Monday, December 12, 2011

The Assembly Hall Experience: My First Trip to Bloomington

Loud. Rabid. Insane. Crazy. Ridiculous. Obnoxious. Red. Electric. Rocking. Incredible. Unbelievable. All of the above.

Assembly Hall was at its absolute greatest on Saturday afternoon when No. 1 Kentucky visited Bloomington. The historical home of the Indiana Hoosiers was college basketball that evening.

My first trip to one of the nation's most celebrated arenas was everything I dreamed of and more. The atmosphere and the passion of IU fans illustrated college basketball at its best (and, at times, worst) on Saturday.

Road Trip to Bloomington

The drive from Central Kentucky was not bad, perhaps a little boring, but not bad. I car pooled with fellow Kentucky bloggers Scott Anderson ( and Walter Cornett ( and we set the GPS to Bloomington, Indiana.

With the exception of a minor delay in Louisville (can't imagine commuting across that river every day), the first two-and-a-half hours of driving were a piece of cake.

The last portion of the journey is without the comfort of I-65, however. In fact, the 30-mile drive down IN-46 between the interstate and Bloomington reminded me of driving down route 7 in Eastern Kentucky. It was a long, winding country road with little-to-no cell phone service and nothing more to look at than trees, fields, farms and a few country homes.

The drive through the country was just long enough to remember my days back home, but short enough to prevent car sickness, headaches and the feeling that I had actually moved back home (thankfully).

Once we reached Nashville and then Bloomington, things opened up and we exchanged the always welcome "back to civilization" jokes.

We arrived at Assembly Hall at 2:30 p.m., grabbed our parking spot and prepared to face what appeared to be roughly 150-200 Indiana fans who were already waiting at the entrance.

I knew it was a road game when...

First, let me just say that I made the decision to wear a blue, collared shirt to the game because a) it was clean and matched my pants and b) I figured we could all just get along.

We grabbed our laptops, cameras and other various media tools and headed to the arena.

After about 10-15 steps (literally), I heard a loud and obnoxious: "F*** KENTUCKY!!!"

My first thought was, "is he talking to me" and my first reaction was to look in that general direction.

Sure enough, I was greeted by a double, two-fingered salute and a loud, "yeah! I said it!"

An aside: I did notice that the kid had a big Greek "SAE" painted on his back. Let me just say Phi Alpha to you brother. If you don't mind, try to represent the True Gentleman with a little more class and character. By the way, didn't IU temporarily kick their SAE chapter off campus for being stupid a decade ago?

Now, getting back to the story. We worked our way through the crowd with some limited hazing, but nothing out of the way.

Impressions of Assembly Hall

For me, entering storied Assembly Hall for the first time was like entering a museum of basketball greatness.

The first thing I noticed when I walked through the door were Hall of Fame plaques and championship trophies. I was enamored with the pictures of legendary Hoosiers such as Calbert Chaney, Keith Smart, Steve Alford, Jared Jeffries and on and on. Even the pictures of "The General" Robert Montgomery Knight reminded me of the greatness that once was Indiana basketball. I never cheered for those guys, but I certainly respected them.

Even though I had seen that Indiana logo on television numerous times, walking into the arena for the first time gave me cold chills. I will admit, it was bigger than I expected and I knew immediately that it was going to be a tough environment.

One of the first things I noticed when checking out the court was the one and only Dick Vitale playing around with what appeared to be his grand kids. I know fans rarely get to see the real Vitale on the tube, but he is one of the nicer guys you can ever meet. He is one of those "superstars" who mingles with the fans, poses for pictures and is generally always in a pleasant mood. In my mind, Dick Vitale is one of the all-time great ambassadors of college basketball.

More than an hour before tip, I knew Kentucky was facing a tough situation

A group of rowdy IU fans entered the arena more than an hour before the game was set to begin. They were painted, decked out in costumes, holding signs, screaming and unintentionally giving some great foreshadowing for what was coming soon. In hindsight, that group of fans was like a small piece to a giant Assembly Hall puzzle that would eventually be Kentucky's worst nightmare.

We retreated to the media room to mingle a little and quite honestly, to see what kind of food the IU folks had to offer.

I have to give some credit, the food was great. The spread included pepperoni pizza sticks, barbecued beef, mac-n-cheese and more. Good food. Check.

