TERRE HAUTE, Ind. —
Injury sparks drive
Like most kids, Bird began playing basketball early in childhood. With each success his passion to improve seemed to grow.
Bird was a junior varsity contributor as a freshman. Then, as a skinny sophomore, Bird broke his ankle in the first game of the junior varsity season.
After he healed and returned to the team in February, he earned a spot on the varsity postseason roster. Gary Holland, who was Springs Valley’s assistant coach at the time, said Bird continued to practice shooting while using crutches to prop himself up.
“He hobbled and hobbled, and wanted to play so bad. He had to run what we called a Death Valley suicide in enough time to be able to play, and eventually he did,” Holland said. “He came back in the sectional game and hit a couple big free throws. That really sparked him.”
It was a moment in his life that Bird would later write about.
“From that point on, basketball was all I thought about, all I wanted to do,” Bird recounted in his autobiography ‘Drive: The Story of My Life.’ I couldn’t wait for school to let out for the summer so I could play ball. I would duck into the gym in between classes to get a few shots up and play again after school into the early hours of the next morning, feeling that sleep was a rude intrusion on my practice time.”
The hardest worker
Bird is often regarded as one of the few guys who made everyone around him better on the basketball floor. That ability first showed itself in his junior season as he showcased his talent for passing, which he had developed during his time away due to injury.
“His passing, from that sophomore to junior year, just became unbelievable. The vision, seeing the floor was just remarkable,” said Tony Clark, a senior at Springs Valley when Bird was a junior.
Clark said Bird must have averaged five assists per game to go with nearly 10 rebounds.
“He was always passing, rebounding, (and was our) second-leading scorer. Of course our scorers were close,” Jones said.
Copybreaks:The senior year
Body Copy:Former Sycamore coach Bill Hodges, an assistant at Tennessee Tech at the time, recalls seeing Bird play as a junior when he was recruiting the 6-7 Gilstrap. Hodges was among the majority of programs that weren’t interested in Bird’s potential — yet.
“He was a good player — he was a ‘tweener’ — but you don’t jump out and start recruiting a 6-3 wing player,” Hodges recalled. “I liked their (point guard) Danny King (and) eventually ended up recruiting him to Indiana State (from junior college).”
Bird transformed himself into one of the state’s elite players before his senior year thanks to continued work on his game, some weightlifting and a growth spurt of nearly a half foot.
Jones gave up coaching duties at the start of Bird’s senior year but remained at Springs Valley as athletic director and guidance counselor.
Holland, who just a few years prior had been a two-year letterwinner at Louisville, took over as varsity coach.
“He was an above average player with a lot of talent and here I am 25 or 26 years old,” Holland said. “Jones’ (style) was 20 passes and a layup. I was ‘let’s get out and go.’ It wasn’t a coaching miracle or nothing like that, but it fit Larry’s style.
“I knew Larry was playing in between his junior and senior year on the outside courts, was growing and getting better, but I had no idea he was going to be the player he would be,” recalled Holland.