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An Ode to Assembly Hall

The one and only.

Alex Paul

Is Assembly Hall perfect? No. But what arena is?

Over the last few years, as pieces of the arena have begun falling onto the court and into the seats, many in the fanbase and across the internet have begun to question whether it’s time for Indiana to move on from its historic venue.

With the amount of money pouring into Indiana Basketball right now, the argument goes that the Hoosiers could have a new, shiny basketball arena. The sight lines would be fixed, more bathrooms and concessions added, and presumably, the roof would stay intact.

It’s hard to argue against the safety component and I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I like waiting in line for a beer - though the ability to buy beer there is still a novelty.

This is a plainly sentimental blog though, and we are here to advocate for all that would be lost in a complete teardown of Assembly Hall. It’s just a building, but it’s a building that means so much to generations of players, fans, and college basketball enthusiasts alike.

Before getting into the history, it’s worth noting that Assembly Hall continues to give Indiana a massive advantage over visiting opponents. For both the men’s and women’s teams, it gets loud there. Louder than any arena I have ever been to.

It may surprise you readers to learn that none of us Quarry Boys have formal training in acoustics, but we are skeptical that this environment could be recreated in a different building. Frankly, it would be a little reckless to knowingly do so.

Everyone who follows Indiana basketball has been to a game there where the crowds reached levels that have to have damaged our eardrums. One of us saw Indiana beat North Carolina in 2016, and had ringing in their ears until going to sleep the following day. Another Quarry Boy played the worst lacrosse game of his life the morning after Indiana beat Purdue this year.

Screaming your lungs out in the student section can be draining, but the invincibility felt after a big win always made it worthwhile.

On its best days, the team and the crowd feed off of each other in a way that’s helped Indiana to countless wins since it opened in 1971. Indiana fans Know Ball and will cheer on a good defensive stand like any other highlight play.

That energy often does translate into a good transition play, making the arena even louder and so on until an opposing coach calls a timeout or Dickie V starts yelling “Bedlam!”

It’s a hornet’s nest. The last place on the planet anyone on the court not wearing cream or crimson wants to be.

It’d be foolish to think that this isn’t somehow connected to the history of the building. However unpretentious of a fan you think you are, seeing all the banners on the wall (even the corny ones) reminds you of how good basketball can be and has been on that floor.

The weight of the history seems to make it possible for more history to happen there. Across the Crean and Miller eras, far from the program’s most consistently successful eras, it lifted some average teams to another level, even if only for 40 minutes at a time.

Now, with Teri Moren and Mike Woodson in charge, the building has more Juice than ever. There are expectations again, and the crowd shows up ready to will these teams beyond their loftiest ambitions.

We reached out to a few fans and friends of the blog for their thoughts on the building, offered below:

A game that doesn’t get talked about enough (mainly because the team fell apart later in the year) is the IU/North Carolina Big Ten/ACC challenge game in 2016. I was a freshman so it was my first big IU basketball game as a student. And man, I remember how juiced the campus was all day before 9pm tip, From Jim Cornelison singing the national anthem, Kyle Schwarber being court side right after the Cubs won the World Series, hitting everything in sight while racing out to a 26-9 lead, Isiah Thomas running around with the Crying Jordan big head postgame after the Hoosiers soundly beat a dominant Tar Heel team that won the NCAA Tournament that season, it was absolutely electric the whole night. But the one moment that stood out more than everything else was the OG Anunoby alley oop where he somehow caught the pass (which was definitely thrown too high) before slamming it down. There were other big games & wins IU had during my time as a student, but nothing matched the atmosphere of that game during my four years in Bloomington.

I love Assembly Hall. I always have, and I always will. I like to think of myself as a fairly rational sports fan, but I refuse to be rational about that building. It’s magic, and it must live forever.

It’s not as if I’ve had exclusively good times there. I’m a 2010 Indiana graduate, so the back half of my undergrad overlapped with the collapse of the Sampson regime, the utter embarrassment that was Dan Dakich’s regency, and the nadir of the “rebuilding” phase of the Tom Crean administration. But the highs are high.