After pigging out, uh, I mean finishing our meal, we headed back to the arena, which was starting to fill up with fans. At that point, there were spots of blue around the arena and I felt that UK would have a pretty good crowd.

Unfortunately, it turned out that those were basically the ONLY Kentucky fans who managed to get in.

The other 17,000+ fans were Indiana red through-and-through. The arena quickly filled up and, to be honest, all hell broke loose.

Let me discuss the bad points first

I want to go ahead and get this out of the way before I move into an otherwise all-time great college basketball atmosphere.

Many of the Indiana fans were downright rude and obnoxious and there was absolutely no place for it. If you are one of the losers who screamed "F*** KENTUCKY" or "A** HOLE" in a crowd that included children, elderly adults and innocent victims, then you are an idiot. Before you give me the classic "that happens at Kentucky, too" argument, just go ahead and stop yourself. If anyone in Kentucky does the same thing, then they are idiots, too.

For the record, I have been to many games at Rupp Arena and I have never witnessed anything like that. The only thing that comes close was the embarrassing "Walsh is gay" chants from several years ago.

Now that we know where I stand on that subject, let's move on to what the Indiana faithful did right.

Kentucky had to be nervous. I'm a media guy and I was rattled.

I have to be honest...I have played in and watched hundreds of basketball games during my life and I have never seen anything like Assembly Hall on Saturday. That was the best college basketball atmosphere that I have ever been blessed to experience.

My words can't do it justice, so I'll illustrate the scene with some videos I recorded.

This is thirty minutes before the game:

Twenty minutes:

The crowd continued with this level of intensity during the entire game. I did not hear a single word that the P.A. announcer said during the game. I rarely heard the officials blowing their whistles.

The fans were without question the difference in the game. If the same two teams played tomorrow, I think Kentucky beats Indiana 6-10 points on a neutral court and 12-18 points at Rupp Arena. In fact, I'm impressed that Kentucky had an opportunity to win the game. As strange as it sounds, I came away from the loss feeling like UK is actually better than I thought.

From a basketball perspective, a number of things stood out:

- Marquis Teague was overwhelmed in the first half. It's no wonder. He was abused by the crowd and was trying to do a little more than he was capable of doing. In the second half, he settled down and suddenly became the next great John Calipari point guard.

- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist may have been the best player on the court. If the last two games by MKG don't have NBA scouts salivating, I don't know what will.

- Anthony Davis was in foul the entire game and his production overall impact on the game was limited.

- Darius Miller is a man amongst boys...literally. There was a stretch in the second half were UK could have folded up the tent and lost by double digits but Miller put the team on his back and willed them in the other direction.

- Doron Lamb was one of the key players during the entire game. He missed a clutch free throw late, but the rest of his afternoon was outstanding. Terrence Jones, on the other hand....wait, did he dress?

- Eloy Vargas has improved dramatically. He is giving the Wildcats solid minutes and is actually helping the team.

- Make no mistake about it, I think UK is more talented than Indiana but it's not like the Hoosiers are a bunch of non-athletic slums. These guys can play and are well-deserving of their top 20 ranking. I think the Hoosiers can advance to the Sweet 16 and, with a little luck and/or hot shooting, possibly more in March.

A couple of funny stories:

- At halftime, we walked outside to get a breath of fresh air. There was an Indiana fan out there and we were chit-chatting about the game. He said, "as much as you boys get paid, I'm sure it's all worth it."

We informed him that we were bloggers and didn't work for companies or anything.

"And they let you guys in the games with media passes?" he questioned with wheels turning. "No s**t?"

I fully expect to see that guy in the media room the next time I'm in Bloomington.

- As we returned to our seats after halftime, I was leading a group that included Scott Anderson and Alan Cutler (they can confirm this story) up the stairs to our seats. An Indiana fan decided he was going to basically run the Kentucky media guys over on the steps. I saw it coming and braced for it...he bounced off and nearly fell down the stairs. Scott claims that I followed through with a friendly forearm but I deny those rumors.

That last play

- Calipari and the players said the instruction was given to intentionally foul the Hoosiers and force them to take the ball out of bounds on the final play (the Cats had two fouls to give)

- The official didn't call the first attempt at the foul and then Kentucky seemingly forgot to make another attempt.

