Transcript: 1976 championship team speaks at Final Four
The 1976 national championship team met with the media on Friday afternoon in Atlanta after being named the all-time March Madness team by the NCAA.
Here’s the complete transcript of today’s press conference, which included Quinn Buckner, Kent Benson, Scott May, Bobby Wilkerson, Tom Abernethy, Jim Crews and Bob Knight.
JIM NANTZ: 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, the all-time team. My pleasure to introduce the Hoosiers who have made their way to Atlanta. Let’s bring out first Quinn Buckner, Kent Benson, Scott May, Bobby Wilkerson, Tom Abernethy, Jim Crews, and Coach Bob Knight.
First off, I know it’s got to be, for you, a wonderful thrill to see your players here and to get this recognition, coach. Tell everyone what you just told me a little bit about this.
BOBBY KNIGHT: Well, Bobby Hammel called me on Tuesday and he says, I think we’re going to win. And I said, What the hell are we playing? How are we going to win? Then he went into some detail about all that you guys have done for basketball and college and everything.
Then he called me on Saturday and said, We won. My first thought was, and I would feel very strongly about this, never did a group of kids represent college basketball any better than these guys did. I thought what a way to honor these kids and what an accomplishment they had in terms of I think they are an ideal example to me of what college basketball should be about.
JIM NANTZ: Well, you look at them. You’re talking about 37 years ago, coach, more than half a lifetime ago. To see the bond that is obviously still there with the Hoosiers.
BOBBY KNIGHT: They’re still scared, that’s one thing. They never got over that one (smiling).
JIM NANTZ: I want to hear from all of you guys. Quinn, when the word got out to you that you would be reunited down here in Atlanta, be recognized with this great honor.
QUINN BUCKNER: I’m excited about it. He doesn’t like this, but the reality is we’re not here without Coach Knight. At the end of the day, that’s really what that is about. More than anything, it’s a real statement about what he has meant to us personally, I think to the university, and I think to college basketball.
For us, this is a second father. So it’s huge. It’s a lot like when we won. For me, when we won, it was over in ’76, the joy on his face was worth all the things that you endured that made you better, of course, but that’s what I really think about.
I’m a little caught off guard by it and very much humbled by the fact that the people would vote our team as it is.
JIM NANTZ: Kent, do you think about all those great teams in the history of college basketball?
KENT BENSON: No doubt, it’s very humbling. To think over the last 75 years of NCAA basketball, to be selected for this honor is tremendous. But also a tremendous thanks goes out to the Hoosiers Nation, the people that saw us fit for this honor. It’s definitely a blessing, as well.
JIM NANTZ: Scott, any special memories when you get yourself surrounded with your old teammates that come to mind?
SCOTT MAY: I tell you, for me, when the horn went off and we won, it was just a great moment. It had finally come down. We had done what we started the season. We wanted to go undefeated, win the championship.
Man, I’m just really, really happy to have been a small part of it.
JIM NANTZ: I think a big part of it actually. I think you all were. Bobby, how about for you, to be surrounded by this group of guys?
BOB WILKERSON: This is a great opportunity for us and our families, but also for Coach Knight. This will be one of the times I haven’t seen the Final Four. I didn’t see the last one I played in, so I’ll get a chance to see this one.
JIM NANTZ: Tom, you’re next. Congratulations.
TOM ABERNETHEY: Thank you. What Bobby is talking about is he got knocked out in the first minute and a half of that final game. As a team, we picked things up. The guys sitting to my right here, Jimmy Crews came in and settled things down. It was a great memory for us to win without one of our leaders, which is Bobby, so…
Glad to be here.
JIM NANTZ: Coach Crews, tell me now, you probably have an interesting perspective with all you’ve done after your playing days.
JIM CREWS: The thing we enjoy the most, you have great memories from those times, but when coach collected this group and groups before us, they had tremendous class before us, actually maybe a better class, the junior class.
When you step on campus at 18 years old and 40 years later, you got great relationships, the things that you go over for 40 years, in my opinion, that’s the coolest, most rewarding part. Relationships trump all those championships.
