We reached a secret limestone tunnel underneath Assembly Hall. A black metal door, thick enough to secure a nuclear reactor and Kanye West’s ego, was partially ajar. On the floor next to it was a dusty crumpled sign. We kicked at it, dislodging dust that revealed a red-lettered truth:
“Bob Knight’s Secret Vault”
We’d heard stories about such a place, more like legends whispered in rooms where you do what you don’t confess, not that we’re admitting to ever having been in such rooms or understanding what the Gordon Lightfoot “confession” reference means.
EDITOR’S NOTE NO. 1: For those of a certain age, Gordon Lightfoot was a well-known Canadian folk-rock legend who peaked in the mid-1970s. His songs told stories rather than all this rap-and-sex stuff so popular these days.
EDITOR’S NOTE NO. 2: Okay, technically going in a room where you don’t confess suggests sex, but that misses the point, which is, who knew Bob Knight REALLY had a secret vault.
Anyway, inside the vault wafted the scent of cologne, perfume and cheap cigarettes. Mick Jagger sang about not getting any satisfaction from an unseen speaker. A single lightbulb swayed precariously at the end of a frayed white wire, barely penetrating the room’s ink-like darkness.
A table was wedged into a shadow-covered corner. At one end sat a shape we recognized as Hoosier Deep Throat (see above for one of only two photos of Deep Throat in existence!). At the other end was a different, more feminine form. We’ll call her Hoosier Cassandra, after the ancient Greek beauty and prophet who could hear the future.
“You’re late,” Deep Throat said.
“Bloomington road construction is a disaster,” we said. “It’s like they’re tearing up every key road in town to make it as tough as possible to get around.”
“It’s a conspiracy, you know, and it’s not the only one,” Deep Throat said. A match flamed up. The end of a cigarette was lit, glowing reddish orange from the shadows. He took a deep puff. “You don’t think ending the Indiana-Kentucky series just when IU gets good and UK wins a national title was a coincidence, do you?”
“You’re not starting on that again,” Cassandra said with the exasperation.
“Why not?” he asked.
“Because it’s getting old, just like you!”
“Let’s talk about you and your alias,” Deep Throat said. “Cassandra has all sorts of negative connotations what with Apollo’s curse and nobody believing her. Shouldn’t we use something more positive and uplifting?”
“What do you suggest?” we asked.
“How about something with sophistication and alliteration, like Hoosier Honey or Hoosier Hottie?”
He chuckled alone.
“Do you have to be a sexist pig?” Cassandra asked.
“One person’s sexist pig is another’s Prince Charming,” Deep Throat said.
“Well, you’re a pig,” she said. “Would you like it if I called you “Hoosier Hunk” or “Hoosier Tight Butt?”
“Hell, yes. Please, and do it often, preferably in public places.”
“You have issues,” she said. “I have the number of a good psychologist, which I’ll give to you right after I call my lawyer about suing you for sexual harassment and … “
“Hey, can we please stay on topic,” we said. “We’re supposed to be adults here. We have important matters to discuss.”
“There’s nothing more adult than talking in the shadows after midnight in a place that’s not supposed to exist except in a Geraldo Rivera fantasy,” Deep Throat said.
“Please, let’s not use ‘Geraldo’ and ‘fantasy’ in the same sentence,” Cassandra said.
“Stop it!” we shouted. “We’re here about basketball. So what do you think about Indiana being No. 1 in preseason polls.”
Deep Throat took a long drag from his cigarette. “It’s about bleeping time,” he said. “The last time IU was No. 1 was in 1993 when Calbert Cheaney, Greg Graham, Allan Henderson and Damon Bailey were leading the charge. I remember thinking Indiana would always be good. Boy, was I wrong.”
Another match flared up. Cassandra lit a cigar. Elvis began singing “My Way.”
“What’s with the cigar?” we asked.
“Just a little early victory celebration for the national championship IU will win next spring in Atlanta,” she said, and puffed three times for emphasis.
“Care to elaborate,” we said.
“Indiana has the most talented returning lineup in the country,” Cassandra said. “Cody Zeller was an All-American as a freshman. He’ll be bigger and stronger this coming season. He’ll be ready to show his overall game, including his perimeter shooting. He’s going to be a monster.
“Christian Watford could have turned pro. He’s back for what should be a big senior year. Jordan Hulls just might be the best shooting guard in the country. Nobody wants Victor Oladipo guarding him, or wants to try to stop him from driving. Will Sheehey keeps getting better and better. And you can’t overlook Derek Elston, who is by far the best quote on the team.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Deep Throat asked.
“Do you have to be rude?” Cassandra asked.
“I liked it better when I was the only one talking.”
“This isn’t about you, is it?” Even in the darkness, you could feel her glare.
