The tour of historic venues continues for Creighton’s basketball team.
Sunday, it was Madison Square Garden in New York. On Thursday, the Bluejays will make their first trip as a Big East member to Butler’s venerable Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
Built in 1928, the venue has hosted four U.S. presidents (Herbert Hoover, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford), the U.S. Olympic basketball trials, four professional basketball teams, all-star basketball games, a six-day bicycle race, a three-ring circus and, of course, the movie “Hoosiers.”
“It’s a historic venue, and so many great players have passed through there and there have been so many great moments in that building,” Creighton guard Jahenns Manigat said. “But when game time comes, we’ll shut all that other stuff out.”
Creighton teams have played at the venue in 1933, 1934 and 1974. The facility was called Butler Fieldhouse until 1966 when it was renamed for Tony Hinkle, the school’s legendary basketball coach and athletic director.
When constructed, it was the largest basketball arena in the United States. It held that distinction for almost 20 years. Renovations over the years have reduced the seating capacity from the original 15,000 to 10,757.
Nicknamed “Indiana’s Basketball Cathedral,” the facility served as home for years to the state high school tournament. It was the site of the “Milan Miracle,” the memorable 1954 victory of tiny Milan High School over much larger Muncie Central.
The movie “Hoosiers” is loosely based on that event, and Hinkle was used for the filming of the championship game.
There is a scene in the movie when Gene Hackman and his Hickory Huskers make their initial visit to Hinkle. Hackman hauls out a tape measure to show his players that the distance from the free-throw line to the basket is 15 feet, just as it was at their gym back home.
Hackman then has the team’s tallest player hoist the smallest player on his shoulders to measure the height of the basket. Ten feet, just like back home.
So do the Bluejays expect coach Greg McDermott to show up for Thursday’s shootaround with a tape measure in his pocket?
“I don’t think so,” guard Austin Chatman said. “He might try to dunk there, though.”
Manigat said he wouldn’t put it past McDermott to duplicate the scene from the movie.
“He likes to try to keep things light, and he likes to take advantage of any chance he has to joke around with us,” Manigat said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if he pulled out the tape measure and told us it was 15 feet from the free-throw line to the basket, or have Geoff (7-footer Geoffrey Groselle) put Austin on his shoulders to tell us the basket was 10 feet.”
If McDermott is thinking about his last visit to Hinkle, he might not be in a joking mood.
“One of my Northern Iowa teams got our tails kicked there,” McDermott said. “My memories of the place aren’t very fond.”
McDermott said he believes his players will reactly differently to Hinkle than to Madison Square Garden.
“But I do think it will be a place they’ll enjoy playing,” he said.
Chatman and Manigat are looking forward to Thursday’s game, but plan to keep things in perspective.
“You try not to think about the historical part of things,” Chatman said. “As a player, you have to live in the moment. It’s like Coach Mac was saying: We still have to have fun with it.
“The other night at Madison Square Garden, we were silent and we weren’t ourselves at the start of the game. I think we learned we have to enjoy these moments.”