Last season's Indiana team, the youngest in Hoosier history, was the Big Ten's best down the stretch, winning 10 of its last 11 games for a 20-victory season and a berth in the NCAA tournament. Only guards Jim Wisman and Wayne Radford are gone from that squad. Stepping in to help out—although not primarily in the backcourt—are 6'8" Ted Kitchel, 6'9" Landon Turner and 6'5" Randy Wittman, all quality freshmen. So, predictably, about the only person in Bloomington who is not enthusiastic about Indiana's prospects this season is Coach Bobby Knight. "We're a year or two away," he says. Well, the Hoosiers may have trouble replacing the likes of Wisman and Radford, who scored 20.5 points a game between them. But rather than having far to go, Indiana figures to go fairly far, because of a strong nucleus of returning players in the forecourt and because of all those good freshmen.
Some observers feel that Knight did a better coaching job last season than he did two years ago with his unbeaten national champions. Besides being young, the team that closed so fast was also small, with a 6'9" center, a skinny 6'5" forward and no other starter taller than 6'3". Nevertheless, the Hoosiers played their motion offense and pressure man-to-man defense well enough to beat everybody in the Big Ten at least once.
Still, the coach insists, "We've got to do three things better to be a good team. First, we have to improve considerably on our rebounding. Second, we have to become a team that it's more difficult to move the ball against. And third, we have to be pretty tough handling the ball. And the fact that we lost Wisman, our best ball handler, is an indication that that's a real void for us."
At least 10 or 11 players will see duty for Indiana until a combination is found that does those things well. Scoring should be no problem, especially when 6'5" Mike Woodson, who swings between guard and forward on offense, has the ball. Woodson can put it in the hoop but it is felt that he should rebound more and play better defense. To improve the rebounding, Woodson may play more frequently at guard, leaving Kitchel, Turner, Steve (The Grizzly) Risley and 6'9" Ray Tolbert, a sophomore who was the Hoosiers' top rebounder last year, to battle under the boards.
To upgrade its ball handling, Indiana will use Woodson, Butch Carter, Wittman and, most notably, 6'2" sophomore Tommy Baker, who seems most able to replace Wisman as floor leader.
Last year Knight eschewed postgame press conferences in favor of handouts distributed by his sports information office. Nor does he show signs this year of adopting a reasonable stance toward the press, as a radio announcer recently found out. The visitor made the mistake of asking the coach about some Indiana players who quit two years ago.
"You know," said Knight, "if I were a broadcaster, I would hope that I would be intelligent enough to ask questions that pertain to the present. But I guess you're not that intelligent."
So the announcer asked about the present. Would Knight talk about the upcoming Big Ten race?
"No." said Knight, concluding the interview.