BLOOMINGTON | When lifelong Indiana University basketball fan Gabe Hoffman reached Assembly Hall five hours before the start of Hoosier Hysteria on Saturday night, he saw something he couldn’t believe.
He had arrived early in hopes of being near the front of the line to get a good seat to see the preseason No. 1 team in the country practice.
Instead, he had to walk. And keep walking. All the way back to the football practice facility behind the arena.
At the front of Assembly Hall were droves of people covered in candy stripe pants and Hoosier Hysteria T-shirts. Fans had camped out the night before with TVs and Nintendo 64s. Hundreds of people stood between Hoffman and the entrance.
“It was pretty crazy,” he said. “I've never seen that many people show up that early with that much anticipation for a practice. I think it shows just how excited Indiana fans are to watch this team play this season.”
The doors for Hoosier Hysteria opened at 4 p.m. By 5:37 all 17,472 seats in Assembly Hall were occupied — and the event didn’t officially start until 7.
After the event started, IU coach Tom Crean said the words that hysterical Hoosier fans like Hoffman have been waiting to hear since the Bob Knight days.
“A lot of people didn't want to see Indiana Basketball come back,” he said. “But we are back.”
The fandom is certainly back at Indiana, too, in terms of the amount of IU basketball-related products purchased.
T.I.S. College Bookstore in Bloomington has two levels. The upper level has books, and the lower level has apparel, including every possible IU basketball product a fan could want.
“We’ve made a lot more product that’s basketball-related,” cashier Mary Hidde said.
Hidde said the stores sells lots more jerseys than it used to. The store used to only carry a Cody Zeller No. 40 jersey and a Victor Oladipo No. 4 jersey. Now the store also sells Yogi Ferrell’s No. 11, Will Sheehey’s No. 10, Christian Watford’s No. 2 and Jordan Hulls’ No. 1.
“It’s Indiana basketball,” Hidde’s co-worker Dustin French said. “It’s above all.”
French, a senior at IU who arrived on campus as Eric Gordon left, said in the first few years of the Tom Crean era, it seemed “like nobody even cared.”
The madness didn’t resume until last year. Hidde and French said that after IU’s upset win against then No. 1-ranked Kentucky, the store started selling shirts that read, “We’re back.”
“They flew off the shelves,” she said. “Literally everyone bought them.”
Now, she says everyone is buying the candy stripes and jerseys. People started calling in the summer asking about what jerseys the store would carry.
And the players are taking notice of the rise in enthusiasm.
“We’ve had all the loyal fans who were there even through the losing, but now the tables have turned a little bit,” senior guard Jordan Hulls said. “The fans are coming out of everywhere. The buzz around town is awesome. It’s pretty neat to be a part of something like that.”
While Hoffman didn’t get the seat he was hoping to watch Hulls practice from, he still was elated just to watch an Indiana basketball practice.
“I think Indiana basketball is special because it isn't just a sport, but it is part of the state's culture,” Hoffman said. “So many people grow up with the hoop in the driveway and watching the movie 'Hoosiers' when they are from this state.
“I remember how badly I wanted to be one of those guys playing in Assembly Hall and wearing the candy striped pants when I was younger.”