BLOOMINGTON – Circling the globe is an adventure for anyone, but for the 1985-86 Indiana men’s basketball team, it was a life-changing event.
The B1G Trip, which debuts Wednesday on B1G Network following the Indiana-Rutgers game at about 10 p.m., chronicles the trip with dozens of interviews and never-seen footage from those that took part in IU’s 37-day, seven-country 1985 summer overseas exhibition tour.
The documentary was the brainchild of senior coordinator producer for B1G Network originals Bill Friedman and B1G senior feature producer Julian Darnell, whom Friedman said deserves the majority of the credit for his tireless work in putting the show together under challenging circumstances.
“He didn’t leave Chicago and he produced a one-hour film on something that happened, what, 36 years ago, and brought it to life,” Friedman said. “That’s, in my mind, a tremendous accomplishment from the production side of things.”
All interviews were conducted via Zoom and included several former IU players, including New Castle's Steve Alford, Anderson’s Stew Robinson, Michigan City’s Delray Brooks and Brian Sloan. In all, more than a dozen subjects from the trip were interviewed, including long-time IU trainer Tim Garl, former IU assistant coach Joby Wright and Hall of Fame sports writer Bob Hammel, who chronicled the trip in print as the sports editor of the Bloomington Herald-Times. Before the days of WiFi, Hammel had to find different UPI offices in Japan, China and Amsterdam to file stories.
From an initial stop in Toronto to play the Canadian National Team, IU traveled to Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong and Amsterdam before returning state-side.
“To do anything like that, five-and-a-half weeks, that was an amazing trip,” Hammel said. “It was, well, it’s been 35 years ago now, and it’s clearly the highlight experience of that time in my life. I never had a travel experience like that.”
Through Garl, producers were able to secure footage shot by Lee Leonard, a decorated World War II pilot who owned a laundry business in Bloomington and was invited by head coach Bob Knight to attend the trip. The footage included IU players at the Great Wall of China, on boat trips in Hong Kong Harbor and at the center square of Hiroshima.
Hammel provided some photos for the documentary as well. Basketball footage included the IU team facing the Soviet Union in a tournament in Tokyo, led by international superstar Arvydas Sabonis. The footage also displayed a more human side of Knight, walking shirtless in China and talking about fishing in Finland.
“The first day we landed in Tokyo, there was one brief workout,” Hammel said. “That was the only practice he had the whole five-and-a-half weeks. They would play a game -- there weren’t film sessions. The game was usually either late afternoon or evening. They spent the mornings traveling to some sites to the cities they were in. It was a radically different emphasis.
“Basketball, it truly wasn’t secondary, it was very much a part of the planning to try to develop a team while they were doing that, but it wasn’t the intense focus. I think he wanted those kids to take advantage of the sites that were around.”
Knight felt the trip was necessary coming off a 1984-85 season in which the Hoosiers struggled to a 19-14 overall mark and a 7-11 record in the Big Ten. Through different sight-seeing events and even a brawl with the Yugoslavian National Team, IU players became closer throughout the trip. It also pointed out the development of several key players, including the late Daryl Thomas, the former IU undersized center who developed the toughness to play inside in the Big Ten. The 6-foot-7 Thomas returned to his native Chicago to coach high school basketball after his playing career before dying of a heart attack in 2018.
The documentary ends with the question as to whether the trip served as the bonding experience that catapulted the Hoosiers back to the top of college basketball two years later as 1987 national champions. Several players and Hammel agreed, though some pointed out the additions of JUCO transfers Dean Garrett and Keith Smart before the start of the 1986-87 season were as important to IU’s success.
“What you do take away from it was it was a transformative life experience for all involved,” Friedman said. “Even Bob Hammel, who traveled all over the country and world before, I think they all felt this was kind of a once-in-a-lifetime endeavor, like if you think about, right, a 37-day, multi-country trip, those don’t just fall off of trees, and I think these guys with a passage of time can acknowledge that.”