Indiana practices are more closely guarded than a Howard Hughes hideaway. Players work out behind a shroud of black curtains, and few visitors are permitted to pass through them, not even $1,000 contributors to the Hoosier Hundred Club. The reason stems from the charity in Coach Bob Knight's heart: a stray opponent stumbling onto the scene might lapse into terminal depression at the sight of how good Indiana looks.
Behind their security blanket, the Hoosiers have been assembling an all-round game that may surpass last season's rugged combination of offense and defense. They have been pressing like the best UCLA teams, setting up screens and picks like the Chicago Bulls and, all the while, calling out switches with voices that echo off the pre-stressed concrete walls of Assembly Hall. Even Knight admits, "There's great senior leadership. These players are as aware of how hard they should be working as any I've had."
Obviously there have been no ill effects from last year, when Indiana swept to a 31-0 record before suffering a 92-90 loss to Kentucky in the NCAA Mideast Regional. The fact that Forward Scott May, who had suffered a broken arm seven games earlier, was rushed back for the Kentucky game and played poorly while wearing a cast, could have inspired morbid second-guessing; it hasn't.
Indeed, unless there arc more freakish injuries this season, Indiana will be almost impossible to stop. Steve Green, an extraordinary 58% shooter, and dependable sixth man John Laskowski have graduated. They will be missed, but not mourned. Tom Abernethy, the 6'7" forward who will replace Green, should better his predecessor's four-rebound average and will turn over the ball less often. The new sixth man will be 6'3" Wayne Radford, a clutch performer who can play either guard or forward.
The four returning starters—Guards Quinn Buckner (6'3") and Bob Wilkerson (6'7"), May (6'7") and Center Kent Benson (6'11")—are all probable first-round pro draft choices. Buckner has come on strong as a floor leader since giving up football last season. May averaged 51% from the floor and 16.3 points a game. Benson was known for alternating subpar games with outstanding ones (he had 33 points and 23 rebounds against Kentucky), but he should be more consistent this year. Off-season work with isokinetic machinery increased Benson's vertical jump from 22 inches to 26, and that is likely to lead to improvement in his 8.9 rebound average. But the biggest improver over the summer was Wilkerson, who gained an inch in height, strengthened his upper torso and may have become the most intimidating defensive guard in college.
" Indiana has the best team with the best players and the best coach," says Marquette Coach Al McGuire. After last season, Knight is understandably cautious. "You'll talk to me in March," he told Dan Barreiro of the Indiana Daily Student, "and I probably still won't be pleased with certain things." One of his displeasures is not apt to be the absence of an NCAA title.
This is a UCLA team with a new coach, a modified philosophy and an ominous secret.
The coach, Gene Bartow, affects a scholarly, fatherly attitude to match John Wooden's, but he is contemporary. After all, he has brought the two-inch side-burn to the UCLA bench.