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July 23, 2003 Columns No Comments

Call Them IUPUI. Please!

by Adam Shandler

I guess you could call this a follow-up piece to my interview with new Mid-Continent commish Ron Bertovich. In that piece I referred to IUPUI (Indiana University-Purdue University of Indianapolis) as “Ooey-Pooey”. I should have listened to my mother when she told me not to say anything if I didn’t have anything nice to say. (But, Ma, everyone else was doin’ it! Which of course prompted Ma Shandler to ask me if I would jump from the Brooklyn Bridge if all my friends were doing it. The answer, Mom, is yes. As long as there’s a really long bungee cord.)

Ed Holdaway

When the article went live on Hoopville, I received a polite, yet somewhat miffed, email from IUPUI SID Kevin Buerge about the “Ooey-Pooey” reference. This inspired a new story. IUPUI is a 28,000-student, urban Indiana school that has only been a fraternal member of D-I basketball for four seasons. Yet in that time, the Jaguars have made an NCAA Tourney and sparked a curiosity with their school name among college hoops fans. Consider IUPUI a “how-to” manual, as in “How To Successfully Make the Jump From D-II to D-I. And Win.”

Well, I guess Mr. Buerge and his staff forgave me my linguistic dig at their school name, because they graciously accepted my interview offer.

In a recent chat with Jaguars basketball publicist Ed Holdaway, Ed and I discussed the rewards of basketball success, the impact of coach Ron Hunter and how to deal with the prickly nature of unfortunate nicknames.

Adam Shandler: Tell us a little bit about IUPUI. It’s culture, it’s students…

Ed Holdaway: We’re pretty much a commuter campus. Only about four or five-hundred students live in on-campus housing. We have a lot of non-traditional students; students who come back to school to take four to six credits just to finish up their degrees. Purdue has an engineering school here and Indiana has the [Kelley] School of Business here. In fact when students graduate, they don’t receive a diploma that says IUPUI. They’re either a graduate of Indiana University or Purdue University.

AS: Why are both Indiana and Purdue both involved in this university?

EH: At some point in the late 60’s both schools decided they needed a campus in Indianapolis. Indiana U. really wanted to attract students from that area and did with the Kelley School of Business. And then Purdue also wanted to get a piece of that pie with their engineering school.

AS: After my interview with (Mid-Continent Conference) Commissioner Ron Bertovich went up on Hoopville your colleague (IUPUI Sports Info Director) Kevin Buerge wasn’t too thrilled with me. By the way, did he get the candy and flowers I sent him?

EH: (Laughs.) Kevin is quick to point out that which needs to be corrected.

AS: Just so our readers know what we’re talking about, in that interview I referred to IUPUI “affectionately as Ooey-Pooey” because that unfortunate nickname has penetrated recent college hoops vernacular. I can obviously see why you’d disapprove of this moniker, but what is the school doing to deter people from using it?

EH: There’s really only so much you can do. All of my press releases try to quash Ooey-Pooey with IUPUI, although that may have been why Ooey-Pooey had gained steam. But we try to emphasize IUPUI for all our releases and ask that the media not refer to us as Ooey-Pooey. During press conferences coach (Ron) Hunter told the media, “Look, when UCLA was winning all those championships, you didn’t refer to them as Ookla, did you? No, so it should be the same with us.” This seems to have worked with moderate success.

AS: What changes – positive or negative – has IUPUI undergone since its visit to the NCAA tourney?

EH: More than anything, we’re getting more exposure. Not just our basketball team, our entire campus. Our softball team recruits in California and when coaches go out there to recruit, all of a sudden people know the IUPUI name because they saw it up in the brackets in March. So an identity was built and it’s all been very positive. On a narrower basis, the exposure has really helped in basketball recruiting. This year we have one of our best recruiting classes ever. Before, coach Hunter had to go out and ask kids to come to IUPUI, now they’ve been coming to him.

AS: Is there more team spirit among students on campus?

EH: For the first time the student body is really identifying with athletics on this campus. In the past, maybe a kid would just as soon go home and watch a high school game…

AS: Ah, right, this is Indiana after all…

EH: Exactly. It was tough because the local media would be asking students if they were excited about the success of the program. But most of the students had never even been to a game. Now students are actually sticking around campus to watch us play.

AS: IUPUI hasn’t been playing Division I ball for too long. Give us a brief history of the program prior to its ascension to D-I in 1998-99.

EH: It’s a little murky if you look at some of our records. We did have the Division II Player of the Year in 1997-98, Carlos Knox. He actually came back as an assistant coach with us two years ago but wanted to keep playing overseas.

Otherwise, our teams were built around local players. The first few years, like I said, were kind of murky. We started basketball in 1972 and didn’t have a winning season until 1980. We went to the D-II tourney a couple times under (prior coach) Bob Lovell and had marginal success under him. But Lovell never saw the program going D-I. It was Hunter who really put us on the map.

AS: There seems to be a Cinderella Syndrome with small schools like yours. They win their conference, get to the dance and become a novelty for a few weeks before losing to Texases, Arizonas or Kentuckies in Round 1. Then you don’t hear about them for a few years because they’re rebuilding. I know coach Hunter is a big part of why this program is still talked about. What is he doing to keep the Jaguars atop the Mid-Con and in the hearts and minds of college hoops fans?

EH: First off, with this being our first tourney, Hunter never turned down any media requests. That’s one way to put IUPUI in everyone’s living rooms. He’s always been very good about that. The continued success of the program really lies in our recruiting, and this year has been far and away the best it’s ever been.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to have the Nike All-America Camp right here on campus.

AS: With the school’s newfound basketball success, are you now seeing IUPUI as a threat to competing mid-major schools in the area? Are those schools a threat to IUPUI?

EH: I wouldn’t say we’re threatened by those other schools, but we’ve definitely made more of an impact on the community since being in the NCAA Tournament. Coach Hunter has been visiting a lot of local schools and talking to kids who may have considered playing at Ball State or Butler. But like I said before, kids are now calling IUPUI saying they want to play here.

AS: Ron Hunter was the Mid-Con Coach of the Year this year but was also awarded the 2003 Images of Excellence Award by the Black Coaches Association. What else can you tell us about Coach Hunter and his impact on IUPUI?

EH: Loyalty is very big him and he’s been very loyal to IUPUI. He’s an all-around good guy who likes to give kids a second chance. Even when we had some 7-21 seasons he still made things fun.

[Coach Hunter’]s been very true to his goals. When he first got here he said he wanted to take the program Division I. And he did that. Next he wanted us to make the NCAA Tournament. He did that. So he’s been very good about coming through and acting on his goals. Now he’s spearheading the campaign for a new arena, but that’s in its really early stages.

AS: Senior Forward Josh Murray was a fun and exciting player to watch this year, even in defeat against Kentucky in the first round of the tourney. What impact will his departure have on this program?

EH: On the floor, Josh was the hardest worker I’d ever seen. He was the best rebounder in the conference; he’d get us eight rebounds a game and could put up a double-double every night. It’s one thing to ask a guy to come in and be a team leader but it’s another to ask him to consistently get you eight rebounds a game.

Josh actually came in as a transfer and only played two years with us. But he had been to the tournament with Ball State and the other guys really seemed to respect that.

AS: Up until 1998 IUPUI was known as the Metros. That’s very ABA, and retro is in these days. Any chance of going back to the Metros from your current Jaguars?

EH: (Laughs politely). There is no chance of going back to the Metros. I see no justifiable reason for doing it.

AS: So I guess I shouldn’t ask if you’re going to start playing with the red, white and blue ball?

EH: I can’t see that happening.


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