- Kentucky probably should have matched up full court rather than play back on defense.

Of course, the result was one of the great moments in Indiana basketball history:

I have no problem with Indiana fans storming the court. It was a dangerous situation in many ways and luckily, no one was seriously injured. They deserved to storm the court after working as hard as they did during the game.

This is a full twenty minutes after the game:

Indiana basketball is back on the map and there's no denying it.

After the game, Indiana's Verdell Jones said that he had not seen an atmosphere like the one on Saturday.

I haven't either.


Anonymous said...

Your experience, which has been echoed by dozens of other UK fans, is a great reason why UK should discontinue the series. Indiana needs Kentucky a HELL OF A LOT MORE than Kentucky needs Indiana. I understand that their program has fallen a long way since the days of Bobby Knight but show a little class, eh, folks? I know Calipari is friends with Crean but I'd say, "Look, we don't get much from this game and if our fans aren't able to attend in a not-openly-hostile environment, then lets just curtail the series."

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the pictures. They're mostly of me and my friends and we all have them saved. Hope overall your IU trip was a good one. Thanks for the great write up.

-Camp Crean originator

Anthony Wireman said...

I was being honest when I said that this is truly one of my all-time great basketball experiences. The cussing, etc. was too much but the atmosphere was legendary stuff. It was a great trip, thanks.

Anonymous said...

I have no Cat nor Hoosier in this race! However, this was a honest piece... Great work. I wish I could have experienced it as well. Good honest journalism.

Anonymous said...

It's been 48 hours since the Indiana game. Is there really nothing else to cover

Anonymous said...

I wanna say thanks for pointing out Miller put the team on his back. No other media pieces have said much about him. He picked em up and put them in a posistion to win in the second half, I hope he makes it to the NBA if he wishes. Cal should of taken Jones out a lot sooner.

AJ said...

I have to say I'm sorry that you had to experience some of that. I have never ever seen Bloomington as amped up for a game as they were for that one. It really felt like 4 years of frustration were all boiling to the top with this one. I have never seen the kind of hostility and animosity towards another team that I saw towards Kentucky in my years paying attention to the program. The message boards were unbearable for this week because of such.

With that said, Indiana isn't usually like that. The only major harassment of opposing fans that I have seen on a regular basis is when an opposing fan somehow sneaks his way into the student section. Then the students will give him the "asshole" chant in the video above. That's a pretty regular thing that the university speaks out against annually. Other than that, the alumni and students have always been pretty gracious hosts. Even in the bars after the game. I'm not sure what voodoo fell on Indiana over the last week, but I'd imagine your experience would be different next year. Years of frustration have been lifted with the good showing from the Hoosiers.

Anonymous said...

Nice wrte up. My job didnt allow me to attend the game, which now I am thankful full. I wear my blue pretty loudly so it may have been a blessing in disguise. I dont have a problem with storming the court. They stormed the court beating an unranked Illinois team a year or two ago. I was shocked to see their players up on the tables waving towels. A great game, great win for IU, but that showed me a little something about how far IU has fallen.

Anonymous said...

I can tell you that we spoke with a group of about 10 Kentucky Alumni before the game about basketball and the rivalry etc; for a full hour before the game and we all had a good time. We even tossed back a few cold ones outside Assembly with them. After we were coming off of the court we walked by the same UK fans who were near the court, and they congratulated us and told us this would be something we would never forget. Students can be crass with language and what not. Not making any excuses. But overall our day was a great one not just because of the win but because of the good UK fans we had met.
-Camp Crean originator

Anonymous said...

The first anonymous comment is somewhat ironic given that earlier in the week a blog post argued that the UK-IU rivalry needed a boost given IU's recent faceplant. Suddenly, IU engaged the rivalry too much. What exactly do you think is going to happen next time IU comes to Rupp? It will be an awesome environment, and it will make a 20 point victory by the Cats next year all the more worth it for UK fans. As well, this series should be home and home--no Conseco, no UL.

Anonymous said...

Really great write up here. As an IU fan and alum, the early things with the cursing are not the norm, but as you said, this was a buildup from years of really poor play. Still no excuse when there are children present (or ever really). That being said, this was "The Game" that brought IU back and I dont think any of us will see that kind of atmosphere again. Hope you'll come back to Bloomington in the future, great article.

