TERRE HAUTE, Ind. —
The main attraction
High school basketball fans all around the area were flocking to see Bird play.
“Our gym holds 2,700 people. Loogootee came here and both were undefeated. I think there was probably 5,000 people in the gym,” Weikert said. “They were sitting up by the window ledges. It was the game of the year. I think we got beat. If the fire marshal came, it would have been tough to run ‘em out.
They wanted to see a ball game.”
Jones had never seen anything like it.
“The night he got 55 points and 38 rebounds. Gary gave him a lot of freedom, allowed him to expand his game, and he just took it to another level,” Jones said.
Bird, now the one drawing the top college coaches into the area, took Springs Valley to the sectional crown. The Blackhawks won a first-round regional game but could not fend off the Bedford Stone Cutters in the regional final, falling a game short of the Sweet 16.
Jones, who has returned to live near Springs Valley after climbing Indiana’s all-time wins list after many years at Terre Haute North Vigo, said Bird’s one-year improvement was his physical tools catching up to a complete understanding of basketball.
“He just became much bigger and stronger. He always had the qualities,” Jones said.
Copybreaks:Remembering his roots
Holland had the pleasure of coaching an Indiana All-Star who brought Louisville’s Denny Crum and Indiana’s Bobby Knight to French Lick. Bird made a popular choice when he chose the Hoosiers, but he left Bloomington after just a few weeks on the IU campus.
Bird worked for the city sanitation department during his year away from school and played AAU basketball — building confidence against many of the current college standouts from IU and other schools.
Bird kept close ties with his hometown, after his ISU career and as he began his professional career with the Celtics, returning home during the off-season and giving back to the people who supported him as a youth. “Larry, when he would sign endorsement contracts, the school was always included for part of it,” Weikert said. “Kids had free shoes for many years. Basketballs came thanks to Larry.”