JIM NANTZ: Coach, how did you approach that season?
BOBBY KNIGHT: Tell me if you guys remember this. The day before practice started, Scott had broken his arm the year before, and we lost just one game that year.
I think I made a mistake in filling in for Scott’s injury that maybe cost us the national championship that year. So now we’re in the next year. The day before practice, I brought you all together and I told you that the only thing that would really matter, and the only goal that we would have, would be that we went undefeated.
Do you guys remember that?
This was the day before practice started. And I told them that winning the Big Ten, winning the NCAA would not be what they were capable of doing. I said, Winning a season long win, you beat everybody that we play, would be what you guys are capable of doing.
I think it will always be their mantra, that they did what they were capable of doing.
TOM ABERNETHEY: Could I add one little thing?
As that season was going on, we were undefeated the prior year, we lost that final game. I can remember early in the season we were probably five to eight, nine games, and I would have sworn we were a .500 club the way practices were. So I’d say the approach Coach Knight took was very effective. Let’s just put it that way.
BOBBY KNIGHT: One of my favorite stories is I got them all together before the tournament started. I really got on ’em about class, what they had to do. Kind of chewed everybody out as a group, you know. They were toward the end of the season now, a little bit careless with classes. I went on for about, I don’t know, maybe 10 minutes with this.
I said, Quinn, you get these guys, you talk in here a little bit about what I said, then you guys come out and practice.
Well, the first guy out was Scott. I’m leaning against the backstop on one of the baskets. Everybody’s getting dressed. Scott is first dressed after I’ve harangued everybody for about 10 minutes. Do you remember what you said to me, Scott?
SCOTT MAY: I think I said, I think they got your point.
BOBBY KNIGHT: No, that’s not what you said. I remember, Scott.
After listening to me for 10 minutes raise hell about everything, Scott walks past me, and this is what he said: Coach, I think they got the message. Had nothing to do with anything that I was telling him, I guess. They got the message.
That’s one of my all time favorite stories for a kid to think that what I’m saying had no bearing upon him whatsoever.
JIM NANTZ: I’m sure it’s happened, but how often have you all been reunited like this? Has it happened once every five years? Is this a rarity?
QUINN BUCKNER: It’s a rarity. I mean, we see each other individually and maybe in twos or threes, but we’ve not done this. I don’t remember the last time this entire group as we sit was here.
The thing we don’t do, we don’t celebrate anybody not having success going undefeated, because for us what we were able to do, we’re very proud of, but we don’t relish in the fact that somebody hasn’t had success doing what they try to do. That’s kind of the way Coach Knight would have us.
JIM NANTZ: Not a ’72 Dolphin type of thing.
QUINN BUCKNER: Whomever (laughter).
JIM NANTZ: The games are tomorrow, we have practices today, but the whole Final Four. You come to a city like this, how has it changed in the 37 years, the growth and the evolution of this event?
QUINN BUCKNER: You kidding me? I’ve been blessed enough to have worked with you and some with Dan and watched this from that side of the audience. This is night and day based upon the way that it’s covered. CBS, ESPN do a terrific job, wall to wall coverage. It’s very different. I have to think it’s difficult on young people because of the way they are bombarded by the many influences. Coach Crews can probably talk a little bit more about that. He’s had to deal with it, did a terrific job in St. Louis.
JIM CREWS: Our freshmen year we went to the Final Four. The focus is always winning the Big Ten championship. Maybe it’s just me, naïve, I didn’t know what the heck was going on. I can actually remember we win the Big Ten, we have the meeting the next day on a Sunday, and, okay, we win the Big Ten. Basically that’s all we played for.
Coach came in and said now we’re going down to Nashville and we’re going to play, I think, Marquette and then Kentucky if we win there. You only had to win two games to go to the Final Four back then.
I don’t think we had any idea what the Final Four was back then. Today it’s such a media.
JIM NANTZ: It’s marketed more.
JIM CREWS: That’s what people strive for, strive for, strive for. Ours was to win the Big Ten. Here is a little bonus, you get to play in the Final Four. Now it’s magnified more. Our freshmen year, I don’t think we had any idea where we were going.
