Basketball is to Knightstown, Ind., as baseball is to Dyersville.
My brother, Dennis, and I road-tripped to Knightstown recently to visit the “Hoosiers” movie gym. Little has changed since the building was built in 1921, with only a few changes since the 1986 movie starring Gene Hackman and Barbara Hershey.
We shots hoops, toured the building (including the crackerbox of a locker room used in the movie, complete with a pair of black-and-white Converse high-top tennis shoes hanging by their laces from a nail) and talked with Bob Garner, who is the events coordinator. He asked about Megan Gustafson and we told him we watched her jersey banner elevate to the rafters at Carver-Hawkeye Arena.
We talked more — this guy knows everything about everything basketball.
After checking into our hotel room in nearby Greenfield, Dennis and I returned to the gym for two games scheduled that evening. Bob said the players were “intermediate” school age and 400 advance tickets were already sold in a wood bench-seat gym with a capacity of 600.
We asked if there would be room for us and he said “probably” if we got their by 3:30 p.m. for the first game, which started at 6.
Spectators began dribbling in around 3:45 — moms with their babies, dads with their sons and daughters, preschoolers through high school, a couple of men still in their suits and ties, cheerleaders, two referees.
The gym was full by 5:30.
And then came the players, circling the gym before warming up, shooting and stretching. Girls played first, followed by the boys. Six-minute quarters, 15-minute halftimes, 30 minutes between games. After each starting player was introduced, they ran to the opposing coach and shook their hand, followed by running to the refs to do the same.
In both games, the lead seesawed back and forth. The girls’ game was decided by one point, the boys by five.
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Crossover dribbles and separation moves, deft 3-point shots, sticky defense, taking charges for the team — these and more came as naturally as the aroma of popcorn coming from the lobby concession stand.
I asked a woman sitting next to me what grade the players were in school. “Eighth,” she replied. I thought to myself, “Eighth? Really? If these are eighth-graders, what do juniors and seniors play like?”
Jumbotron? Not needed. In that gym that evening, 600 screaming fans blew the top off the building. Though it was loud and some of the calls drew moans now and then, the referee’s calls were accepted as final.
Dennis and I stood out as nonlocals. Dennis said we should pawn ourselves off as NBA scouts. In its own way, an NBA scout at a Hoosier basketball game, at whatever age, would not be all that unusual or unexpected. A player in the boys’ game, wearing No. 21, commanded the floor like Steph Curry.
As we walked back to the car after the games, a fan walked up to us and said “This is Hoosier basketball.” I could only reply, “This is what basketball is all about.”
Americana, for sure. A Terry Redlin print in the making? You bet. High player skill levels, respectful behavior in the stands and on the court.
If it’s on your “bucket list” or not, you’ve got to pilgrimage to this place, especially next year when it celebrates its 100-year anniversary.
David Novak played in a local church league basketball league 2012-2018. When he’s not working, he sometimes can be found shooting hoops at the Northwest Rec Center. His brother, Dennis, retired in 2017 after working 44 years at General Mills.