Quinn Buckner on Pacers, IU, and Giving Back
By Manny Randhawa
When it comes to basketball wisdom, you’d be hard-pressed to find a more plentiful source than Quinn Buckner.
In his 15th season as a television analyst for Pacers games, and with a basketball pedigree that is the envy of anyone in or around the game, Buckner is a wellspring of insight about what happens on the hardwood.
One of just three players in the history of the game to have won championships at every level – high school, college, professional, and the Olympics – Buckner is a legend in the state of Indiana. As the captain of the 1975-76 Hoosiers, he led a squad that to this day remains the last team to cap an undefeated season with an NCAA championship.
Now that the Hoosiers are back on top of the college basketball world 25 years after their last national title, Buckner sees great potential in this year’s edition of Indiana basketball, but also some key differences from the championship team he led in 1975-76.
“I don’t know if you can compare them,” Buckner says of the two teams. “We were a team of four seniors, Kent was a junior, and most of us had been on a Final Four team when we were freshmen. So we were really experienced in all positions at that time. What IU has now is a freshman and a sophomore kind of in the forefront there. Most of the things that we went through by the time we won our championship, we’d been through them before. We had won three Big Ten championships by the time we got to the Final Four, so we had to fight through some real championship battles before we got there. This team has not had to do that yet. And that’s when you really get tested and find out if you come together, and that’s still to be determined for this team.”
On how current Indiana Coach Tom Crean’s style of coaching compares with Buckner’s coach at Indiana, Bob Knight, Buckner says they differ, partly because the game has changed over the past 40 years: “First of all, Coach Knight is a Hall of Fame coach, so that puts him in a very unique category. Coach Crean is a lot more active than Coach Knight; Coach Knight was more demonstrative when he became active, so there are some differences. The game is different, the people are different, and some of those things affect coaches in that they are what they are because they need to be that to have success.”
If he had to pick a team that could potentially defeat Indiana, Buckner says it might be Duke. “Mike Krzyzewski was our graduate assistant on the ’75 team. Mike is a Hall of Fame coach and has some kids that have done very well. You’ve got to have talent to do what either Mike or Tom are trying to do, but Duke is pretty good and they have a chance to do well.”
While he hasn’t had a chance to get to Assembly Hall to watch the Hoosiers in action yet this season, Buckner is looking forward to the upcoming local showdown between Indiana and Butler Saturday at Bankers Life Fieldhouse. “I’m going to try to get to the game here because I think it’s a great atmosphere. I think it’s good for Indiana basketball, not just the university but the state to have this cross-town rivalry.”
With the basketball insight flowing endlessly, any conversation with Quinn Buckner would naturally turn to the NBA and, specifically, the Pacers. Despite a difficult start to the season with star forward Danny Granger having to miss three months with a knee injury, Indiana has managed to stay right around the .500 mark through a quarter of the season. Buckner says that being in so many tight games – whether they ended in wins or losses – builds heart in this team.
“I think part of playing in close games establishes that fiber in the heart. You have to develop the fiber and I think that’s what happens when you’re in an adverse situation, and you have both wanted and unwanted outcomes. People will make an argument as to whether there is success or failure, but it depends on what you get out of it. I think this group has done a real good job of that. There’s a lot of room for development and growth; the support for the starters has got to be better, or the starters are going to get worn out. I don’t think it’s a major problem, but I think it’s one you have to identify and find ways to solve it.”
Buckner sees Coach Frank Vogel as key to the Pacers’ ability to stay afloat thus far. “I think he’s been able to keep them emotionally at a level where the team can succeed,” Buckner says. “And I think that’s one of the biggest things you have to do in the NBA.”
Besides being a basketball legend, Buckner places great importance on community. A board member of several charitable organizations in Indiana, he stresses just how vital it is for an organization like the Pacers to reach out and give back. “Jim Morris, our president, has been terrific about that,” he says. “Worrying about the greater good has been one of the things I spend more time on, to try to find out where I can help give back. That’s ultimately why any of us or any of this in a global sense will be successful, is that willingness.”
From the Hoosiers to the Pacers, the basketball arena to the greater community of Indianapolis and the state of Indiana, Quinn Buckner has had an indelible impact on the world around him. If you find yourself listening to his analysis on television during Pacers games, count your blessings. You’ve got one of the best basketball minds around breaking things down for you, and the wisdom extends far beyond the court.