Saturday, February 21, 2004
FACT & FICTION
By John Erardi
There are a lot of differences between the movie and the real-life Milan story.
A scene from
the movie Hoosiers.
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But, what's important, say '54 team members Bobby Plump, Ray Craft and Glenn Butte, is that the movie captured the "feel" of 1950s-era Indiana prep basketball, dead-on.
"It is truth, if not accuracy," says Plump. "The only accurate part is the final
18 seconds...Jimmy holds the ball, then fakes left, dribbles right and hits
the winning shot. The real essence of the movie - what I liked about it - is
that they captured how important basketball was in small communities in Indiana."
Here are some other similarities and differences between the movie and "Milan 1954."
The "team" is the Hickory Huskers, led by first-year, fiery 50-year-old bachelor Norman Dale (Gene Hackman) who's been in the Navy the past 10 years after punching out one of his former college players in Ithaca, N.Y., and falls in love with a teacher at Hickory High.
The Milan Indians were coached by soft-spoken, second-year 26-year-old Marvin Wood, happily married father of two, who played for and was mentored by legendary Butler University coach Tony Hinkle and coached in French Lick, Ind., boyhood home of Larry Bird.
Hickory was a "real Cinderella story," coming out of nowhere (61 boys in entire school) to win a winner take-all state title game at the fieldhouse in 1952. Upon Hickory's arrival at the fieldhouse, Coach Dale calms and inspires his team by having his players measure the distance to the free-throw line and the height of the basket on the floor of the spacious and intimidating arena.
The Indians weren't intimidated by Hinkle Fieldhouse, having played three games there in the 1953 state tournament.
One of the most memorable sports-movie portrayals of all-time is that of town drunk "Shooter" (Dennis Hopper) whose son is on the team; coach Dale transforms "Shooter" into his assistant coach.
Walter "Peck" Truitt, the father of '54 starting Milan forward Ronnie Truitt was a hard-drinking, guitar-playing man, but he didn't attend games, let alone come onto the court drunk, according to The Greatest Story Ever Told. "If he hadn't got in that bottle, he would've done all right," said '54 player Bob Engel in that book. "He never made a scene."
In the final huddle, Coach Dale calls for the "picket fence" play that "Shooter" had successfully called for to win a game earlier in the season. Here is how the movie dialogue goes:
Coach Dale: "Jimmy they're going to be expecting you to take the last shot. We're going to use you as a decoy. Buddy, you get the ball into Merle on the picket fence. He's going to take the last shot."
Team: Quizzical, lackluster expressions.
Dale: "What's the matter with your guys?"
Jimmy: "I'll make it."
Dale: "All right. Buddy, get the ball to Jimmy, top of the key, rest of you spread the floor. Let's go!"
Plump never called for the last shot, although he was hoping Wood would call it for him, and Wood did. But senior center Gene White suggested the '50's version of a "clearout." (In recalling his exact words in that huddle to the authors of Bobby Plump, Last of the Small Town Heroes, White said it went as follows: "Why don't we get everybody else out of the way and get them over to the side of the floor?") Wood told White it was excellent idea. Plump in-bounded the ball to teammate Ray Craft, who returned it to Plump. Plump held the ball until the clock read six seconds, then faked left, dribbled right, beat Jimmy Barnes to the leap and launched a 15-footer from just right of the free-throw line.
Milan wins 42-40.
Milan wins 32-30.
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