Calbert Cheaney, the Big Ten’s all-time leading scorer, the 1993 consensus national player of the year, a longtime NBA player, and one of my favorite all-time Hoosiers, is returning to Bloomington. Yesterday, Indiana coach Tom Crean announced that Cheaney, who worked for former IU great Keith Smart as an assistant coach before Smart was fired as coach of the Golden State Warriors, will be IU’s new director of basketball operations.
I'm thrilled about this. Cheaney is one of my favorite Hoosiers of all-time. Watching his 1992-93 team, which entered the NCAA Tournament ranked number one but lost to Kansas in the Elite Eight (at least in part because of Alan Henderson's late-season knee injury), remains one of my favorite memories. I was a freshman at IU at the time.
I have a couple of Cheaney related stories from the good old days.
First, during my freshman year, ticket demand far exceeded supply. Students were allotted tickets to only four home games, and the most highly sought was Michigan. Both IU and Michigan returned the key pieces from 1992 Final Four teams (Michigan returned the entire Fab Five for its second and final season as a unit). As is still mostly the case, student tickets had assigned seats and random locations. It was luck of the draw, and location varied from game to game. For instance, and curse my memory for useless info, that season I had tickets in the upper reaches of the main row, approximately row 35, for Michigan; in the second row on the baseline for Michigan State; and in the balcony for Purdue and Minnesota.
As the season progressed, it became clear that Cheaney was on pace to become the leading scorer in Big Ten and IU history, and Cheaney was about 10 points short of the record entering the second-to-last home game of the season, against Northwestern. Northwestern was, before the season, the least desirable ticket in the package, but became quite valuable suddenly. A friend of mine was pledging a fraternity that ultimately would blackball him on the eve of initiation. He had some sort of mandatory pledge activity on the night of the NU game, and because I was in the right place at the right time, he offered me his ticket. I was thrilled, and even more thrilled when I saw the location: second row, on the floor, in the north end bleachers. Even better, Nick Nolte would be in the house, researching his role as a Bob Knight impersonator in Blue Chips.
Unfortunately, I can't find an account of the game, but my recollection is that Cheaney needed 10 points to pass Glen Rice to become the Big Ten's leading scorer. The Big Ten record book confirms my recollection that Steve Alford's IU record was very close to Rice's Big Ten record--Alford was four points behind. Cheaney began the game on a tear, and by the first timeout, he had scored 7 points to become IU's all-time leading scorer. Not long after, Cheaney pulled to within one point, and with a baseline jumper from the southeast corner of Assembly Hall, he had the record.
This is cropped version of a panoramic view of the south end of Assembly Hall, but this was the best I could find online. The reason I really love this photo is because, as I said, I was sitting in the second row on the opposite end of the court, so this is nearly the exact vantage point from which I saw the shot.
The second story is from a couple of months later. I lived in Briscoe Shoemaker, and my room looked out over the tennis/basketball courts that are on the east side of Fee Lane. One night in what must have been late April, we became conscious of a guy shooting baskets out there. I can't remember if he was alone when we first saw him or if the trickle of spectators from Briscoe had already begun, but even from my fifth floor room that smooth, left-handed shooting stroke was unmistakable. We went down, and eventually there was a full-fledged 5 on 5 pickup game going with what must have been 100 spectators, 9 scrubs, and the consensus national player of the year/Big Ten's all-time leading scorer. Only in Indiana, only at IU.
All of that is a very long winded way of saying, welcome home, Calbert.