Anthony Wireman said...

I really appreciate the great comments from every one. I'm glad we can engage in friendly conversation and both sides can agree that the cussing, etc. was not acceptable - BUT, everything else about that arena was aboslutely great.

Anonymous said...

As much as I agree with most of what's been said... I've heard enough about IU's frustration. I think at least one person ( maybe me) should point out that UK is the biggest game of the year, wherever they play.

Anonymous said...

This was the worst day I have ever experienced
in my life.
Most of the Indiana fans that I came in contact
with were complete assholes.

Anonymous said...

Hey brother, I'm a rapid IU fan and fellow SAE. I was part of the group that brought the chapter back to campus, and that is not the type of behavior we condone. I thoroughly enjoyed your synopsis and I'm glad you had a good time minus the few bad apples. I emailed the chapter reminding them what we are representing and I'm disappointed in their representation of SAE. I hope future experiences in Bloomington are better in that regard. Phi Alpha.

Anthony Wireman said...

Hey, I really appreciate that bro. I'm not going to sit here and act like I didn't do stupid things during my college days but that was a little disappointing.

Thanks for saying that. Phi Alpha to you.

Anonymous said...

I'm a part of the chapter and want to apologize for that as well. We're trying to figure out who that was so appropriate action can be taken.

Phi Alpha and sorry for the ignorance.

Travis said...

As an active brother in Indiana Gamma that was in attendence for the Kentucky game with multiple other brothers I want to apologize for whoever did that. I know for a fact it was none of the brothers I was with and that is not how we represent the TG here. The previous comment by the founding father is how we act now and none of the brothers from when we had are charter taken are even in contact anymore. Again I want to apoligize on behalf of Indiana Gamma. Phi Alpha

Anthony Wireman said...

Pretty cool that you guys have posted these comments. I understand the situation and I'm not mad about it or anything. As an older brother now, I just think it's important to represent those letters with class and set a good examples for others.

You guys are brother heroes for coming on and posting those comments. I'm glad to see that you have Indiana Gamma headed in the right direction.

Anthony Wireman
Kentucky Gamma, 1998-2002

Jon Steele said...

I wish to reiterate what some fellow brothers have said, and I wish to apologize for the actions of one of my brothers. That is not what we stand for, and frankly is out of line. Phi Alpha

I'm glad that you got to experience a loud a proud Assembly Hall (albeit somewhat excessive). In my opinion, I think this game is one which should hopefully solidify the rivalry between UK and IU. Nonetheless very well written and an interesting take on visiting Assembly Hall as an outsider.

Anonymous said...

I like how all of these UK people are on here acting high and mighty about their program. UK might be a big game for most schools right now, but after Calipari runs away from rules infractions and violations just as he did from UMass and Memphis, you're program will once again be mediocre. The guy is one of college basketball's true low lifes, and you are playing with fire by trusting him with your program. The coach that put our program on the map may have been an a**hole, but at least he wasn't proudly racist.

Anthony Wireman said...

It was a great experience Jon. I'll be back and when I do, I'd love to visit with you guys and share some stories, hang out. Phi Alpha.

Anonymous said...

Are you serious? I can turn on any ESPN weekend big college basketball game and see "asshole chants", as well as other offensive chants from the crowd. It's a part of the atmosphere. You expect to be treated as a Hoosier when you come in representing a long time rival?? This happens at every big sporting event. Have you ever been to NFL game? Much worse things are said than that during big games. Assembly Hall is the Hoosiers' home not anyone else's. I had a UK fan sitting next to me at the game and I told him before the game started that obscenities about his school will be yelled and told him that it's nothing personal. He laughed and said I understand it's all apart of sports and rivalries. Sorry you guys are all upset that the days of beating Indiana are over but if you don't like just stay home.

Anonymous said...

Most IU fans are @$$holes, and always have been:

Anonymous said...

nice source from over 15 years ago you moron

Anonymous said...

this is hardly anything compared to what opposing fans go through in real college rivalries or some NFL games (not including the cookie cutter colts)...UK fans deserve it for having a low life coach and a uni-brow on the roster...does that thing get its own seat on the bus...i wonder how it works with the ladies...and by ladies i mean his sister

Anonymous said...