BOBBY KNIGHT: Here is a story you would appreciate. When Jimmy mentioned we played Marquette, we’re playing at Vanderbilt. The benches are at the ends of the floor, not along the side. There’s about three minutes to go in the game, we’re up 5. Al calls timeout. Fine. We get everybody together, we’re talking. I happened to turn around with about a minute to go in the timeout, Al is walking to our bench, down the sideline, at least I think he’s coming to our bench. With Al, you never knew what.
You’ll love this. I walk over to him. I don’t know what’s happening. I’m worried that we’re going to lose our five point lead, as a coach thinks. I walk over. Al said, Your kids played great. This is a helluva game. This is over with, I’ll see you.
JIM NANTZ: Walked off the court?
BOBBY KNIGHT: Walked off the court.
JIM CREWS: Then he took the starters out.
JIM NANTZ: He basically said, That’s it, game is over, put the subs in to finish off the last couple minutes.
BOBBY KNIGHT: Yeah. It was unbelievable.
JIM NANTZ: How about some questions for the ’76 Indiana Hoosiers.
Q. Do you think this will ever be done again, undefeated season?
SCOTT MAY: Yeah, I think so. I think somebody will recruit a class that will come in and stay and play together for a few years. I think it definitely will happen again.
TOM ABERNETHEY: I’m hoping it could be St. Louis.
QUINN BUCKNER: It’s awful difficult, as you know, with the allure of what’s on the other side of college basketball, to get kids to stay. It would require that.
As you look here, this class, Kent was the only underclassman. I think you’re going to need somebody who has been through some things, without going through a lot of revisionist history, we had our trials and tribulations.
One of the reasons we were successfully to get through playing without Bobby was because we had lost Scott. You have those things that deal with through the course of your career, when you’re in the moment of that particular game, it allows you to succeed.
Those kinds of things, the adversity, is really what makes you stuff. Mind you, we had a very tough minded leader. But those circumstances make you much, much tougher. Because I think your mind has to be much tougher than what you are physically.
BOBBY KNIGHT: I think there’s never been a representative of collegiate athletics as a team than these kids. And they were smart. They were all good students. We’re playing up at Minnesota one night, and Scott’s guarding a kid named Williams. He scored 22 points in the first half against us, and we’re 3 ahead during that undefeated season.
I walked in the locker room and I said, Scott, Williams has 22 points. Now, I’m not sure I ever heard Bobby Wilkerson say a word. He just played. Bobby is kind of sitting in the back of the locker room. I’m on Scott. I said, all right, Scott, when the hell are we going to get on Williams? When are we going to stop him?
From the back of the room I hear Bobby say, When you put me on him (laughter). I looked down at Scott and I said, Scott, what do you think about that? Scott looked up at me and said, Coach, I think it’s a damn good idea. That’s how smart these guys were.
Q. How has your lives changed after that great event that happened? Like what next?
JIM NANTZ: Winning that championship, going undefeated. What did it mean?
QUINN BUCKNER: Here is the difficult part for me. I got asked that question moments ago. I don’t know what changed because I don’t know what else would have been. What I do think is we sit up here, and I say this, we’ve all had our share of successes, primarily because we went through that experience.
I think that part may be different. But I don’t know what else would have been because I don’t think any of us we all expect if we’re going to have success, we have to be willing to pay the price for the success. We learned that at one place. That’s why we are part of whatever we are today.
Q. What was the off season like, the anticipation, before that season coming off what happened the year before?
JIM CREWS: I’ll explain it a little bit. Today kids get worked out 12 months a year, everybody is in their hometowns. Back then, the season was over. We wanted to play pickup games, great. We probably didn’t play that much. We’d go down to rec, we didn’t play as a team. No weight program. Everyone went home for three months.
We showed up, had a meeting the first day, had a conditioning 15 days before, which we thought was pretty tough before the practice.
We had summers off, to tell you the truth, which I think is pretty healthy. In today’s world, they got to grind it, grind it, grind it.