Sure, I’ll be yet another voice adding to the Wat Shot chorus, definitely a top five live sports moment in my life. But anything even remotely approaching a big game is elevated by Assembly Hall. Christian Watford’s shot hitting the net preceded the loudest sound I’ve ever heard, but a close second was me and my friends banging on the corrugated metal paneling behind the back row of seats as we ran circles around Purdue in February 2008. That just doesn’t happen other places. As great as it is for an NBA playoff game, Gainbridge Fieldhouse doesn’t take a college game to the next level like that.

I know that fans of basically every team, particularly in college sports, revere their stadia and arenas. The difference is that we’re right.

i work primarily in assembly hall for IU RTVS and for IU Athletics, but in the basement control room. my favorite moments have been going to the games and cheering on my crew who work them. last year, there was a game where they would put me up on the jumbotron and i danced around like an idiot. a clip of me dancing went viral on Twitter and it became a running joke between the crew and eventually the fans themselves. indiana basketball finished with an undefeated record if i was shown on the jumbotron at any point of the game. this year, i’m hoping to be more a part of the operations side, but who knows? if i get up there, i’ll be sure to dance

Everyone knows the place buzzes on those handful or so occasions each winter when a good team rolls in. The way the sounds smack you; the way it’s easy to leave with your ears still ringing — it’s probably not necessarily healthy to attend a big game at Assembly Hall, but it is a lot of fun.

The defining memory I’ll have of Assembly Hall is as the beat photographer for the Indiana Daily Student during the 2020-21 women’s basketball season. The season was ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, and making photos alongside corrugated plastic cutouts of superfans and golden retrievers every week or so were the strangest sporting experiences I’ll ever have.

That season taught me more about the game of basketball, hearing all the little things loud and clear that usually get drowned out by crowds. It also taught me the integrity and commitment to excellence the Indiana women’s basketball program has today. The teamwork, the encouragement and leadership I saw in the face of some of the ultimate adversity and a crushingly empty Assembly Hall that season served as an inspiration for me to get through perhaps the toughest period in my life, as I’m sure it was for many of us. And, in my opinion, it produced some pretty darn good photos as well.

It was one of the privileges of my life to see this team finally click and run on all cylinders — alongside 15-30 other people every week, excluding the teams and media. I’ve seen court rushes and upsets and triumph and heartbreak at Assembly Hall, but nothing will ever be as strange, or as meaningful, as that season.

It’s hard to select just a few memories of Assembly Hall that can explain my love of college basketball, Indiana, and the life experiences I gained in Bloomington. Every phase of my life so far has multiple entries that include trips to that unique building that instantly bring a smile (and plenty that lead to a shaking head and scowl.) From my childhood, I’m still reminded of my advanced basketball conversations with strangers about blocking out and moving screens, and thankful for a high-five from DJ White after a smashing of Kentucky I got to watch from the floor. In high school, I witnessed Crean celebrating in the lobby after his first ranked win over Illinois, and of course felt the balcony shake before an inbounds pass that led to the most famous shot in the arena’s history. When I could finally watch from the students section, I got to see a Big Ten championship team built win by win, followed by disappointment my senior year that still had its own fun moments – not the least of which was graduation in that same, fateful place. Since then, Assembly Hall has shown my fiancée what Indiana Basketball fandom is about, with wins over Purdue and Ohio State that might have contributed to the IU master’s program she would later enroll in. Sorting through these memories feels closer to sifting through family photo albums than it does remembering box scores.

I attended my first game at Assembly when I was about four years old, and I’ve been to at least one home game every year since. My favorite memory by far… Big. Shot. Rob. After 7 hours of waiting in the cold, a few too many fireball shooters consumed (that wore off rather quickly), and a game that took years off my life, Rob Phinisee hit his fadeaway corner three to take the lead late against Purdue. I looked to my ecstatic friend next to me who said something along the lines of “dude you look like you’re about to vomit” (insert Tom Crean after WatShot face). It was so loud in the hall that I thought it was going to collapse, it sounded like people were slapping the seats because the place was shaking so much, a surreal experience, and a moment I will never forget.

In the year 2016, a young, impressionable Gucci Grimace sat in the east balcony of Assembly Hall as Tom Crean’s Hoobers hosted No. 17 Purdue. At points during that game, the entire balcony shook like it was going to fall down. If I hadn’t been busy Talking My Shit to the goons who spent months telling me that Biggie Swanigan, Isaac Haas, and AJ Hammons were going to steamroll the Hoosiers, I may have feared for my life. Assembly Hall Forever.