David Hughes: Let '79 and '24 ISU teams both have their flowers; there are enough to go around

Apr. 3—Plenty of younger Indiana State men's basketball fans think the legendary 1978-79 Sycamores, who finished 33-1 and lost to Michigan State in Salt Lake City in the most famous NCAA championship game ever, receive too much attention 45 years later.

"Focus on the current team," they say.

I get that the current Sycamores deserve all the accolades that Pat McAfee and the rest of the national media (and local media) can throw at them for winning the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season championship, going 32-6 so far and advancing to Thursday's NIT title matchup against Seton Hall inside Indianapolis' Hinkle Fieldhouse.

May I suggest a compromise?

If you said "no," too bad. I'm offering it anyway.

Let's cheer on the Trees to overcome a tough defensive Seton Hall squad while those of us old enough to remember back a few decades never let go of the fond memories that ISU's "Magnificent Seven" and 1979 AP Coach of the Year Bill Hodges created for us.

To use a recently popular phrase, let both teams have their flowers. There are enough to go around.

For sure, the focus Thursday will be on the modern-day sharpshooting Sycamores. And don't think the old-school Sycamores won't be rooting them on — from inside Hinkle Fieldhouse to various parts of the country. I sensed no jealousy — just joyous support — from any of those over-60 Indiana State legends.

Hodges, who rarely does media interviews anymore, is living in Clover, S.C. He's met coach Josh Schertz and likes him.

"I would love to see them win the NIT," Hodges told me Wednesday. "Coach Schertz invited me to the alumni/team banquet when they were in Florida last year and I attended their games. I've moved [since then] and now have all the sports channels and have missed very few of their games [on television]. Also, I talk with Brad and Kathy Miley all the time and they keep me updated."

When asked for advice to the ISU players and coaches for Thursday, Hodges replied: "Enjoy the journey, win or lose, because it may not happen again. And if you are fortunate enough to have that success again, it should be even more enjoyable."

Miley, a starting junior forward during the '78-79 campaign, answered the advice question a slightly different way: "Every play matters. Play every possession like it was the first and believe in each other!"

Miley attended Tuesday's super-impressive 100-90 NIT semifinal triumph over Utah and he plans to be back in Hinkle Fieldhouse with his wife Kathy to (hopefully) see Victory No. 33, which would match the school record he helped build back when Jimmy Carter was president, on Thursday. He added that he and Kathy rarely miss home games and attempt to catch as many road games as possible.

"Kathy and I are so proud of this team," he said. "There's an old adage 'records are made to be broken,' yet that doesn't diminish the '79ers memories of all the hard work it took to achieve our goals. It is amazing everyone likes to quote the '79 success, but the '77 and '78 teams were really good too [both qualifying for the NIT].

"I think Josh Schertz was a great hire and I thought he would do this. To he and his staff's credit, doing this in the third year is nothing short of amazing!"

A text from 1978-79 Magnificent Seven member Leroy Staley, who lives in Gibsonton, Fla., indicated he'll also be proud of Schertz, Robbie Avila, Ryan Conwell, Jayson Kent, Isaiah Swope, Julian Larry, Xavier Bledson and the rest of the modern Trees if they match the 33-win mark.

"David, it's a hard task winning that many games," he said. "It means the players have to buy into learning plays, rules, grades and have fun with each other. This team gelled together at the right time!"

Staley said he followed the current team on ESPN+ and ESPNHD, plus he attended "Alumni Weekend" festivities at ISU and watched the Sycamores play the next week while he hung around Terre Haute.

"It has been an absolute joy watching all the players and coaches gel together," Staley added. "No one can take away the memories of what the '79 team did, but win or lose on Thursday? The memories will last a lifetime. Go, Sycamores!"

Meanwhile, Rick Shaw didn't play in a single game during the '78-79 season. That's because he was a student trainer and manager, but he was valued equally with other components of that team. And he still bleeds Blue through and through while living in Plainfield.

"They are exciting and fun to watch," Shaw said Wednesday. "I've watched every game on ESPN+ And I listen on the Sycamore website when I can't get them on TV. I was there Tuesday and I will be there for the championship game. I got to see a few of the '78-79 team alums there as well."

Shaw's advice to the coaches and players (which I requested): "Soak up every minute and experience you can. Realize how special this is and try to take it all in. I got caught up in the details and missed the grandness of 'When March Went Mad.' The relationships will last a lifetime. Enjoy the win and understand you have unfinished business next year of a deep run in the NCAA tournament. Don't leave anything on the table like we did."

Another who didn't play on the 1978-79 squad, because he was an assistant coach to Hodges, Terry Thimlar follows the Trees from Florida. He's excited for the current crew too.

"Believe me, the '78-79 team season was one for the ages," Thimlar emphasized. "I'm so glad I get to see this season from a different angle. I now know how proud others were of our accomplishments in '78-79, as I'm just as proud of the 2023-24 players and coaches. Go, Trees! I'm loving it!"

Thimlar's solicited advice: "Cherish the moment and realize how much of a positive influence you have had on ISU, Terre Haute and all of basketball."

Living in Indianapolis, former NBA guard Carl Nicks was the Robin to Larry Bird's Batman in 1979, although he was good enough to play Batman on just about any other college team then. He's now an Indiana Pacers scout, so he knows talent when he sees it.

When Nicks watches Schertz's Sycamores, make no mistake about it. He sees talent.

Nicks was unable to attend Tuesday's shootout with Utah (he did watch on TV), but he intends to be present Thursday to view the two teams that the NCAA should have included — but didn't — square off for the NIT crown.

"I thought it was impressive how they just separated themselves with scoring and defense [against Utah]," Nicks said. "I thought it was very impressive. It was a close game and they just started scoring and playing great defense. It was impressive."

He also chuckled a little when I mentioned that Julian Larry streaking between opponents to the basket for a layup or a quick dish — which he often does — reminds me of a "young Carl Nicks" and admitted that he thought that himself.

When my advice question came up to Nicks, often nicknamed Mr. Intensity when he played, he was direct: "Do not change who you are. Do not change anything. Play your game. Play the way that got you there. Don't change one single thing."

Nicks, who congratulated Schertz for the Utah victory with a text Wednesday morning, offered one more suggestion:

"Enjoy the moment," he said. "If there are butterflies, that's a great thing."

Carl Nicks is one person I would never ignore.

Tribune-Star sports reporter David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at (812) 231-4224 (just text him on his cell instead); by email at; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.

Tribune-Star sports reporter David Hughes can be reached after 4 p.m. by phone at (812) 231-4224 (just text him on his cell instead); by email at; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.