So you were refreshed. We all played, but we played back in our hometowns, got better that way.
Q. Coach Wooden had retired the year before you won your national championship. Do you remember him stepping away and if you felt like you’d like a shot at UCLA that year that you won the national championship?
JIM CREWS: We played them twice that year. Coach Wooden wasn’t there, but we played them twice, to open the season in St. Louis, and then in the Final Four. We did play UCLA twice that year.
QUINN BUCKNER: While this is a quiet group, it’s not a group without confidence. We would have played them wherever they wanted to play. I remember Coach Knight asking us prior to our senior year, he brought us in and asked us, what about playing UCLA in St. Louis? He couldn’t get it out of his mouth fast enough before we all agreed, you got to do that.
No offense to anyone, we just felt good about what we were.
Q. What do you think the main reason is we haven’t seen another undefeated team like you guys?
TOM ABERNETHEY: One thing I wanted to say, and I’ve said it before, but we had a lot of unselfish guys on our team. All of these guys played in the NBA. This is remarkable as anything. One of the earlier questions, you know, I benefited. I played five years in the NBA because I was a part of this team.
But we had two No. 1 draft choices that sacrificed their glory in getting points, Bobby and QB, averaged under 10 points a game. I don’t see maybe in this day and age kids willing to sacrifice their glory, I should say, for the glory of the team or the betterment of the team.
So they did it. But the guy sitting to our right I think is the motivation behind all of us being willing to sacrifice.
KENT BENSON: I think it goes without saying that we as a team, the guys sitting up here, we are representing our entire team. We had players as a part of this team that pushed us every day in practice. They would beat on us. They would play us hard defensively. They’re very much a part of our success. We owe a lot of that to them, as well.
JIM NANTZ: Nice of you to remember them. There were more than just six players.
Q. I’m curious, who do you see taking the championship this year?
SCOTT MAY: If I was a betting man, I like Louisville. I like the way that they play. I like the way they play defense. I think they have the momentum to take it.
Q. After going undefeated that whole season, how confident were you going into the final game?
QUINN BUCKNER: Why would we think we won’t have it together for the final game? Mind you, and I mean this with the respect that you deserve, having been where we were the year before, having lost, we’re smart enough to figure out when you get to the point where you can close the deal, there is no possession that doesn’t matter. But we played that way the entire year.
This is the thing that I think needs to be pointed out. I think this all the time about Coach Knight. What he was doing was he saw the end and was making sure we prepared for the end. So there were no empty plays. We had no empty plays throughout the course of the year.
So if you get to the last game, there are no empty plays. If you play the game that way, then you have a better chance to be successful with his power of negative thinking (smiling).
BOBBY KNIGHT: Quinn, do you remember when we beat Michigan at home? Do you remember the end of the game, there was about three minutes to go in the game, and you hit a shot from the free throw line.
QUINN BUCKNER: Which shocked everybody, I’m sure (smiling).
BOBBY KNIGHT: It shocked me because you were 0-7 at that point. Jimmy, you’ll have to tell me whether this was in overtime or not. But I think it was how we got into overtime.
Quinn took another shot. It kind of rimmed out. And Jimmy dove for the rebound. I mean, Jimmy got the ball maybe three feet off the floor and was able to flick it back up on the backboard. Benny, did you tip it in?
Benny was on the other side of the bucket. Jimmy got it up on the board and Kent tipped it in. That single play probably, in my mind, is the play that I’ll remember most as a coach, was the effort.
If Jimmy doesn’t make that move, it would not have been an undefeated season. And it was a tremendous move that he made. In that particular game, these kids then, I think that was before the game ended, wasn’t it? That got it in overtime? Then in the overtime, they found a way to bring themselves back to where they were capable of playing, and they won very easily in the overtime.
KENT BENSON: One of the things that has always stuck in my mind about Coach Knight and his approach to the game, to our success, was one of his favorite sayings is I think ‘The mentalist to the physicalist is four as to one.’ Mental is four times greater than the physical. That has always been playing over and over in my mind. Many things that Coach Knight has said has stuck, but that one particular statement has been very instrumental in everything I’ve been involved with.