Um, YEAH... the source is actually 16 years ago about an incident EIGHTEEN years ago - THAT'S THE POINT! "Most IU fans are ASSHOLES, and ALWAYS HAVE BEEN:"

Translation: "IU fans have a long-standing tradition of being obnoxious, ASSHOLE losers, here is documented proof from 16 years ago:"

See how that works, DUMBASS?

Anonymous said...

Apparently you cant read when I said "over 15 years ago". Aka nobody that was at the football game (wrong sport you dumb inbred) 15 years ago is a student at IU now. Have you heard of the term hostile environment in sports? Probably not since you have to tend to your farm and don't understand how things work. Attend any big rivalry game and being called an asshole or Fuck your school would be getting off easy.
Sorry you're upset that the Hoosiers are better than your shady ass school and that we don't condone the activity of sexual intercourse with our family members..

Anonymous said...

Oh, IU "FANS" (and probably "students" too!) being assholes 18 years ago at an IU home football game is so very different than IU "FANS" being assholes four days ago at an IU home basketball game; the only correlating relationship is "IU FANS have a long history of being assholes at athletic events in Bloomington". Thanks for clearing that up, anonymous IU "student"!

A question for said IU "student": Which team is STILL on probation? That would be "shady ass" IU!

Yet another question for said IU "student": Do you know how to use commas... or even apostrophes??

Anonymous said...

Just a point of clarification, IU has no longer been on NCAA sanctions since November 24, 2011. That and not all IU fans are as douchey as those who have previously commented.

Anonymous said...

Word. Haters gonna hate.

Nathan Brown said...

As another brother of Indiana Gamma, I also want to apologize on behalf of which ever one of my brothers made this poor choice of actions last Saturday at Assembly Hall. I can guarantee as a member of our exec council that it will be addressed and hopefully not happen again. But on another note...I really enjoyed this article, especially as student at the journalism school here at IU. If you're ever here again, both as a fellow journalism student and as a fellow brother, I'd love to sit down at chat, as I'm sure many of my other brothers above who have already commented would be as well. Phi Alpha

Anonymous said...

great game.

Anonymous said...

These are some great videos. Do you have any of all of the UK fans cars being torched or having the windows broken? How about the numerous beatings and assaults on the women folk wearing blue? How about the ones of numerous UK fans having beer dumped all over them? All of these have been well documented on many BBN blog sites and message boards....except for the documentation part of course.

In all honesty, I really like your blog and your assessment of the game. By the way, I am an IU grad who is a preacher living in Kentucky. I was told by one of the prominent members of the congregation to keep my mouth shut about the game if I wanted to keep my job on Sunday morning....I chalked it up to one person as everyone else came up after church to congratulate me on the game.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how I got here but nice article well done thanks.

Regarding ending the series.
IU does not need UK anymore than UK needs IU to validate their pasts or cement their future. As a IU backer I could care less. However, fans OF College Basketball would greatly benifit.

The cause of the students storming..uh no, swallowing the court, was the beating of a #1, not from beating a ure it KY team. It could have been a DUKE or a Conniticut for that matter. The cause of the vulgar language- stop- no excuse.

Been a long drought; look forward to the comming years. If that involves IU and KY trading punches between Rupp Arena and Assembly Hall?
A #1 IU Backer.

Anonymous said...

Wow, some of the inbreeding from Kentucky are really showing up!! Not all IU fan's are assholes, and shady?? Uh do you remember Eddy Sutton??? I'm sure Coach Crean will take the situation in hand, much as Coach Knight used to do when the crowd became too rowdy.
And obnoxious? Probably the worst hazing and downright miserable time ever spent at a sporting event was a IU Kentucky game getting crap from UK fans. Do I lump them all into one segment, no. Just some people are stupid, and Kentucky seems to have the market on them..

Anonymous said...

Dont worry, SAE is not even relevant on your campus. Full of washed up kids who didn't get bids to a real house on campus. Although, the greek system in general is not known to be very "sober" in general at IU.

After just graduating from there, I can say I do miss it and nightly shenanigans in the house. But living in the real world wises you up quick. Life aint just one big party.

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