“As I was saying,” she said, “now you add one of the nation’s best freshman classes -– I know people keep talking up point guard Yogi Ferrell, but watch out for small forward Jeremy Hollowell, who isn’t small at all -- and you have a powerhouse few teams can handle. They’ll win the Big Ten and then win the national championship.”
The tip of her cigar glowed in the darkness.
“Is it safe to talk?” Deep Throat asked. Silence answered him. She was, it seemed, finished.
“Indiana has to get better on defense,” Deep Throat said. “That is its Achilles heel. The Hoosiers gave up a lot of points last season. A lot of that had to do with its uptempo style of play, which gave opponents more possessions. IU is never going to rival Wisconsin for fewest points allowed. It is aggressive and attacking, and sometimes that leaves it exposed. They have to keep that to a minimum.
“The Hoosiers are going to score. They were the Big Ten’s best scoring team last year, and that was without a true point guard. Now they have one in Yogi Ferrell. They’re going to push the pace even more. If they improve the defense, they have a chance to win the national title.”
“You don’t seem as sure as Cassandra,” we said.
“But I have a cuter butt than Cassandra,” Deep Throat said.
“You are a pig!” Cassandra shouted.
“Perhaps, but the truth is the truth and …”
“Stop! Please!” we shouted. “Let’s move on. Who will be IU’s biggest challenger for a national title?”
Rings of cigar smoke surrounded my head like Indians at Custer’s Last Stand.
“That would be Louisville and Kentucky,” Cassandra said in a tone that could cut diamond.
“Oh, yeah. The two teams Indiana is afraid to play in the regular season,” Deep Throat said.
“That is SOOO not true,” Cassandra said.
Deep Throat stomped out what was left of his cigarette and lit another. “I’ll tell you what’s true. IU passed on Kentucky and Louisville, missing out on a gazillion dollar payday and earning major national TV exposure, so it could play Bozo the Clown State at Assembly Hall. Hell, it’s gonna have to PAY Bozo like $60,000 to get its butt stomped here. Does that make sense? Who’s running this rodeo?”
Deep Throat broke into a coughing fit. Cassandra jumped in before he caught his breath.
“Indiana isn’t afraid,” she said. “They don’t want to be bullied by the uncompromising likes of Kentucky. A real man would see that.”
Deep Throat jumped up and began pacing in the shadows. Every once in a while, a quick image of a shaved head appeared and disappeared out of the darkness like a flashing middle finger. Toby Keith started singing, “As Good As I Once Was.”
“Stay calm,” we said.
“My middle name is calm,” he said.
“I thought it was pig,” Cassandra said.
We could hear Deep Throat grinding his teeth.
“Kentucky is gonna be young, but youth don’t matter to John Calipari,” he spit out about the UK coach. “He lost his top six players, then reloaded with another top-ranked class. His ‘non-traditional’ program approach isn’t for everybody, mostly because nobody else can recruit as consistently well as he does, but boy does it work.”
Deep Throat kept pacing at a Tom Crean clip.
“The bottom line is Kentucky will have more talent than anybody else,” he said. “Sure, Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin are freshmen. So what? They’ll be first-round NBA picks next season. Ryan Harrow is a point guard transfer from North Carolina State. He’ll be a first-round pick next year as well.
“More and more in college basketball, just like the NBA, talent rules, unfortunately.”
“So are you saying Kentucky will win it all?” we asked.
“I’m saying Kentucky is gonna be a big threat. And mark my words, the NCAA selection committee will do everything it can to put IU and UK in the same regional again, only this time as No. 1 and No. 2 seeds.”
Deep Throat sat down. Cassandra tossed her cigar toward us. It skittered on the concrete floor, sparks trailing behind like a faded firework.
“Louisville should be very good, especially if it gets its offense together,” she said. “It has one of the nation’s best point guards in Peyton Siva. Shooting guard Wayne Blackshear is good. So is power forward Chane Behanan. Center Gorgui Dieng isn’t the greatest scorer in college basketball, but he’s improved a ton. Besides, he’s a shot-blocking beast. Enter the paint at your own risk against him. And the bench with Russ Smith, Montrezl Harrell and Kevin Ware can create havoc.
“And speaking of havoc, Rick Pitino’s pressure defense is extremely physical. It wears on you to the breaking point. The Cardinals will be a load to handle. Too much for most teams.”
“But Indiana isn’t most teams.”
“So you pick Indiana,” we said. “What about you, Deep Throat? Do you see Indiana winning it all.”
There was a long pause. In the background, Jimmy Buffet sang about getting wasted again in Margaritaville.
“Yes,” he said at last. “The Hoosiers will be cutting down the nets in Atlanta.”
They agreed. We paused to see if hell had frozen over. The light flickered, then went out. After a moment of total darkness, it came back on. Deep Throat and Cassandra were gone.
As for what that means for hell, it’s too early to tell.