance of a man who knows one when he sees one. "These are good players. I've never been more relaxed, and the team is the same way. It isn't like last year when we had the anxiety of wanting to do something for the first time. I can take time to smell the roses."
This year State could catch the bouquet again.
You can almost hear the cadence, "Hup, two, three," as Indiana University marches onto the floor. Precision, discipline and self-sacrifice are the team's best players, and if the Hoosiers have the kind of year they are capable of, the military might regain its good name.
Indiana has everything it needs to win its battles: size, speed, experience and a defense that could hardly be more effective if the players used bayonets. And the Hoosiers have a commander who is no Sergeant Bilko. Bobby Knight earned his general's stars while coaching at West Point and his blood-and-guts approach to basketball shows it.
Knight has 12 of 14 lettermen back from a team that was 23-5, tied for the Big Ten title and then lost the playoff game to Michigan. Indiana went on to win the CCA's runner-up tournament in St. Louis. Now the Hoosiers are concentrating on making sure they do not miss this year's war games in San Diego.
Their key man is Kent Benson, a 6'10", 230-pounder who is commonly described as being "no Bill Walton." The only real resemblance between the two early last season was their red hair, but Benson's detractors forget that Walton did not start at UCLA in his first year because freshmen were not eligible then. Benson did play as a regular, improved game by game and wound up being the Most Valuable Player in the St. Louis tournament. As a soph he is quicker and decidedly more self-confident.
Another player who profited from last year's combat is Forward Scott May. The 6'7" junior gunned in 12 straight baskets during an intrasquad game a few weeks ago and he fits in perfectly with Knight's pass-and-cut offense that leads defenders through a Maginot Line of screens and picks.
At the other corner is Steve Green, slow afoot, but deadly of eye. He made 55% of his field-goal tries as a junior, the best percentage among Indiana's platoon of sharpshooters. Five of the team's first seven players hit near or better than 50% from the floor.
One of the two who did not was all-international Guard Quinn Buckner. For two years Knight threatened and cajoled Buckner about his insistence on wearing football pads while the rest of the basketball team conducted fall drills. This season Buckner did not play football and Knight feels he has a head start on Operation Field Goal.