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Kevin Schnepf, Published November 09 2012

Schnepf: Inniger looking forward to returning to Indiana

Fargo - To say that Erv Inniger is pumped up is like saying Santa Claus is jolly. It goes without saying.

But these days, the 67-year-old Inniger has reason to be even more excited. Not only does he feel lucky to be alive after surviving a heart attack in August, Inniger will be in his home state of Indiana on Monday when North Dakota State’s men’s basketball team takes on the

No. 1-ranked Indiana Hoosiers.

“I’m so fired up,” Inniger said with his usual rapid-fire delivery.

What’s the big deal?

For starters, Inniger was a starting guard for the 1967 Indiana basketball team that won a Big Ten championship.

He eventually ended up at NDSU – where he won 244 games as the head basketball coach from 1978 to 1992 and later raised tons of money as a major fundraiser for the athletic department.

Now retired and working part time at a local bank, Inniger still wears the Big Ten championship ring on his right hand.

“How many people can say they won a Big Ten championship?” Inniger said.

And how many people get a chance to attend a game involving two colleges held dear to one’s heart. Once a Hoosier, always a Hoosier, right?

“Always … but not for this game,” Inniger said.

Inniger will get a chance to show his friends where he played basketball – in the Harry Gladstein Fieldhouse where sawdust poofed up from the floor. It’s now Indiana’s indoor track, connected to Indiana’s current basketball arena, Assembly Hall.

Inniger will get a chance to tour the campus filled with limestone buildings, brooks, a wedding chapel and Bill Armstrong Stadium – site of the Little 500 bicycle race that has been held on a cinder track since 1951.

He will be sure to point out the building where Crest toothpaste was invented while he was attending school.

“I think it is one of the most beautiful campuses in the country … and I’ve been to a lot of them,” Inniger said.

There’s no doubt Inniger will take a look at the picture of his 1967 Big Ten championship team hanging in the hallways of Assembly Hall. He’ll sneak a peek at the championship banner hanging over Branch McCracken court.

McCracken ended his legendary coaching career at Indiana after Inniger’s sophomore year. Inniger then played for Lou Watson – a coach who would eventually be replaced by another legend, Bobby Knight.

It was Knight who called Inniger asking him to give future All-American Scott May a ride to a Minneapolis prep school – a place where May improved his grades before playing for Knight.

It was Knight who gave Inniger advice on what to look for in hiring his first assistant coach at NDSU. But Knight never did grant Inniger’s requests to play his Bison – mostly because they were a Division II team at the time.

“Bobby Knight has always been extremely generous … and extremely intense,” Inniger said of the coach who was forced out at Indiana primarily because of his boisterous personality.

Knight is not the only coach Inniger will remember during his homecoming on Monday. He remembers playing against legends Adolph Rupp of Kentucky, Jud Heathcoate of Michigan State and Ray Meyer of DePaul.

“I hit the final two free throws to beat him,” Inniger said of Meyer. “It’s the one game I actually have a film of.”

The rest are memories stored in Inniger’s head, memories that will no doubt pump up Inniger even more on Monday.

“I cherish every day and I cherish it even more after my heart attack,” said Inniger, who looks as fit as a fiddle. “I think time-wise in my life, this game is an opportunity that isn’t going to come around much more for me. It’s a thrill for me.”

Readers can reach Forum Sports Editor Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549

or kschnepf@forumcomm.com