Q. You guys are rightfully known as one of the greatest teams in the history of college basketball. In your mind was the ’75 team better than the ’76 team?
JIM CREWS: Yes.
BOB WILKERSON: No.
QUINN BUCKNER: Yes, I think so because it was deeper. Healthy ’75 team was better.
JIM CREWS: That was a tremendous class in every regard: basketball wise, teammates, everything.
BOBBY KNIGHT: This team was better. Forget about what they said. This team was better because they were better as players. They were older. They were a year older and they had gone through something that was very close to tremendous success.
But it had to be better because all of these kids were one year older than they were. And that year before was a very good basketball team. That year the teams we beat in the conference, the teams we beat in the championship, I’m not sure the team the year before could have done what these kids did.
Does anyone want to dispute that?
QUINN BUCKNER: I was about to, but nice job, coach.
Q. Coach Knight, what do you think ultimately separates a great team from a truly legendary team?
BOBBY KNIGHT: Sometimes it’s the press. I mean that in kind of a humorous way. It’s a hard thing. You guys can all look at a team that you thought was really good.
Tommy talked about how close they were, how hard they worked with one another, how much they thought of one another. They were all good students, all graduated right on time. I do think they had a strong feel for one another.
I think that carried into a great desire to do something unusual, which is what they did. I don’t think the year before we really went after an undefeated season quite like we did with these guys. They really got into it.
I think it became very important to them to do something that was a rarity in the game. And I think it takes not just good players, but it takes good kids and smart kids, and that’s what these guys were.
JIM NANTZ: Coach, last word from you. How proud are you of this recognition in this moment?
BOBBY KNIGHT: Well, when Bob called me and told me we were in a position where he thought these kids would be named the best team in the NCAA, I said to him, I think it was on a Tuesday, I told Bobby Hammel, I said, First of all, there could be no greater group of kids to win that honor than this group. And I think that they will appreciate it perhaps more than any group of kids that ever played the great game.
JIM NANTZ: We need one last thing from you and your team here today. We need you to stand and get one shot of all of you together. We need to look at the ’76 Indiana Hoosiers so we can put it in every paper in America tomorrow.
I look at this bunch and some indelible memories of each and every one of you. I can see you in your uniforms, whether it be 21 or 22, 42 or 54, whatever the case might be. You guys stood for excellence.
We don’t normally applaud in this kind of setting, but I for one applaud each and every one of you, led by you, Coach Knight. Voted by America, the finest Final Four team of the first 74 years at Final Four 75. Congratulations to all of you.
BOBBY KNIGHT: Let me say one thing to you, my boy. Now, I like you doing golf. I like you doing everything. But in the time that you spent working with college basketball, you have been a real, real factor in the popularity of college basketball. You’ve brought it to the public. You’ve talked to fans from coast to coast. We in college basketball will always be grateful to you.
JIM NANTZ: What an honor to have you say that. This is my 28th Final Four, and I thank you all for a lot of great memories. I got to share them a lot with your friend Billy Packer and now Clark Kellogg. I’ve loved every step of the way.
BOBBY KNIGHT: In that game, we beat Michigan, we beat UCLA to get to there, Billy is sitting with Al and Dick Enberg across from our bench. Have you heard this story? I told one of our managers, I said, You see Billy Packer sitting over there? As you know, Billy was great for college basketball, too. A great ambassador.
I said, Go tell Billy Packer I need to talk to him. This is about two minutes before tip off in the game. I can still see Billy running across to where our huddle is getting ready to go out on the floor. Billy sticks his head in and said, Bob, Bob, what is it?
I looked up at him. This is the championship game. We’re playing Michigan. So two Big Ten teams playing. I said, Billy, where the hell is the ACC tonight?
Billy about had cardiac seizure, but that’s my favorite Packer story. Guys like you and Billy have meant a helluva lot to college basketball.
JIM NANTZ: You’re right there for the iconic figure for college basketball that you are. Congratulations to you and your team, coach.