SCHERERVILLE | One February morning while floating above a college campus in Bloomington, a young John Laskowski was on cloud nine.
By mid-afternoon, he came crashing down to Earth.
"During one of my morning classes, someone asked me if I saw the latest cover of Sports Illustrated," Laskowski relates. "I didn't know what he was talking about."
A writer from the magazine did come around to do a story on the 1974-75 Hoosier basketball team, and one of players interviewed was 6-foot-6 senior guard Laskowski. But Laskowski was the sixth-man on a squad that featured starters Quinn Buckner, Scott May and Kent Benson.
Nonetheless, Laskowski was on the cover labeled the Hoosiers' "super sub."
"I went to the drug store to see if they had any issues," said Laskowski, who was shown a copy but — though this was a time before photoshop — still had to see if this was legit. "There I was on the magazine shelf, but I was too shy to buy a copy.
"Here I am, a guy (from South Bend) and I'm on the cover of Sports Illustrated. I couldn't believe it."
Then Laskowski had to go to practice. He might as well had painted a bulls-eye on his chest.
"Coach (Bob) Knight hated the story," Laskowski said of the piece written by Curry Kirkpatrick, who quoted Knight as saying that Laskowski wins games in more different ways than Knight's Ohio State teammate and Boston Celtics great John Havlicek.
"Now I, like most anyone else on the team, makes mistakes about every practice," Laskowski said. "But the first time I messed up during that practice, Knight went nuts and said, 'You get your picture on Sports Illustrated, and now you think you don't have to hustle!'"
Laskowski was the guest speaker at the Indiana University Alumni Association Lakeshore Region Chapter event Oct. 25 at Bullpen Luxury Bar and Grill. He, like many of the alumni in attendance, is optimistic about this season's Hoosier men's team, which is ranked No. 1 in numerous preseason polls.
"We went through some hard times, but now things are finally back to where they should be," Laskowski told the crowd. "We can finally give back the grief we received from all those Purdue fans, but — you know — we'll be a little classier about it."
Laskowski was a key member on one of the greatest Hoosiers teams of all time. Despite dominating the competition while outscoring Big Ten opponents by nearly 23 points per game, Indiana was stopped by Kentucky in the Mideast Regional after an arm injury hampered the playing time of May, its All-American forward.
The next season, the Hoosiers would go undefeated — the last Division I men's team to do so — and earn Knight his first NCAA championship as a coach. As for Laskowski, he continued his career with the Chicago Bulls, who drafted him in the second round.
Laskowski played two seasons with the Bulls, averaging 7.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game. He has since been inducted in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame (1999), written a book "Tales From the Hoosier Locker Room" (2003), and now works for the Big Ten Network as a basketball analyst and play-by-play man.
Though current IU coach Tom Crean doesn't quite have the same approach as Knight, Laskowski believes the Hoosiers are in good hands, especially now with a group of Crean-recruited upperclassmen, who can better convey the coach's protocol to the younger players.
When someone asked Laskowski to forecast the Hoosiers' starting five, he was candid but discreet.
"I don't put much faith in the term 'starting five'," said Laskowski, who came off the bench to score in double-digits 40 times during his IU career. "It's more about what you do with the minutes that are given to you ... whether it's from off the bench or as a starter.
"But I will say this: (sophomore center) Cody Zeller will be one of the starters. I'll leave the other four for Coach Crean to decide."